Uncompromising, ecological and ethical fashion combined with design. These were the principles Anne Linnonmaa, the Finnish designer and entrepreneur, was determined to follow not only in her own clothing line but in everything she does. In the 1990’s it wasn’t the easiest path to walk. But it could be said that Anne has never chosen the easy way.
Anne is an excellent example of how a single person can affect the world with their everyday choices. She’s also an example of a hard-working, genuine woman showing that a determined attitude can take you far.
That attitude and entrepreneurship have run in Anne’s family for decades. Anne herself was eager to become an entrepreneur and a designer of her own clothing collection. She describes that it was more a goal than a dream she aimed at with everything she has done. Anne thinks back to the days when she was just eight years old and started her first business: selling carpet washing at a small beach in Helsinki.
Her laughter is contagious, and she keeps telling her earliest childhood memories.
“I wanted to learn to sew very badly although I was so little I couldn’t even reach the sewing machines pedal! I had to stand on it first, but it didn’t mind, and with the help of my mum, I soon could sew.”
Anne drew, made and modified clothes all her childhood, and her strong-minded attitude to become a designer led her, at the age of 14, to be a sales assistant in a clothing store. There she most of all wanted, again, to learn the basics of how a shop worked.
“I understood early that if I ever wanted to be an entrepreneur or to design my own collection, I needed to know how to sew and how to sell”, Anne highlights, “If I don’t know myself, how could I teach others.”
While working between the shelves of women’s clothes, she was wondering why did the colours always change an inch lighter or darker. It was hard to buy matching clothes and awful to put aside good-conditioned clothes just because they weren’t “the right shade of colour”. A collection must have basic colours, such as black, red, blue and white, Anne decided. On top of that one can bring new colours.
At the age of 22, she was closer to her goal as she graduated from the School of Art, Design and Architecture. Anne, rich in ideas, constantly worked for over 20 companies as a designer during and after her studies. The designer’s experience was valuable, it reinforced her feeling of basic colours and how to use fabrics in a sparing way.
The right moment to set up the company of Anne’s own became in 1989 when she was expecting her son. She realised that the days of travelling over 200 days a year were over, it was time to set up her own label.
Frustrated by the disposable culture she had seen through years, Anne was excited to do finally something in completely her own way. All the experience she had gathered through years and all the unused ideas while designing for others, could now be brought into practice.
Anne had a strong vision and the principles were clear. Uncompromising, ecological and ethical fashion combined with design. These words are still checked by Anne every now and then.
“We need to make products in a way that do not steal the future from our children. Products cannot be made in a way that the nature and the people suffer from it”, she says with a tough voice, ”I have seen the factories in India, seen the toxic colours used in dying, and I don’t want to work that way.”
Of course, in the early 90’s, Anne’s business idea of doing things in a responsible way represented something completely new. Although Anne didn’t know it back then, she was the pioneer of ecological fashion.
Connecting and co-operation with the right people played a key role. By accident, Anne met a Swede who had connections to a Peruvian cotton farm. With him, Anne started to develop a completely new material. A lot of patience was required when Anne investigated, which threads were suitable to her production. She recalls testing almost 50 different thread types before finding the right one. Anne launched her own ecological fashion collection in 1991.
And consumers loved it!
”I designed beautiful clothes, which are long-lasting, don’t itch the sensitive skin due to non-toxic dying colours and the price-quality ratio is right”, Anne explains her success and continues, “consumers are more conscious and more well-informed than, unfortunately, many companies think. I have never underestimated my customers.”
According to Anne, it is only after these three basics consumer cares about the ecological or responsible point of view. For example, only a few know that by these actions, and the co-operation with the Swede, Anne employed first three farmers and eventually 255 families.
The individual’s choices do matter.