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Rebekka Bay: ”I hope to make Marimekko even more globally relevant”
The creative director’s first collection for the Finnish house is now dropping in stores. We talk to her about how to constantly evolve and innovate in a rapidly changing industry, how tech in general and AI in particular open the brand’s rich art of printmaking heritage to the public — and the next generation of designers knocking at the door.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
23 Dec 2021

After ten years in New York, where she worked as global creative director for Uniqlo (Global Innovation Center), head of product for Everlane, and EVP creative director of GAP, Rebekka Bay moved to Copenhagen two and a half years ago. Before that, she lived in London for 14 years and helped to develop COS for H&M.

— My journey into fashion is definitely not a straight line, she tells. I studied art history when I first realized that I enjoyed the ”creative” subjects more than the academic subjects. I really enjoyed sculpting, drawing, and photography. Before applying to design school, I went to tailoring school, and while at design school I insisted on specializing in trend forecast. It was only after many years in trend forecasting and branding that I really moved to fashion. I have always found ideas more intriguing than fashion, innovation, and creativity more important than fast-paced trends. 

In September 2020, Bay joined Marimekko as their new creative director after a few years on the company’s board.

— I believe that Marimekko holds these same values that I just mentioned and that I can continue to enforce their recognition as a lifestyle brand and expression. This new job has been a wonderful experience. I am humbled to have the opportunity to contribute to developing the appeal of our collections by working with innovative designers and creatives. It is rare that you are awarded the opportunity to ”handle” such an extensive heritage, such an important history.  It has been especially fulfilling to have the opportunity to work with sustainable materials and innovations, and my team and I hope to address and action sustainable practices at every touchpoint. I hope to make Marimekko even more globally relevant, engage new communities, and strengthen our creative vision of timeless design that the brand has become famous for.

Bay also cares for the next generation of designers. One recent example was when she was part of the nomination board, the mentoring program, and the final jury at Danish award Magasin du Nord Fashion Prize.

— I mentored menswear designer Frederik Berner Kühl in the run up to the finale. He’s extremely talented. We have met pretty regularly, and whereas I don’t think he needs any help in terms of designing, developing a business plan, or organising his thinking or processes, I believe it has been an opportunity for him to test, discuss, and spar ideas, thinking, and ambition. Being on the jury for the finale is both exciting in terms of the opportunity to meet new talent, but it is also a day spent in the company of fellow creatives and the industry.

After 15 months at the helm of the Finnish brand, Bay’s first collection, Pre-Spring 2022, is now arriving in stores, to be followed by the Spring/Summer 2022 collection, dropping in March.

— Our theme throughout the year 2022 is New Folk, which references recurring elements and similarities in folk wear around the globe. In SS22, there is a focus on botanical expressions seen in fashion and nature alike. Folk art is traditionally referring to art or craft made by individuals whose creative skills convey their community’s authentic cultural identity, rather than an individual artistic identity. The New Folk theme is our creative and artistic exploration of Marimekko’s cultural and artistic identity. The botanical inspirations for the Spring/Summer 2022 collection are brought to life through our prints, in which the motifs are inspired by plants, foliage, and flowers. In addition, the silhouettes and details are inspired by organic and petal-like shapes, and the collection includes textural, tactile, and uneven surfaces. The collection also has many familiar Marimekko silhouettes — or archetypes — including our most famous A-line shape, she shares.

You mentioned innovation, how do you work with that in your daily operations?

— Constant evolving and innovating is a big part of what we do, being a design house rooted in creativity. We do that through design, but also through different research and sustainability initiatives. Our textile printing factory in Helsinki offers the perfect premise to do that — it operates as a factory, of course, but also as an innovation hub for our teams to test and try new techniques and materials. Recently, we, for example, have been working with the Finnish fibre-tech company Spinnova which produces innovative woodbased fibres for the textile industry. In addition, we have been experimenting with botanical and mineral dyes, left-over fabric, upcycling, and recycling, to name a few things. When it comes to technology, our latest exciting release is Maripedia, an interactive online print library that has an AI-powered image search feature to identify and search for our prints. We have over 3,500 prints in our brand archive, and this is our way of opening our rich art of printmaking heritage to the public.

— I hope to continue to foster creativity, drive innovation and quality to the brand, further increase sustainable practices and reinforce our position as a joyful, timeless, and global lifestyle brand. In 2021, we have piloted a new experiential store concept called Marimekko Kreative in Copenhagen. It acts as a physical platform where fashion, design, and our community can meet in new ways. I’m very excited that during 2022, we will open another Kreative store at a new international location, Bay concludes.

Photography: Elizabeth Heltoft

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