Minna and Mari with a group of artisans under a tree

Friendship can lead to adventure

Mifuko was founded in 2009 by Mari and Minna. The whole story started with friendship. Without it, we wouldn't be where we are today.

Mifuko was founded in 2009 with my friend Minna - the whole story started with friendship. Without it, we wouldn't be where we are today.


Minna and Mari in Kenya wearing black Mifuko t-shirts

We first met when we queued up for the entrance exams to the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture and started talking to each other. Out of the hundreds of other applicants, we both were selected with eight other students to study Textile Art. During our studies, I did a design project with Minna for a carpet company in Alajärvi. We realised that when we work together ideas flow and we inspire each other.

We graduated and started families; our children have known each other since they were less than a year old. We held joint exhibitions of textile art and visual art. Minna worked as a freelancer doing graphic design meanwhile, I worked in branding and graphic design at the Finnish loudspeaker company Genelec for three years. After that, I did graphic design and art projects as a freelancer. 

When Minna and her family moved to Kenya in 2008, my family and I were the first guests in Minna's home, which didn't even have any furniture! Already then, we were already tossing around the idea of a business. Minna had had time to get to know the country and while wandering around the markets, she noticed there were many skilled artisans in Kenya. They also used ecological materials, but the artisans' products were alike and did not reach the international market.  We had both dreamed of a job that had a deeper meaning. Could our work have a positive impact on the lives of women and other people in vulnerable positions? The time was right.

After a moment of reflection, we decided to set up Mifuko together. Our mission from the beginning has been to employ as many artisans as possible in Kenya as well as other African countries. We realised that with our training and work experience, we could design products and collections that would appeal to customers worldwide. We wanted our products to stand out from the rest and at the same time increase appreciation for traditional handicraft products in the region. Our graphic design skills would help build a strong brand that would highlight our artisans.

Shortly after launching the company, Minna met local Ruth Kalondu and this friendship has become an important part of the Mifuko story. Ruth is from the area where our basket production is today. Since she speaks the local language, we had a direct link to our artisans right from the start. 

Friends Minna, Ruth and Mari in Kenya

For Mifuko's first four years, Minna lived in Kenya, and we worked via Skype with Ruth while Minna's young daughters playing in the background in Minna's studio and mine played in Helsinki. I went to Kenya a couple of times a year and got to know Ruth and Kenya better. While I was there, we worked on product designs together. Back in Finland, I would focus on marketing, while Minna stayed in Kenya and focused on developing the workshops and production. 

"There were times when one of us was ready to quit, but encouraging words of the other kept us going. "

It was a bumpy start, and as we have said many times, if we had started the company alone, we would have given up many times already. There were times when one of us was ready to quit, but encouraging words of the other kept us going. At the heart of Mifuko is the creative process of working together, the best part being when we just let the ideas fly and exchange them. It has been essential for our company to find new ideas and ways of doing things and making decisions that one person might not dare to make. Together it's easier to take bigger leaps. 

Many of Mifuko's artisans have been friends for years, but many new friendships have also grown within the groups. Working together is a strength and an asset in Mifuko. It feels incredible to think about where we are now. It's been a long time since that moment in the entrance exams' queue, and I never thought it would lead to such an adventure. Mifuko already employs 1,000 artisans, and its products are sold in over 30 countries worldwide. I've been lucky to make this journey with my good friend and meet so many strong, and wonderful women over the years.


Mari Martikainen
Co-founder and co-owner of Mifuko

Minna and Mari weaving with artisans.Artisans weaving together under a treeArtisan weaving green striped basketMinna, Mari, Ruth and Victoria meeting artisans in Kenya