Perspectives can clash in a fashion company founded by a clothing designer, an engineer and a business graduate, but each of the trio has gradually learned to have faith in the others’ abilities.
Outdoor enthusiasts and athletes only accept the best functional fabrics. Why couldn’t these proven materials be used also for clothes, which we wear at other times, things like T-shirts, formal shirts and blazers? This is the idea that spurred the creation of Finnish menswear label Formal Friday.
Formal Friday’s small showroom is located in an old engineering works hall on the grounds of Hietalahti shipyard in Helsinki. The converted hall nowadays houses various businesses and serves as a venue for exhibitions and events. In the middle of numerous racks filled with suits, shirts and trousers sits a trio brought together through a series of unlikely encounters.
School of Business graduate Toni Tervilä and mechanical design engineer Pentti Jokinen found themselves in the fashion industry and co-owners of a business with well-known clothing designer Teemu Muurimäki. The idea for their cooperation stemmed from a magazine interview of Muurimäki that created the impression he might be open to a new project, something he could call his own.
“Going into the fashion industry was a big leap, and I had to learn everything anew from the very beginning. But this isn’t rocket science, it’s more like an interesting challenge,” says Jokinen.
First they found Merino wool
Toni Tervilä’s interest in things textile was piqued for the first time during a holiday to Madrid in summer 2013. He went shopping for shirts and summer clothes, but grew frustrated with their poor quality: a lot of the textiles would lose their shape after the very first wash.
For fun, he began to research what would make the world’s best T-shirt, and learned that many who travel and exercise a lot swear by Merino wool. He ordered a few Merino wool T-shirts and liked the material very much.
Later, when spending an evening with his childhood friend Pentti Jokinen, he mentioned his discovery. For Jokinen, a climbing enthusiast, Merino wool was a familiar material.
“Together, we wondered why recreational clothing manufacturers weren’t using more of this fabric,” Tervilä recalls.
Better threads on Fridays
At the same time, Teemu Muurimäki had already had a long international career in the clothing industry. After graduating from the University of Art and Design Helsinki in 2001, Muurimäki worked at famous fashion houses like Dolce & Gabbana and Armani, but he harboured a long-time desire to launch his own clothing concept.
While employed at Australian fashion house Carla Zampatti, Muurimäki and his colleagues preferred to work in jeans and T-shirts, prompting the boss to sometimes poke fun at the appearance of the design team. One Friday, Muurimäki and a workmate decided to show up wearing suits with pocket squares, and the ladies of the office loved it. Wearing such attire soon became a habit, in contrast to the casual Friday trend of allowing a relaxed dress code on the week’s last workday that is more typical in the business world.
“We started donning pretty slick threads, but with a relaxed twist that suited us, and referred to it as formal Friday.”
While considering his Friday outfits, Muurimäki realised that there was something missing from the space between the denim department and sharper business attire.
“I’m of a generation that feels like a wannabe insurance salesman when fitting a suit. It’s just not my style. I thought that, between youth clothing and business attire, we need relaxed, good clothes that still look smart.”
Thinking in line
Tervilä came across an interview the business magazine Talouselämä published after Muurimäki had returned to Finland to work for Marimekko. Tervilä decided to invite the designer out for lunch.
Muurimäki had been drawn back to Finland by his family and a desire to engage in more versatile design work than was possible on the payroll of a large fashion house. He also experienced an ethical awakening. If you work in an industry that churns out products in rapid cycles and pollutes the world, it is important to aim for high quality – perfectly fitting, easy-care clothes that stand the test of time.
They got together for lunch and followed this up with more brainstorming meetings before establishing the company in spring 2014. Two other business professionals, Tatu Artman and Lauri Mäkelä, also got involved.
Sharing a language with investors
“We really did start from the basics when I taught the others a little about the structure of fibres and textile technology during our first meetings,” Muurimäki recalls.
However, he feels fortunate to have found such a multidisciplinary team. There are a lot of one-person design firms in Finland, but it is difficult to find a common language with investors if you lack commercial expertise.
A fashion industry startup does not have it easy in the beginning. Fabric producers and factories favour large clothing manufacturers or, at the very least, charge extra for small orders. The creation of a collection, branding work, negotiations and production require sizeable initial investments before a single euro drops back into your account.
Formal Friday has proceeded with clear business objectives and has already attracted funding from several investors. The firm is not yet profitable, but the team was aware that they’d have to wait to get paid themselves.
“We don’t want to compromise on our growth vision, and would rather pinch and save for the first few years,” Tervilä says.
Lessons in trust
Formal Friday showcased its first collection in March 2015. An online store was followed by pop-up shops and a permanent outlet at Helsinki’s Lasipalatsi building. The next step will be to get their clothes on sale in the high-profile fashion shops of Europe and Asia.
It is vital to stand out. The company has demonstrated the functionality of its clothes with, among other things, a video of trickster Vellu Saarela performing somersaults in a suit.
“This business teaches you to trust in one another. I have international experience and I’ve formed a pretty strict view of how things should be done. But then our completely insane Toni Tervilä will come up with crazy ideas like setting up a pop-up shop in Helsinki’s best location,” Muurimäki says.
Jokinen, for his part, works on the firm’s process charts and he has taught his colleagues engineer-like problem solving. Jokinen and Muurimäki acknowledge that the different perspectives of an artist and an engineer can sometimes prompt bouts of arm wrestling. Especially in the beginning, everyone very much wanted to get involved with everything, but each of them has gradually learned to give the others space to handle their own departments.
“We have all softened up when compared to three years ago. We’ve begun to understand one another,” Jokinen says.
This article is published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 20, October 2017.