ANNELI AND MAUNO’S COURAGE AND PASSION LEFT A LEGACY
It all began with a couple, a van, and the will to make the world a better place with natural fibres. That was the start of the family-run company, the first to launch clothes made from organic natural fibres on the Finnish market. Forty years later there is demand for the products from countries as far away as Japan, Australia, and North America.
“My husband Mauno Mattsson and I worked in an electronics company in Helsinki, but we were drawn to the peace and quiet of the countryside. In the late 1970s, we visited Artjärvi for the first time and learnt more about organic farming. It wasn’t long before we noticed that we were running an organic berry farm. My own children had already grown up, but I had heard a lot of complaints about how difficult it was to find proper wool nappies and baby clothes in Finland, and that’s where the idea came from,” explains the founder of Ruskovilla, and now the “company granny”, Anneli Wahlsten.
Without prior experience in the garment industry, the couple traveled to Sweden to study. They returned with a van loaded with used machinery and their heads full of ideas. Mauno drew the original logo, which has only been slightly modified over the years, in autumn 1981 for the first store’s display window.
A REAL FAMILY-RUN COMPANY
Due to popular demand, the range was soon expanded to include clothing for adults and children. The premises were swapped several times for larger ones near the centre of Artjärvi.“At first, we didn’t have our own patternmaker to design new products, but newly graduated clothing industry professional Tuula Hepola came to our rescue. She designed many of our successful products, such as the overalls for babies and children, an outdoor undershirt, accessories, and warmers. She also participated in the process to create our first product catalogues, and brainstormed the VillaVauva brochure,” Anneli remembers fondly.Today, Tuula and her family are employed by the Ottobre pattern magazine, which is published in Finland and 140 other countries in eight different languages.
“In the early 1990s, my son-in-law Ossi Näkki came just to help out when we got busy. He ended up staying, and took over as managing director in 1999. In the same year, we launched our first online store alongside mail ordering and retail. Meanwhile, my daughter Leena Näkki is responsible for products, so this really is a family-run company,” explains Anneli.
A PIONEER IN ORGANIC MATERIALS
Over the years, Ruskovilla has been a real pioneer in the Finnish clothing industry: it was the first to introduce clothes made from organic merino wool, cotton, merino wool fleece, silk, and silk wool not only to Finland, but often also to the Nordic countries.“I grew up on a farm, so for me, important values in managing Ruskovilla are living in balance with nature, Finnish work, doing things right the first time, above all using valuable materials as precisely as possible in production. Nowadays we are delighted to have customers whose families have used Ruskovilla for several generations. Our aim is for customers to find the same familiar and high-quality product in our range years later, but we have also introduced new materials and designs to the selection. I suppose that’s the reason behind our 40-year success story,” says Ossi Näkki.
The future currently looks bright for Ruskovilla. The company has employed a younger generation alongside experienced professionals to learn the secrets of manufacturing Ruskovilla products. Consumers have also become more aware of alternatives to fast fashion. Anneli and Mauno’s valuable legacy will take the company forward in the coming years and decades.
In the photo Ruskovilla's current CEO Ossi Näkki and co-founder Anneli Wahlsten Photo: Sanoma Media