September 18, 2017

A wooden case that won’t bend to the market’s will

The wood used in the phone cases is made as thin as possible, hence the company name referencing 'lastu', which is Finnish for 'sliver'.
The wood used in the phone cases is made as thin as possible, hence the company name referencing 'lastu', which is Finnish for 'sliver'. 
Lastucase.com

Finnish company Lastu started out by taking an artisan approach to protecting smartphones, which has since seen demand for its products outweigh supply.

Six years since the launch of their mobile phone accessory business, the two founders of Lastu, Sakari Arffman (CEO) and Jussi Patopuro (chairman of the board), are facing an enviable problem – one that is indicative of a world where there are more active mobile devices than there are people.

Demand is exceeding supply.

“We recently moved our production to a bigger space 10 kilometres from the city of Oulu,” Patopuro, a young yet seasoned entrepreneur, explains. “But given the kind of production we’re running, scaling up has its challenges.”

It’s precisely the sustainable, artisan values which made Lastu such hot property in the first place that lie at the root of its growing pains – principles they’re not willing to compromise. Around 70 per cent of the production of its phone cases is carried out by skilled woodwork artisans (with a machine laser cutting the initial wooden slivers, and the externally-sourced silicon edging, making up the remaining 30 per cent).

Artisans treat the wood five times over with beeswax (among other natural waxes), before fitting and finishing each piece. What’s more, 30–40 per cent of orders comprise of customised phone/laptop cases, which can bring the number of products a woodworker produces per day down to as few as 10.

Wooden foundations

Thankfully, the beginnings of a blueprint which struck the two founders six years ago had legs.

“The birth of Lastu was a culmination of a lot of different factors,” Patopuro elaborates. “As early as 2011, Finns were spending upwards of 600 euros on cutting edge mobile phone technology, but frittering away 5–10 euros on a mass-produced and synthetic case.”

Sakari Arffman (left) and Jussi Patopuro, two entrepreneurs based in Oulu, are driven to make products that they themselves would want to use. 

Sakari Arffman (left) and Jussi Patopuro, two entrepreneurs based in Oulu, are driven to make products that they themselves would want to use.

Lastucase.com

This incongruity ignited a spark of inspiration.

“There wasn’t anyone else making phone cases that had intrinsic value: cases made of natural, sustainable materials that felt good to the touch,” Patopuro recalls. “We’ve never produced anything we wouldn’t proudly use ourselves.”

But they didn’t just want their products to feel good – they wanted them to do good, too.

Behind the company’s success has been the sustained commitment to imbue their products with values consistent with their natural materials. As is the case with their design processes (which are award winning and have led to interesting recent innovations), here the materials lead the way.

“In Finland, using wood is a genuinely ethical way to produce merchandise,” Patopuro says. “The supply chains are sustainable, we use wood from certified forests and never resort to species of trees that are endangered.”

Unlike some bamboo phone cases available on the market, the duo is committed to investigating its supply chains regardless of the material used.

“It helps that all our materials come from Finland, other than the fish scales which we source from Iceland, a by-product of the fishing industry,” Patopuro outlines. “But that’s a design we’re still developing.”

A natural touch

With an annual turnover of around 300 000 euros and five employees, the drive for sustainability seems to be working. Lastucase.com has been known to take those efforts even further, for example by working with organisations such as Greenpop, a tree-planting project in Zambia. Currently, five per cent of the product price goes to WWF’s efforts to protect Finland’s Saimaa ringed seal.

Patopuro emphasises that the company’s holistic approach resonates with a growing customer group that seeks meaning in everything they do.

“Most days we spend more time touching our smartphones than we do our significant other,” he says. “We wanted to help make one of the most important items you own that little bit closer to nature and thereby to humanity too. It’s a quality product you’re holding in your hand.”

Text: Heidi Aho

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