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Global Management Forum 2018

Digitization has redefined fashion industry, Marimekko chief says

Finnish design house uses e-commerce, digital tools to stay relevant

Marimekko President and CEO Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko speaks at the Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo on Nov. 7. (Photo by Rie Ishii)

TOKYO -- Digitization brings great challenges to long-established fashion brands, but it could be a new driving force at the same time for companies to stay relevant in the global markets, the head of Finnish design house Marimekko said on Wednesday.

"The fashion industry is redefined by disruptive digitization," Marimekko President and CEO Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko told the Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo. "This obviously puts huge pressure on companies to keep up with the digital developments."

Founded by Armi Ratia in 1951, Helsinki-based Marimekko is known for its colors and original prints, such as the most widely known floral print Unikko (poppy). The company is one of the world's earliest lifestyle brands to bring clothing, bags, accessories and home decoration like tableware under one roof.

Alahuhta-Kasko said digitization has shifted power to the consumer. "Gone are the days when the [fashion] industry was strictly controlled by one-way communication. Today, your customers build your brand," she said. "It has been a little bit problematic, especially for some of the old-school luxury brands."

As consumers grow increasingly aware of what they want to buy and wear, the keyword is "relevance," she said. Companies, therefore, will need to pour more resources into digital content creation that entertains customers. The "internet of things" will revolutionize manufacturing in the fashion industry, she also said.

Alahuhta-Kasko said the company has been adopting many digital tools to keep it relevant in global markets. Big data will be used increasingly in the global fashion industry, she said. 

This year, it built an online notebook where customers can share pictures that show the intersection of Marimekko products in their daily life. The program deepens the company's relationship with customers, enabling it to build a dialogue using digital tools, she said.

Regarding the future of physical stores, the president said that brick-and-mortar and e-commerce stores will have their own roles. "E-commerce is about reach, ease and convenience. Brick-and-mortar stores are about providing the most inspiring and emotional brand adventures,” she said.

Marimekko has 150 stores in 15 countries and e-commerce operations in 30 countries.

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