Let’s be honest here: Finnish winters can be gruesome. As lovely as images of beautiful, snowy landscapes on sunny January days are, there’s the other side of the coin as well.
About five years ago, Jukka Lehtinen and Pekka Keinänen found themselves wondering why it was such a struggle to find stylish and high-quality, yet functional, footwear designed to last both the good and the bad of Nordic weather. Keinänen had previous experience in shoe design and his own workshop in Kallio, Helsinki, so the duo decided to start playing with prototypes.
Initially, it was a hobby for the weekends, but slowly and surely their confidence grew enough to ditch their day jobs. Tarvas was founded in 2016, and a little over a year later the first pilot launch took place.
The idea is simple: “to create premium functional footwear that takes care of people on their journeys in life”. The style is “rooted in the design heritage and lifestyle of Finland” – including those who love to be outdoors in the winter.
Hitting back at sweatshops and fast fashion
Keinänen is responsible for the design of the shoes, and Lehtinen’s background is in marketing and sales. However, they both emphasise that, in a tiny startup, there aren’t set tasks or established roles; everyone involved needs to be pretty hands-on, whatever the job may be.
Lehtinen notes that the team does as much as possible on its own. The materials are sourced and prototypes tested by the founders, and there’s only a handful of experienced shoemakers taking part in the production, co-operating closely with the owners.
When creating Tarvas models, Keinänen focuses on quality, appearance and functionality. He strives for a style that is visibly in line with the company’s values.
“All Tarvas shoes are produced locally and made of sustainable and durable European materials,” he explains. “We want to hit back fast at fast fashion manufactured in sweatshops.”
Soon, Tarvas will announce a new collaboration, and the whole team is quite pumped about it. However, Lehtinen and Keinänen refuse to spill the beans just yet and refer to the partner simply as a cult fashion brand from abroad.
“We’re really excited about what the launch of this project may bring,” Lehtinen says.
Looking for locals
The core target group for Tarvas is adults with an eye for high quality and the environment. To reach out to the right kind of partners, Lehtinen and Keinänen have done their homework. For example, six months before the launch they travelled to France to visit fairs and showrooms and get to know some resellers, who then became the first Tarvas stockists.
“On that trip, we managed to convince the organisers of the most renowned Parisian fair that Tarvas would be a perfect exhibitor at their event,” Lehtinen tells. “That fair then led to various deals with international retailers.”
Currently, the main markets for the company are the US, the UK and Japan. Lehtinen believes that these countries also help boost visibility elsewhere.
Tarvas is very interested also in nearby markets, particularly the Nordics and elsewhere in Europe.
“That would make sense both logistically and in terms of the environment,” Keinänen points out. “As our footwear is designed and manufactured in Finland, it’d be great to see the vast majority of our shoes being worn by European consumers.”
Whatever the future may bring (on top of the still-secret collaboration) for Tarvas, to its founders it’s all about the journey.
“Our main goal is to work hard and enjoy this incredibly fascinating journey,” Lehtinen describes.
With dry feet, it should be a breeze.