In honor of women’s history month, our Textile Design Guide will be profiling some of the fundamental female figures in the fabric and fiber trade. Today, we put the spotlight on Armi Ratia, the brainchild behind iconic Finnish design house, Marimekko.

The foundations for this company were first laid in Helsinki, Finland in 1949. Armi and her husband, Viljo Ratia, had just purchased Printex, an oilcloth company, and were facing a domestic consumer market ravaged by the war years. However, Armi had a strong creative vision: bold, bright, and distinctive prints.

Armi Ratia by Pertti Jenytin (1959) | Source

With the economic upturn of the 1950s, the Ratias decided to shift gears and focus upon hand-printed cotton textiles. Foregrounding artistic development, Armi began to evolve her own designer enterprise. Armi assembled a team of talented Finnish artists including Maija Isola, who would work with the company for an incredible 38 years.

In 1951, clothing designer Riitta Immonen was appointed to oversee the company’s first fashion show. The show successfully demonstrated how graphic patterns and vivid colors could be incorporated into an everyday casual style. While the fabrics were certainly center stage, Immonen’s loosely fitted and comfortable dresses also appealed directly to the modern woman. Armi and Riitta registered the brand Marimekko as a company a few days after the show and the first fashion retail store opened up in Helsinki in 1953.

As the fledgling company located its commercial niche, Riitta Immonen decided to part ways in order to maintain her individual design aesthetic. Despite Immonen’s crucial role in developing the Marimekko identity, the company’s growth was uninhibited, becoming a real household name within Finnish fashion. In 1964, Isola unveiled the Unikko “poppy” pattern, circumventing Armi’s mandate against floral motifs. The print, however, became a mainstream hit, proving that there were contemporary ways to reinterpret natural beauty.

Photo by Eva Rinaldi | Source

Armi Ratia passed away in 1979 but her living legacy, Marimekko, has taken the world by storm. Marimekko designs have been spotted on everyone from Jackie Kennedy in a classic shift dress to Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw in a bold bikini. The company has logged an incredible series of collaborations with partners including: H&M, Target, Banana Republic, Converse, Finnair, Manolo Blahnik, and Crate and Barrel. Indeed, Marimekko patterns are practically ubiquitous, and can be purchased today on tableware collections, fashion accessories, home goods, and of course, clothing.

Photo by Anna Zvereva | Source

Armi was an incredible entrepreneur, creative visionary, and perhaps, most importantly, talent scout. She was the architect that brought together formative building blocks, including designers Isola and Immonen, and laid the blueprint for Marimekko’s future successes.