Papu Design has ambition to grow

The Finnish children’s wear label Papu Design creates shirts with care tags that have room for three different names.
Anna Kurkela, Founder and Head Designer.
"Even though design is the most visible and essential part of our product line, we intend to perform responsibly and believe that it creates a competitive edge."
"Designed with love and made with care in Finland" is written on the pack of leggings.

“The basis of our design process is and always has been durability. Our products are meant to be recycled and resold. Customers are happy to pay a higher starting price to be certain that the product has a competitive resale value,” assures Anna Kurkela, Founder and Head Designer.

The story of Papu Design began when Anna Kurkela met illustrator Hanna-Riikka Heikkilä five years ago. Their designs are inspired by children’s tales that follow, for example, the adventures of a bird that is fond of buttons and Papu on a treasure hunt in the woods. The clothes are tailor-made for children and childlike minds and include clever, graphic prints. They combine colourful geometric shapes from balls and stripes to half-moons.

“Even though design is the most visible and essential part of our product line, we intend to perform responsibly and believe that it creates a competitive edge,” Kurkela says.

”We aim to influence the industry by performing in a better, more sustainable manner.”

Quality children’s wear attracts a global customer base

Since the very beginning, Papu’s plan has been to grow into a big, international company.

“For the past ten years there has been a boost in children’s wear sales. The market’s growth curve has increased constantly despite the recession. Consumers are clearly willing to invest in children,“ clarifies Jussi Kurkela, Anna’s husband and Papu’s CEO.

The domestic market is still the company’s main source of revenue, but Papu already has more retailers abroad.

“It was in 2014 that we decided to invest in eight foreign sales agents, but unfortunately it was easier said than done. Well performing ones are hard to find and many have their hands full,” says Jussi.

“We have an active market presence and take part in international fashion fairs. Networks are not born on their own; they require constant attention. Currently we have sales agents in USA, UK, Sweden, China, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and France. Recently our contact person in Japan has been extremely active; next September we will take part in Tokyo Fashion Week with a popup store in Isetan, the city’s biggest shopping centre.”

Papu Design has used public funding for recruiting purposes, international trade fairs, patent registrations, market analyses and training sessions focusing on internationalisation strategies.
“Our ambitious plans to grow require able hands. The financial support we have received from ELY Centre and Tekes has helped us expand, as it allowed us to hire workforce,” the CEO explains.

“Even though Tekes has provided us with assistance to create international networks, the ambition and willingness to grow internationally stems from within the company itself. We have carefully developed Papu Design to a point where we can maximize the benefits of these projects. It has required time, discussions and going back and forth with Tekes, but from a growth aspect, these funding opportunities are vital,” Jussi states.

70-80 percent of Papu’s turnover comes from online shopping.

“Children’s clothes are perfect items for web shops. They can be delivered in tiny packages and compared to adults it is much easier to estimate if the product fits a child based on clothing size charts. This perhaps partially explains the fast, global growth of the children’s wear market,” Jussi estimates.

Nokia’s fashion hub

Papu’s hometown Nokia has transformed into a national fashion hub where one can also find Nokian Neulomo, a knitting factory, and an ecological online marketplace called Weecos. The trio began working together after Anna, Jussi and Weecos’ CEO Hanna Lusila met Vesa Moisio, the CEO of Nokian Neulomo. “Vesa had previous experience from bakeries and in that way we could combine expertise. He knew how to run a factory.”

“There is only a train track separating Papu’s office from the Neulomo factory so our visits take place on a weekly basis,” says Anna. In addition to Nokian Neulomo, Papu’s products are produced in Portugal. The company holds European production as a cornerstone for their operations, as it guarantees responsible activities and certainty over the origin of the product. Responsible production is especially important for Asian consumers, according to Jussi. European production also facilitates Papu’s own supply chain management, since the continent is more prone to follow regulations.

“Also Nokian Neulomo has growth and internationalisation plans. At the moment, their sewing capacity has proven to be challenge, as there no longer graduates professional industrial dressmakers in Finland,” Jussi explains. “Fashion industry is, however, slowly moving back to Europe and in that sense Nokia has many prospects for developing the local business. There are, for example, ecological fibres, sustainable materials and other innovative solutions that present revolutionary opportunities in the field.”

According to Jussi there is currently a Scandinavian boom in the global design market that also creates advantages for Finnish design. “Ikea brought simplicity to the knowledge of the greater public and that is ultimately the very core of our nation’s design principles.”

Papu Design Oy

Founded: 2012
Key individuals: Anna Kurkela, Jussi Kurkela and Hanna-Riikka Heikkilä
Employees: 14
Was accepted to Tekes’ Young Innovative Companies Programme’s first phase in spring 2017.
www.papustories.com

Text: Anna-Kaisa Haaranen
Photos: Emilia Anundi