For Anniina Isokangas, entrepreneurship was the absolute last resort.
“I feel like I lack all qualities that are normally expected of those who become self-employed,” she says laughingly. “I’m not particularly outgoing, I’m not great at speaking in public, and I’m not very brave at all.”
However, she’s the founder and owner of PaaPii Design, a Finnish company that designs and manufactures fabrics, clothes and other lifestyle products and ships them to resellers and customers around the globe. That has meant a lot of practice for Isokangas.
“Initially, I wasn’t very eager to jump at opportunities to gain attention or introduce the brand to people,” she admits. “Hence, it has been a learning curve to start saying yes when all I’ve wanted to do is say no.”
Quit or go full on
The story of PaaPii Design started out modestly, too. As Isokangas was on maternity leave, she noticed her previous profession, ceramist, was a little too messy to be practised in the house. She decided to switch to sewing and ended up getting so excited about it that she started to share her hobby on a blog.
“I didn’t tell anyone about it in the beginning, and I had no intention of it ever becoming a job,” she recalls.
Half by accident, she took an evening course in entrepreneurship, yet she still had no premonition of PaaPii Design’s existence. However, as the sales through her blog started growing, she realised she had to either get serious or quit altogether.
In 2011, the never-an-entrepreneur became a business owner. Isokangas’ brother helped set up an online store and, at first, the founder and her mother-in-law made all PaaPii Design products on their own. At that point, the company focused on soft toys and furnishing textiles.
Soon, a wholesale firm from Australia got in touch, saying they were interested in selling PaaPii Design Down Under.
“On our website, it wasn’t evident that the company is run by just one or two people,” she says. “Of course, I had to tell them no, but it was a wake-up call that made me think this could be more than a mere hobby.”
More than seven-and-a-half years after its founding, PaaPii Design has resellers in about 30 countries, and the product range has grown to include things like clothing, DIY sewing sets and gifts. The main focus is on fabrics that are mostly sold in small, specialised stores around the world.
The products are manufactured in PaaPii Design’s own factory in Kokkola, Finland, and the GOTS and Oeko-Tex-certified organic cotton fabrics are created and printed in Lithuania and Poland. Isokangas deems it of utmost importance that ethical and environmental aspects are taken into account as well as possible.
“PaaPii Design walks its own path without being dependent on trends or seasonal fashion,” she explains. “We like to do things our way, and I hope that it’s a fun and original style that our customers recognise, too. My aim is to create a lifestyle and design brand beyond textile, without being categorised too strictly.”
Internationalisation has taken place mainly with the help of small partners. Isokangas has been contacted by large chains, but forming partnerships with them not something she sees as a priority, especially when production should be significantly scaled up to meet their demand.
“We want to cherish our image as a brand that isn’t the cheapest but can really offer value.”
In speaking about future plans, Isokangas doesn’t sound like someone who fears challenges. What happened to the fearfulness?
“I wouldn’t go back to working for someone else for the world,” she says. “It’s great to be able to do exactly what you want to do, and as we’ve grown I’ve been able to find others who are interested in and good at the tasks I’m not too keen on.”