In many ways, Marimekko began in the right place at the right time. In 1951, the same year that the company was founded, the Ninth Milan Triennial marked Finland's international breakthrough in the sphere of industrial art, popularizing the country's design work and leading to the emergence of a star cult of Finnish designers. But while circumstances helped shaped its popularity, Marimekko's success has often been credited to two main sources: the dualism that has always existed between its works in design and fashion, and the vision and personality of its founder, Armi Ratia.
Armi Ratia in the Marimekko factory at Herttoniemi, mid 1970′s. Courtesy of the Marimekko Blog.
From the beginning, Marimekko's designs have provoked strong, desperate reactions in people. When Marimekko's first fashion show was held at the chic Kalastajatorppa Hotel in Helsinki in 1951, the clothes were practically sold off the models' backs. On the other hand, in 1964, the Eastern Finnish newspaper Karjala wrote:
The attitude to Marimekko clothes is seldom indifferent, they are either liked or loathed. People sometimes come into the Marimekko shops and spit with disgust. Or someone telephones obsessively because Marimekko hats are spoiling the look of the Helsinki streets! The person whose taste is conventional i.e. 'good,' as they say, is often of the opinion that one can't dress in clothes like that, but butter had melted many times before, too.Although Armi Ratia hadn't planned on becoming a textile artist, she came to the field as a student at the Institute of Industrial Arts (now Aalto University) in Helsinki, where she was influenced by Arttu Brummer, a teacher who fought ardently for the advancement of industrial art. Not only did Brummer have a influence Ratia's design work, but many of the designers who worked at Marimekko in its early years has similarly studied under and been inspired by Brummer's enthusiastic approach to design.
Gioia - Annika Rimala's Petrooli Pattern, 1963. Courtesy of the Marimekko Blog.
After graduating from the Institute in 1935, Ratia married Vilijo and established her own weaving workshop in Viipuri, employing six weavers to manufacture furnishing fabrics, rugs and wall-hangings and gaining experience within the industry. Ratia also spent her post-collegiate years gaining experience as a designer. Between 1920 and 1940, the possibilities for trained textile designers was very limited outside of the realm of competitions held by the Friends of Finnish Handicraft, an association created to preserve the indigenous Scandinavian handicraft movement, from whose competitions Ratia enjoyed considerable success. In 1939, Ratia was forced to close her weaving workshop in Viipuri, resettling in Helsinki. After spending time as a copy writer, however, Ratia would soon return to textiles due to a growing interest in fabric printing as a modern alternative to weaving techniques. In 1949, when Viljo acquired Printex, asking Ratia to create new patterns for his business, she recognized the possibility of starting her own printed fabrics company and once again being able to make use of her textile training and study of fabric printing, with the founding of Marimekko in 1951 soon to follow.
Armi Ratia at Bokars, 1960′s. Courtesy of the Marimekko Blog.
From its inception, Marimekko was unique in that it was lead by Ratia, with much made of the fact that its director and part owner was not only a designer who had been trained in industrial art, but a woman as well. In fact, gender was a large part of almost everything written about both Marimekko and Ratia, playing a definite role in the company's success; every design journalist, magazine and newspaper wanted to interview the woman director. But while Ratia's fame helped provide positive publicity for Marimekko, other factors helped in its success as well, including its independence as a privately owned company, the enormous post-WWII demand for consumer goods, the growing fame of Finnish design, and the company's tendency to take risks that were unusual when compared to other firms. And of these risks, Ratia's hiring of young artists and encouragement of experimentation led Marimekko to create some of its most extraordinary and iconic designs.
 Marianne Aav, "Armi Ratia and the Duality of a Design Enterprise," from Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture, ed. Marianne Aav (New York: The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2003), 19.
 Ibid., 20.
 Marimekko online, "About Marimekko: Timeline," http://us.marimekko.com/unfold/timeline, (accessed November 15, 2012).
 Signed "S.T.," from Karjala (9 January 1964), reprinted in "Armi Ratia and the Duality of a Design Enterprise," from Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture, ed. Marianne Aav (New York: The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2003), 21-22.
 Marianne Aav, "Armi Ratia and the Duality of a Design Enterprise," from Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture, ed. Marianne Aav (New York: The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2003), 26.
 Ibid., 27.
 Ibid., 29.
 Ibid., 29-30.
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 36.
 Ibid., 36.
 Ibid., 36.