It’s finally time for a new Behind the Biz interview. If you’re new to Prettygreentea, Behind the Biz is my weekly interview series where I discover businesses, the people behind them and their business journey. Today we’re diving into the world of eco-friendly fashion.
In today’s interview I’m chatting with Riikka and Mia, founders of TAIKKA.
Please tell us about your business.
TAIKKA is a handbag and accessories label that Riikka and I developed whilst both living in London. Our range is all about practical yet stylish daily bags that easily transform their look to take you from day to night, desk to dancefloor or beach to bar.
Where did the inspiration for Taikka come from?
Living in rainy London calls for a bag that is water-resistant, but of course we all like to carry a stylish bag too! Riikka and I have 5 children between us and being busy mothers always needing our hands free, we decided to develop a collection of handbags that are made from durable fabric that can withstand rather dreary weather. We wanted the bags to be super versatile so our first designs had changeable straps that could be used as short, long, cross-body or even as a decorative piece of bag jewellery. This versatility has become an integral part to our brand and we aim for each piece to have the capacity to be used for many different looks and purposes. We have since developed scarves that look equally good with your gym clothes, or with your evening attire.
How did you decide upon the name of your business?
MIA: We thought it would be nice to incorporate Riikka’s Finnish roots into the name of our business, so after a lot of brainstorming we came up with TAIKKA which means ‘either/or’ in Finnish. Being ‘taikka’ is very important to us as we develop new designs.
Riikka: As Mia said, TAIKKA which means either/or, revolves around multi-functionality. I wanted that we support women who have so many different roles in their lives needing to transform from a home look to an office look and from gym to an evening out. Our aim was to create stylish, versatile dailywear handbags which can be transferred easily from day to night or from a casual look to a more formal style.
How do you tackle running your business with one of you based in London and one in Melbourne?
MIA: For the first 2 years of the TAIKKA journey, we both lived in London so amongst babies, toddlers and school-aged children we managed to set-up the key elements of the business and get it up and running. Aside from the hideously sad farewell and not being together on a daily basis, we tried to look at my move home to Australia as a positive one for the business and a way of expanding TAIKKA into a new part of the world. As such, we have embraced the wonders of communication technology. We tend to speak to each other on FaceTime most evenings Australian time (UK morning) and then we each work individually during school hours, and again once our children are all tucked up! We also spend a lot of time chatting on WhatsApp to each other, as well as to our suppliers and factories, and of course email plays a big part of our communication too. Riikka and I both love to chat so often ‘work calls’ go off topic and become much longer than intended, but this is typical of our special friendship and how we like to roll! It does however, mean that it’s very often well past midnight before I retire!
Riikka: In today’s world you can honestly work anywhere. WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime and good internet connection is all we need. The only bigger challenge is the time difference between London and Melbourne but somehow we make it work. Mia is super efficient and normally responds to emails straight away (even to this interview, she had replied to the questions before I had even read them). Mia is also more practical with things. It’s very often that I have the idea and she finishes it off. I could not imagine doing the business without her and I think our mutual respect and understanding make things work well. We are pretty much available 24/7.
What did you do before starting Taikka?
MIA: I grew up in Tasmania and moved to Melbourne to study Science at university, with the intention of going into environmental consulting. However armed with my Science degree, I somehow ended up in Account Management at an Advertising agency! So when my husband was sent on secondment for ‘2 years that became 10+’ to London, I was very excited to be absorbed in ad-land in London. However, after our first son Jack, 10, was born I realised it wasn’t going to work to do my advertising job part-time and I wanted to spend those precious years at home with Jack. His first few years ticked on by and then our second son Harry, now 7, came along. Riikka and I later met at the Nursery and we just clicked and developed an amazing bond. By chance we became neighbours and spent many waking hours together, the boys then went to the same school and we hatched our plan for TAIKKA! Our tiniest TAIKKA mascot, Ellie, was born amongst it all in 2013!
Riikka: I grew up in Finland and after graduating from university I worked for the Finnish forest industry for some years. My husband got a job in Paris in 2007 and so we packed our bags and moved to France for a year. Due to his job we moved a few times between Paris and London and I did many jobs here and there. When my second son was born, I thought that I must put my dream of having my own company into reality. But I didn’t want to do it alone. I spoke to Mia about my idea of developing a range of handbags from weather-smart fabrics and she luckily liked the idea. We did our first collection of 150 bags and they sold out in just 8 days (but I have a huge family which was a good chunk of it:))
Did you always plan to set up your own business?
