December 4, 2014

Finnish design saves lives

Finnish designers create safety reflectors for Saintex. The photo features a reflector designed by Paola Suhonen.
Finnish designers create safety reflectors for Saintex. The photo features a reflector designed by Paola Suhonen.
PIIA MÄÄTTÄ / SAINTEX OY

Saintex is a small, Finnish family-owned company that manufactures a variety of products. Its most well-known items, however, are its soft safety reflectors. They are the creations of Finnish designers.

Safety reflectors – a Finnish invention

  • Safety reflectors were first invented by Arvi Lehti from Finland after WWII.
  • Reflectors improve pedestrian safety in dark conditions.
  • Safety reflectors work by reflecting light back at the light source.
  • In Finland the law requires pedestrians to wear reflectors when walking along roads in the dark.

Many objects whose manufacturer we never come to think about are made by Saintex. The company’s products include various writing pads, folders, mats used in shops for counting change or plastic pencil pockets used by doctors. Saintex creates many products according to the customer’s specifications; this guarantees that they will be used sensibly.

“We want our products to have a clear purpose and to stand the test of time,” says Susanna Blomqvist, CEO of Saintex. “We make a lot of small, high-quality batches to order.”

The company sells its reflectors in its online store, through its wholesalers and directly to companies.

Made and designed in Finland

In 2004, Blomqvist read in the readers’ comments section of a newspaper a complaint about how Finnish safety reflectors lack style. At the same time Ivana Helsinki’s owner, designer Paola Suhonen, was highly visible in the media. Blomqvist decided to contact her. Their collaboration began immediately and continues to this day.

Since then, Saintex has used Finnish designers to create its reflectors, with famous names including Eero Aarnio and Ilkka Suppanen, in addition to Suhonen. New collections are launched every year.

“We also wish to place new Finnish designers in the spotlight, people who are not yet very well known,” says Blomqvist. 

All of Saintex’s products are manufactured at the company’s factory in East Helsinki. Only a fraction of the products are made by machine; the majority are hand-made. Saintex wishes to remind people that products can also be made in Finland. The company’s vision for the future includes keeping its production here.

Boldly overseas 

Susanna Blomqvist runs 65-year-old family-owned business.

Susanna Blomqvist runs 65-year-old family-owned business.

Marja Kasanen

Saintex safety reflectors have been sold earlier in Switzerland and Japan with good results. It is now time for the company to take an even bigger leap overseas. That is why Saintex has bought the Life Saver brand that brings together all of the various designers’ collections.

“Finns are well-known foremost for quality and also our designers,” says Blomqvist. “At least in Japan these factors seem to be valued.”

The next destination is the brand-conscious city of Hong Kong where everything exotic is in vogue. According to Blomqvist people in Hong Kong may not be familiar with reflectors but they do use various types of hanging jewellery on their handbags.

“Someone said to me that trying to make it on the Hong Kong markets with reflectors is like selling sand to the Sahara,” she says. “I’ve admitted that that might be true, but when you’re crazy enough you have to try.”

Saintex also wants to turn on its head the idea that safety reflectors need to have a wintery theme.

“When we were working in Switzerland we realised that reflectors don’t have to be winter-related,” says Blomqvist. “People there wanted safety reflectors the shape of, for example, sunglasses and ice-cream cones. That made me wonder why our take on them has been so narrow.

“In Finland safety reflectors are always seen as something fairly mundane. Abroad, people have a more open way of thinking; safety reflectors are cool objects if they look good. And they also save lives.”

Text: Anna Korvenoja

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