• News
  • People
  • Long Read
  • Opinion
  • Weekend Wrap


VAI-KØ mingles urban with wilderness

When VAI-KØ was founded, a lot of environment-friendly clothes didn’t appeal to the Vanonens’ sense of fashion.Teppo Tirkkonen

Finland-based VAI-KØ believes nobody should need one beanie for the city and another for the outdoors, because having one that’s stylish and lasting can serve both purposes.

It’s all in the slogan for VAI-KØ: from urban to wilderness.

“We want to combine functionality and style,” explains VAI-KØ co-founder and CEO Henri Vanonen. “Whether you’re chilling in Kallio [a hipster district in central Helsinki], or hiking or skiing out and about, you can wear the same beanie.”

Beanies are what VAI-KØ, an ethical and ecological design brand founded by Vanonen and his wife Maria Vanonen, are most known for. However, these days the brand’s offering includes shirts, sunglasses, bags, caps and scarves, all designed by Maria Vanonen.

The business idea can be traced back to two unhappy shoppers. A fair few years ago, the Vanonens were looking for environmentally sound fashion but found most designs a tad too hippy to their liking.

“We couldn’t really find ecological clothes that tickled our fancy in terms of style,” Henri Vanonen recalls. “As Maria was studying industrial design and I was a business student, we figured it’d make sense if we tried filling the gap ourselves.”

VAI-KØ’s name is a reference to the Finnish word vai (or), meaning that there are alternatives to the current status quo in fashion. Image: VAI-KØ

VAI-KØ was officially founded in 2014, with the aim of making every single step of the production process as sustainable and transparent as possible – without compromising on how trendy the clothes look.

Less stuff, more quality

When it comes to ethical and ecological manufacturing, the textile industry receives a lot of bad press, and most of the time for good reason. VAI-KØ wants to lead by example: its merino wool is bluesign and GOTS-certified, coming from Argentinian farms. The final products are knit and sewn in Finland. All other production takes place in Europe, apart from VAI-KØ canvas bags, which are made in Pakistan and carry a CSR certificate.

The company wants to do everything in its power to ensure its effect on the environment is as small as possible and it improves the life of people working with the product during its life cycle. Henri Vanonen points out that there are already a lot of choices when it comes to transparent fashion, and consumers are slowly but surely taking note. He hopes that, one day, ethical production will be the new normal.

Henri Vanonen and Yoda Image: VAI-KØ

“It definitely is a growing field,” he says. “We, too, want to encourage people to buy less stuff but to make sure that the little stuff they buy is of high quality and durable so that, essentially, we really just need less of it.”

A skateboard that won’t be binned

In 2015, Henri Vanonen was involved in a side project, developing and producing 100 per cent recyclable skateboards with the help of a crowdfunding campaign. The Finnish-made Uitto boards are made of polypropylene and wood fibres.

Now, the skateboard business is part of VAI-KØ. Vanonen deems it a good fit, as both brands share the same values.

Eco-friendly ambitions aren’t the only things Uitto Boards and VAI-KØ have in common. Vanonen thinks that the Nordics, Germany, Switzerland and North America would be fruitful markets for both boards and clothes, as they also happen to be regions that are known for now a relatively high density of snowboarders, freeskiers – and skateboarders.

“Outdoorsy yet urban people are definitely our main target group,” Vanonen notes.

Currently, the couple share their responsibilities pretty evenly. The autumn collection is about to hit the stores, and on top of planning new products and designs the entrepreneurs are aiming to expand their international reach. At the moment, VAI-KØ products are available abroad through its online store, but the plan is to find new resellers at fairs across Europe and beyond.

VAI-KØ would like to see a growing number of consumers demand transparency. Image: Maria Vanonen
By: Anne Salomäki