MIA: I didn’t ever have specific plans to set up my own business, it was Riikka who had seen a gap in the affordable luxury market for funky and versatile daily bags. She hadn’t yet had the time to make it happen, so when we realised that we had the backgrounds and skill sets that compliment each other well, we decided to give it a go. The rest is history!
Riikka: I always wanted to have my own company. My computer is full of business ideas. I love to develop products and ideas. Why I decided to move forward with this one was that I strongly believed there was a gap in the affordable luxury market with handbags even though the market is very saturate. Therefore we set about to create products that were different, using unique materials without adding a high price tag.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
MIA: For me it has definitely been finding a balance to divide myself between the business and having 3 young children. I am exceptionally lucky that my wonderful husband James is so supportive of TAIKKA which allows me to work very late into the evenings. Of course, our move back to Melbourne has been another huge challenge, but we have definitely managed to work around this and being on both sides of the world means that we are basically open for business day and night!
Riikka: Finding enough time! I am always running late, I always try to squeeze too much into my day but I still want to pick my boys up from school and spend the afternoon with them. They are my best support, my inspiration and the reason why I do this. I love to work and am extremely happy that I can work and take care of my family at the same time.
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
MIA: Most definitely the opportunity to work with the amazing Dr Carmen Hijosa throughout her development of Piñatex, the wonderfully innovative and sustainable fabric that is made from waste pineapple leaf fibres. We were involved in some sampling during the early days of Piñatex, so it’s fantastic to see the end product now commercially available and in high demand. We were lucky enough to secure enough of the first batch of Piñatex to develop our new range of eco-friendly pineapple-based bags, the ananas+ clutch. It comes in 2 colours – a striking gold, as well as a black version adorned with fine gold studding to the front panel. For us, eco-fashion is the way forward and we need to be incredibly mindful of looking after our planet when we develop our products, so we will endeavour for TAIKKA to be as sustainable as possible as we grow the brand.
Riikka: To see the products coming from factory as you had wanted them to be (not always the case:), having returning customers, receiving wonderful feedback, coverage in magazines an online, meeting amazing people throughout the 5 years and working with some very exciting materials.
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
MIA: Social media is a wonderful way for any business to get in front of targeted audiences. We tend to use Instagram the most, but do prefer to post original photos rather than filling our feeds with lots of photos taken from the internet and that many people end up seeing in lots of different feeds.
Riikka: I love Instagram. I am a very visual person in general so a platform with images is definitely my thing. We should explore the other social media channels as well but we haven’t had time (yet!).
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
MIA: Simply to believe in yourself. If you have always had a dream to start a business, have the faith to research and investigate how you can actually make it happen. It might seem daunting and tricky to begin with, but we made lots of mistakes along the way and we have learned from them for next time. If you are passionate enough about something, you can do it.
Riikka: Love what you do, don’t take things personally, stretch yourself with customer service and be flexible. Smile.
Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?
MIA: We would like to continue on our sustainability path and further develop our offering from Piñatex. We are also investigating other fabrics that are both eco-friendly, as well as fitting in nicely with our key TAIKKA design elements of being practical, durable and stylish.
Riikka: TAIKKA was founded 5 years ago and it has been a very crazy and hectic time. I hope we can gain a little more structure to the business and take it to the next level. In the product offering we will definitely continue our work with sustainable materials. We also need to look into distribution and raising brand awareness.
I want to say a huge thank you to Mia and Riikka for taking the time to be involved with Behind the Biz. I loved finding out about their business journey and their passion for their products. I was particularly interested to learn more about Piñatex and can’t wait to see what else they create with the innovative fabric. I think it’s so important to be a little more mindful with what we buy and really think about how it affects the world we live in.
It’s no secret that I love discovering new businesses. It’s even more special when a brand aims to do good for the world and create a useful product. I can’t wait to see TAIKKA continue to grow over the next year.
If you’d like to get involved with Behind The Biz please leave a comment below or drop me a message over on Twitter.