Kaino: for responsible consumption

Text: Kreetta Haaslahti Photos: Julia Hannula

Pure natural materials, high quality and responsible consumption. These values guide the operations of knitting company Kaino, which is located in the village of Kepola in Köyliö – the heart of Satakunta The knitting company makes various kinds of products, with focus on women's clothing. The company does everything itself from designing the collections to creating the completed garments.

As recently as 2010, Niina Sinisalo worked as a hairdresser. She had always been good at working with her hands but when a suitable opportunity presented itself, she decided to switch from mixing hair colours and cutting hair to a different kind of creativity.

– I kept the scissors but the material changed to yarn, Sinisalo says.

"A suitable opportunity" meant the traditional Köyliön neule's machines, which were for sale. Sinisalo knew the entrepreneurs, the Lehto couple, went to take a look at the machines and decided to buy them.
– It required some madness and some courage, Sinisalo admits.

Kaino © Julia Hannula

The founder of Kaino, Niina Sinisalo, by her important instrument: her sewing machine.

Her belief in her own strong vision was helpful. And the fact that Sinisalo did not take this massive leap by herself. For the first few years, her partner was Sanni Salonen.
– I had a strong feeling that I made the right choice. My nature prevents me from thinking everything through. If you start to ponder too much, you won't do anything like this, Sinisalo admits.

From the beginning, it was obvious that there would be a new brand name and a new company. Skills and knowhow were transferred from the previous owners during the one-year transition period, included in the contract.
– The machines, the premises and the yarn suppliers remained the same. Everything else was replaced.

"Kaino is one of the few Finnish companies whose products are made from organic long-staple cotton fabric that we knit ourselves."

Wool without cruelty

Sinisalo's strong hunch turned out to be accurate, as she has had her hands full of work since the very beginning. Kaino's products meet the wishes of consumers, who want to think about their own consumption more deeply. Their purchase decisions are directed by values that go deeper than disposable consumerism.
– The materials we use are always machine-washable and durable. They help to create products that bring joy for the long-term because natural fibres don't deteriorate nearly as fast as synthetic fibres.

Domestic manufacturing, ecologic items and ethicality are also important to Kaino's customers.
– We are one of the few Finnish companies, if not the only one, whose products are made from organic long-staple cotton fabric that we knit ourselves. The organic knit tricot used by other manufacturers usually comes from Latvia or Poland.

Kaino © Julia Hannula

Kaino – Made in Finland.

Another material used by Kaino is high-quality merino wool, which is not treated with biocides or finishing agents. The treatment of sheep is important as well.
– The merino wool we use is never mulesed. It means that sheep rearing is closely monitored, the sheep are not mistreated and that there are no cruel acts in order to increase wool production.

– I'm positively surprised by the extent of demand for products like this. Of course, you have to be responsive. You have to listen and meet demand, create campaigns and be attentive.

"Customers make excursions to the middle of nowhere, to this knitting oasis."

Remote location and freedom

Kaino's story includes some surprising factors that the company has turned into strengths. One of them is the remote location, but it has never been a problem for Kaino.
– Customers make excursions to the middle of nowhere, to this knitting oasis. This summer, for example, our long-term fans from Oulu came the whole way to spend a day at Kaino's store in Köyliö.

Kainon kauppa Köyliössä © Julia Hannula

Kaino's store in Köyliö has a cosy atmosphere.

Kaino sells its products on its own online store as well but it has not negatively affected visits to the brick-and-mortar store. Quite the contrary.
– For example, in the summer of 2016, approximately 60% of the sales were made in the actual store and the rest, approximately 40%, online and through retailers. Of course, the ratio changes depending on the month.

There are approximately twenty retailers in brick-and-mortar stores around Finland. They share Kaino's set of values. Many sell only Finnish design or products made by small-scale producers, like Kaino. Supermarkets and other large chains with their tight rules are not of interest.
– Our own freedom, which is our strength, would cease to exist.

A good team turns ideas into products

Sinisalo doesn't have education or training in the textile industry. Many times, it surely would have come in handy but on the other hand, it is a strength in itself. As she came to the industry from the outside, she is not bound by pre-conceived restrictions.

Sinisalo hallitsee myös neulekoneen käytön © Julia Hannula

The knitting machine is out of yarn but Sinisalo's quick fingers fix the problem in no time.

Sinisalo designs Kaino's patterns herself. She is helped by her sister Annukka Lehmus, who has also created Kaino's business image. According to Sinisalo, the creative process is never switched off. Travelling and exercising in nature are used to feed creativity.
– I might, for example, see some tree bark when I'm getting the mail and that sparks an idea. Then, I just have to grab a pencil and paper and start doodling. Sometimes, a bigger idea falls more quickly into place and my vision quickly becomes reality. Sometimes, I hit my head on the wall and give up.

"I usually have more ideas than I can turn into products."

So far, there hasn't been a shortage of ideas.
– I usually have more ideas than I can turn into products. As such, there's a stash of them for the future.

Sinisalo readily praises the five-person team that assists in the creative process and in turning drafts into patterns.
– We work as a team, of course. When a collection starts to take shape, the team is expanded to include a group of women who try on the clothes, share their opinions and consider potential colours with us.

Kainon tiimi © Julia Kauppi

The work clothes of Kaino's happy team were created by their own knitting company. From left: Terhi Virtanen, Riitta Konttila, Linda Viipuri and Niina Sinisalo. Anna-Kaisa Meriläinen, Vesa Lehto and Annukka Lehmus are also members of the team.

"The Fall 2016 collection is our best collection ever."

Kaino has grown moderately since the beginning. So far, this has meant hiring one additional person every year. It hasn't been difficult to find good sewers.
– The right people have always sort of been already around when we have needed them. Many people do want to work with us and they actively seek employment with us.

At the time of the interview, the Fall 2016 collection was receiving its final touches, so Kaino is in the middle of exciting times.
– Our best collection ever, Sinisalo glows.

A new employee, Tiina Metsäpuro, is about to start. As she will focus on product development, sales, and marketing, she is the first employee who was hired to do something else than sewing work. At Kaino, the future is being painted with a tried and tested model.
– We are still not looking for explosive growth nor are we planning on expanding by taking big risks. We are moving forward step by step, just like we have been doing so far.

The future looks bright. And hopefully so will the premises.
– We are dreaming of more open premises that were designed for work like this. We expressed the idea and we are keeping our eyes and ears open in case we might find a suitable place nearby.

For now, Kaino's store is located in the familiar premises of the old bank. So head over there when you want something genuinely Finnish – by its soul and by its stitches.

Värien ja kuosien leikkiä © Julia Hannula