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Finnish cup design’s appeal is durable

Kupilka distinctively round cups, plates and cutlery are made of a mix of wood-based fibres and thermoplastics which makes them light, durable and recyclable.Kupilka

Kupilka dishware is tailored for the outdoors, promising a lightweight, ecological and durable experience even in Arctic conditions. And its origins come not from the cutting edge, but from the distant past.

Plasthill has a mission. This Finnish family-run company manufactures distinctive Kupilka round cups, plates and bowls built upon centuries-old Karelian tradition. But its audience couldn’t be more different, and it is an audience which is growing.

“Our products are targeted towards the typical modern person who cares about nature, wants to take care of themselves and spends time outdoors,” says Laura Kaasinen, international business manager at Plasthill.

Kupilka is a modern take on the wood-carved cups used by Kari Kuisma’s ancestors as far back as 1775. Image: Kupilka

Today the Kupilka range is sold in close to 30 countries around the world. Aside from their design, the appeal of Kupilka products is that they are durable, lightweight and recyclable. This is thanks to their construction from a proprietary natural fibre composite made out of wood-based fibres and thermoplastics. This ensures the cups and bowls can withstand boiling water but also hold their own in temperatures as low as -30C.

Ecologically, all Kupilka products can be safely burnt, recycled or returned to Plasthill for re-use at the end of their life cycle. While this may sound futuristic, Kupilka’s roots are anything but.

Over 200 years in the making

Kupilka’s origin lies in 243-year-old Karelian ingenuity. Situated in the east of Finland, old Karelia was the homeland of Kupilka creator Kari Kuisma’s ancestors. And it was those ancestors who first carved Kupilka’s distinct round shape out of wood back in 1775.

“Kuisma saw the need for a modern alternative since wood isn’t the best material for everything,” explains Kaasinen. “The development of a new material started and the cup’s design was updated to combine modern usability with respect for old traditions.”

The material, called Kareline natural fibre composite, was a collaborative effort between Kuisma, company partners and Puugia, the Centre for Wood Technology in North Karelia. The first Kupilka cup was introduced in 2003 and today Kareline is used across the product range.

In 2017, the Kupilka cup was awarded the Scandinavian Outdoor Award for its quality, functionality and design. Image: Kupilka

Plasthill initially produced the biomaterial for Kuisma but eventually bought his one-man operation in 2014. Now Kuisma is in charge of the company’s domestic sales team.

Kupilka’s green credentials appealed to Plasthill. In 1998, Plasthill became the first company in Finland to use green electricity throughout its production process and today claims to have made its entire manufacturing process emission-free.

“We don’t waste anything, even heat,” emphasises Kaasinen. “All waste heat is recycled back into production and any waste materials or faulty products are re-used.”

Going greener

Plasthill’s ambition for Kupilka is to make it a global outdoor brand. Kupilka dishware has already gained a strong foothold in the Nordics, Canada, Germany, Japan and the US. Next Plasthill is targeting Australia and China. With the active outdoor lifestyle increasing in popularity around the globe, the company’s international efforts are well timed.

“It definitely has an impact,” enthuses Kaasinen. “Our exports grew over 80 per cent last year and already account for nearly half of our sales.”

But sales are not all that matter to Plasthill. While the company would like to see everyone buy a Kupilka, the company has a different priority.

“Our material development is ongoing and we are making the plastic element more environmentally-friendly,” Kaasinen explains. “Ecological values are everything to us.”

By: Eeva Haaramo