Jenni Haukio’s Independence Day gown sets the stage for Finland’s next 100 years

Designed by Aalto students Emma Saarnio and Helmi Liikanen, the dress evokes nature with exquisite materiality and minimalist lines
Emma Saarnio ja Helmi Liikanen

Emma Saarnio and Helmi Liikanen. Photo: Eeva Suorlahti

The country’s most watched event will get a dose of nature this year. Jenni Haukio, spouse of Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, will wear a gown made of 100% birch-based fabric to the 6 December reception at Helsinki’s Presidential Palace. The evening gown for the Independence Day celebrations was designed and made at Aalto University.  

‘The starting point for designing the dress was the second century of Finland’s independence, which will bring more ecological ways of thinking, new sustainable materials and a new generation of designers. I wanted to make an outfit that complements the wearer’s personality and reflects the material’s origins,’ says Saarnio, an Aalto University student of fashion and clothing design, who designed the gown.

‘In the design I’ve combined Finnish traditions while at the same time looking to the future. I took inspiration from strong Finnish women, who are represented in the dress’ minimalist features and clear lines. The dress is a promise of a cleaner, brighter future,’ she explains.

Textile design student Helmi Liikanen, who designed the unique fabric, shares: ‘I wanted to use Ioncell material in an elegant and festive way. I designed the weave to have a structural, living surface, which highlights the unique material. This project really brings tradition and innovation together.’

Design meets science

The cornerstone of Ioncell technology is how science and design come together, also seen in Jenni Haukio’s evening gown. As part of a research project, the fabric was made by hand from start to finish. To achieve the best possible result, Saarnio and Liikanen carried out dozens of dye tests and modified their concept along the way.

‘While having this experimental material in our hands, we set out to create the best, most beautiful fabric for this very unique purpose, and to honour the development that went into making of it.’

Ioncell-kankaan kudontaa
The fabric of Jenni Haukio’s gown is handwoven and it was dyed after weaving. Photo: Mikko Raskinen / Aalto University

The dress is made of 100% Ioncell fabric, with silk organza accents and bringing it to reality was a team effort. Aalto’s long-time workshop master Päivi Kokko-Vuori wove the Ioncell yarns into fabric. On the laboratory end, textile engineer Marja Rissanen took care of yarn spinning and fabric finishings. Sari Kivioja, the head ofAalto’s textile workshops, made the patterns, while Reetta Myllymäki sewed the dress in Aalto’s sewing studio.AdjunctProfessor Maarit Salolainen tutored the fabric design process and Professor Pirjo Hirvonen oversaw the dress design and production. Professor Pirjo Kääriäinen coordinated the project, and the textile fiber production was done by a team of researchers led by Professor Herbert Sixta at the Aalto Bioproduct Centre.

Material of the future

Ioncell is an environmentally friendly process, developed at Aalto University and the University of Helsinki, that produces high-quality textile fibres from wood, recycled cotton or paper waste. For young designers, paying attention to sustainability is the norm, not the exception.

‘It is really important to me to design products that are made from long-lasting quality materials. In this sense, Ioncell has a lot of potential because it is a sustainable choice compared for example to cotton. It was really exciting to get to work with a material of the future as part of such a diverse team,’ says Liikanen.

‘Not only do we need new sustainable materials, we need to change the ways we design and use garments. As young designers and young people ourselves, we are worried about the environment, which is why it is fantastic to be part of a project where sustainable development makes up a big part. It is also inspiring that Mrs Haukio is bringing attention to the issue,’ adds Saarnio.

Professor Pirjo Hirvonen, who oversaw the dress design and production process, shares: ‘As a result of lots of development in the materials end, we will soon have beautiful, sustainable materials for everyday use. Talented young designers and locally sourced make an excellent combination. It opens the door to a more responsible era.’

Mrs Haukio’s outfit for the highly anticipated reception will be completed with Ildar Wafin’s jewellery.

Ildar Wafin’s jewellery reflects the same principles that have inspired the style of the dress and its fabric,’ says Saarnio.


Senior Science Editor Minna Hölttä, Aalto University Communications
p. 050 539 6229
[email protected]

Questions and answers

What is Ioncell?

Ioncell is a process, developed under the leadership of Aalto University Professor Herbert Sixta, for producing cellulose-based textile fibres. The most common man-made, cellulose fibre on the market is currently viscose.

The Ioncell process makes use of a safe, non-toxic ionic liquid, developed by University of Helsinki Professor Ilkka Kilpeläinen. Wood pulp, recycled paper or cardboard and textile waste can be used as raw materials. Mrs Haukio’s dress will be made of birch pulp from Stora Enso’s factory in Joensuu, Finland.

There are three stages in creating Ioncell fibres: cellulose dissolution, fibre spinning, and recycling of the ionic liquid. Then follows carding and yarn spinning, in the same way as other textile fibres.     

What makes Ioncell fibres ecological?

The global demand for textile fibres is growing each year by more than three percent. At the same time the cultivation of cotton is reducing and the hazards of oil-based, man-made fibres, like microplastics, are better recognised.

Wood grows in Finland without watering or oversight; in fact, yearly growth currently exceeds harvest and natural loss. Textile fibres made from wood have the potential to reduce carbon emissions, as recyclability means that carbon is stored for the fibre’s lifespan.

Finland has banned textile dumping in landfills in 2016 and currently about 80 per cent of recycled textiles are burned for energy, which leads to carbon being released into the atmosphere. Refining new textile fibres from waste, for example via the Ioncell process, presents one solution.

Cellulose-based Ioncell fibre is biodegradable and as a result does not release microplastics into the environment as it breaks down.

Is Ioncell a luxury product or can anyone get it?

The goal is to develop Ioncell material for everyday products, for everyone. Jenni Haukio’s dress material comes from a research project. It was produced on a laboratory scale and, in that sense, can be considered experimental.

How does Ioncell material stand up to use and washing? What are its key features?

Ioncell textile fibres are essentially a raw material for products. The properties and feel of textiles are always defined during the long and multistaged production process by designing yarns, weaves, knits and finishings. When produced in industrial scale, Ioncell products will be both usable and washable.

More information

Examples of dyed Ioncell threads and fabric swatches for earlier projects. Photo: Mikko Raskinen / Aalto University

Wood-based textile fibres and textile recycling are often in the news. How does Ioncell differ from other technologies?

Finland has become a hotspot for wood-based textile fibre research and knowhow. Various new methods focusing on creating textiles from wood, industrial or agricultural byproducts or even waste are under development. Each technology will result in textile fibres with different characteristics and potential end uses. Ioncell fibres are strong and durable, and can be used for high-quality clothing, interior textiles and even some technical textiles in the future.

When can Ioncell products be purchased?

At the moment Ioncell is at the research stage. To date, the team has created a number of unique products using the process, such as dresses, scarves, a jacket and iPad case.

Preparations for a pilot production line have already begun; it is estimated to be in use by 2020. The resulting fibre production will be significantly larger in scale than in the laboratory. If successful, the process could be ready for industrial production in 2025.

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