Our friend, illustrator, Olya Tsikhanchuk interviews Elina Aho, the lady with a big heart behind Punavuoren peikko.
Olya: I admire companies who care for environmental issues, sustainability and feel strongly about social responsibility. A bit over a year ago I did my first collaboration with Punavuoren Peikko and met the shop owner Elina. Our conversations were a lot about kids fashion, trends, marketing and the challenges of running a small business. The more we worked together, the more we got to know each other and had a chance to talk about life experiences and lifestyles.
This winter we travelled to Paris together, and lived a lot like college girls - talking way past midnight about everything! I truly grew to admire Elina’s spirit and believes. It is encouraging for me to see that her values of minimal, mindful and vegetarian life are not just a part of her personal life but are also a huge factor impacting her work and the decisions she makes with her business, Punavuoren Peikko. After 11 years of running her own shop, mostly behind the scenes, I felt like it is time to tell Elina’s story.
Olya: We can start from the very beginning, I guess. When and why did you start Punavuoren Peikko? How did your business look 11 years ago?
Elina: I was in the busy corporate business, I felt that I needed to jump off from the office work and do something else. I met a person who had an art gallery at Uudenmaankatu, and I brought in a few tables and racks and started to sell a few things there. We had handcrafted wooden toys, some accessories and a couple of racks of clothes. We just had a super start with everything and people got interested in what we were doing. It was a feeling of becoming a part of a new community in Punavuori with customers and on the other hand newly started entrepreneurs - it was a really nice time.
Olya: What brands did you sell back then and has the range grown?
Elina: I had small kids myself, at the time, and just got fed up with all the plastic toys and trash around. It was the time of MacDonald’s freebie toys and all other use-once-through-away things. So I searched for things that would last a bit longer, felt good in the hand and were designed with a thought.
I wanted to sell kids’ clothes, as new type of brands started to pop up from Denmark and Sweden with enthusiastic designers. The Mini Rodini guitar bodies and other cool things were a big contrast to everything else available in Helsinki at that time. Mini Rodini was already using Oeko-Tex certified fabrics and have kept sustainability as a basis for their designs throughout the years.
One of our other early brands was called Katvig, who was using cool designs, lots of colours and organic cotton - a combination that was really hard to find back then. One of the founders Vigga Svensson is still very active in sustainable living in Denmark. I have a big respect for her, she never gave up her thinking although it was not always very easy. Other early clothing brands that we had were Småfolk with retro designs and Molo with excellent quality. We also had a selection of wooden toys, a lot of it came from Germany - all still very beautiful and timeless.
Soon after, I also started an import agency in Finland with a friend, and Katvig was our first brand. This company was actually started on a napkin over lunch in town :) We worked with brands like Mini Rodini, Småfolk and Molo. We were happy to be around and see the growth of a new type of recycling of kids wear - people really appreciated the quality of these new different looking brands and started to re-sell them in social media and elsewhere.
We kind of started a new type of kids’ clothing market in Finland at the time, with Punavuoren peikko and our import agency. Yay! I’m happy that we played a part in changing the way people think about kids’ clothing into respecting more the design, quality, environment and recycling.
Olya: How do you choose the brands to carry in the store? What are the key factors in choosing a brand?
Elina: The things I look when choosing a brand are the story of the brand and who is behind it, design and practicality, environmental issues and production choices, and of course quality. In the past year we have dropped all brands that do not take sustainability seriously, or who don’t make any effort on improving in that area. By requiring sustainability, we have also pushed some brands to be more sustainable, to give it a thought, and it is always great to hear if they take that path, too.
I see it as my individual choice as well, I want to support brands who are sustainable and who are enthusiastic about it. It makes me feel good to do small choices like this in my own work. We are not perfect and still have a long way to go, but try to take our steps and do our best share.
Olya: How does your lifestyle translate into your business? What are the social responsibilities Punavuoren peikko takes on?
Elina: In my daily life, I like to think what is important, what I need, and what is the impact to other people and nature. I know that I could make even better choices, but at least I try to give it a little bit of consideration before buying or supporting something through using. I also practice and teach yoga, and I try to take the ideology of non-violence or not harming others unnecessarily into my daily life, including my work and the choices I make when working.
Our social responsibility starts at our own office - together we try to make it a nice place to work at, and to be kind to our surroundings.
Olya: We worked together on the rebranding of Punavuoren peikko. Or maybe not rebranding with the main goal of getting a new fresh look, but adding a more visible “green” touch on the brand. The goal of the project was to convey the strong position you take when it concerns the environment and being responsible for the future of the Earth. Can you tell more about the slogan “Yay, you’ve got great taste! …and it’s green.”
Elina: We have been making sustainable choices a bit more quietly before, and I wanted to speak out about it more. I think it is a happier life for us all, if we know what we buy, give it a little bit of thought, and perhaps start to make friendliness to the environment and people around us a norm in our everyday things. With our slogan we wanted say, yay, you can be stylish and green at the same time. It is also great taste to consider what do I really need and how it is made, not just how it looks like.
Olya: Elina wanted to make a more environmentally friendly shipping package and at the same time express the gratitude to her customers for choosing her shop. We worked together on designing the bag and came up with the pattern, where the first letters of the shop name “PP” form the shape of a tree. A tree that stands for our beautiful nature. The goal was to make a statement - if you choose Punavuoren Peikko, your choose organic, sustainable and fair trade products.
Olya: Besides admiring your lifestyle, I also look up to you for being a woman who is her own boss. What are the challenges you face?
Elina: I don’t see it really as a challenge, to be my own boss or to be a woman. Both things I see more as a privilege. Everybody can be how they are, this is how I am and like to be!