Woollen, with a small twist
Woolish has been combining the domestic knitting competence and the elegant interpretation of the latest trends for just over two years. Behind this trademark, which specialises mainly on home textiles and women's knitwear, is married couple Eigo and Anna Siimu.
IN A SENSE, THEIR STORY IS LIKE A REFLECTION of their changing will and self-realisation of their lives today. Eigo spent a long time working in a large logistics company, and Anna, who had been working as a catering service coordinator, drifted into becoming a stay-at-home mother for many years. There was a need for something new. After the birth of their third child, they decided to start their own family-owned company. However, the first step was not to knit sweaters, but to plan what type of company Woolish should be.
Knitted in the DNA
Knitting is pretty much in Eigo's family's genes, since he represents the fourth generation associated with this field. Eigo's great grandmother Hilda Valter had a small studio in Viljandi already back in 1928. Eigo's grandmother and mother were also professional knitters, and both belonged to the well-known folk art masters' team Uku. The driving force behind Woolish's creation was Eigo's idea to make something for himself and his family, and the desire to find a worthwhile job for his mother was also embedded in his plans. All the signs showed that the time for classical souvenir products and traditional Nordic sweaters will come to pass. What to do next? "We wanted to do something that would be original to us. Both Anna and I are very communicative people, who have lived abroad, have studied international relations and have been active in sports for a long time. The idea began to form, and at the beginning we just packed the company into our everyday lives," recalls Eigo as he talks about the birth of the corporation, in the Woolish shop in Baltika quarter, Tallinn.
From the very beginning it was clear that the trademark had to be strong and the creators did not want to tie it to their own name to it. "Woolish, as a trademark, was just a lucky idea, that we had when thinking about the company name at home. At one point English words began spinning in our minds: "Woolish – foolish! She is woolish, he is woolish, live woolish!" says Eigo. Eigo and Anna are confident that the brand must always remain natural and have their own creative imprint. Thus, the products, the cuts and the colours are mainly based on Anna's ideas. "We also don't want to come across as very hipster or as too minimalist in our designs. There must always be some kind of twist and uniqueness to our designs," explains Eigo. Woolish is aimed at an average or slightly wealthier consumer, but is still far from unattainable.
Thinking back, Eigo is grateful for the favourable times when Woolish was launched. Domestic design companies – pioneers such as the Estonian Design House, Les Petites and TALI – had just been established, and the residential area of Telliskivi began to emerge as an area for tourists. Eigo and Anna tried to get out there as much as possible by attending fairs and exhibitions, as they wanted to also attract the clientele from outside the local hipster stores. Among other places, the gates of Tallinn, namely the airport and ferry port, are important points of sale.
Moving forward, outside Estonia
Setting the bar high, Eigo (who, by the way, is a former professional pole vaulter), has always been sure that the Estonian market alone is not enough for the company. The support of EAS for creative companies was used, and updated branding has just been completed in cooperation with the agency Reflex. Laura Arum-Lääts has captured the newest products in the style of well-known former fashion photographer Boris Mäemets (whose exhibition can currently be seen at the Museum of Applied Art). Eigo divides the points of sales for their naturally-toned and latest fashionable pastel products into three categories: traditional commercial sales at the Kaubamaja department store's design and home world, e-commerce, and most importantly, their own representative store. "Our own life is on this side of the city and Veerenni quarter is developing constantly. The tourists do not find their way here, but there are many entrepreneurs and start-ups in the area, and also officials," explains Eigo. Woolish tries to be active through social media, but right now the main work goes into developing their own online store.
Eigo tries to approach the growth potential of Woolish with common sense, and the first lessons have already been experienced. At the moment, the factory in Viljandi offers full-time jobs for 6–7 people: 1 knitter, 4 seamstresses and a production manager who programmes the Woolish palm-tree pattern and other patterns into the machines. Eigo's mother is still a background force. However, a year ago, Woolish employed 4–5 more people. "Unfortunately, we did not see that we could sufficiently raise our sales in proportion to the number of employees. We were forced cut down on personnel. At the moment, we say that if there is more work than we can handle, it is very good," notes Eigo.
Ecology and the environment
Although Woolish would only like to use domestic wool in their products, right now the raw materials are imported from England. There are a number of reasons for this, starting from the price and ending with what the local market has to offer. "In Estonia, we can mainly get the rough wool yarn, but our products are a mixture of English wool and Merino. However, clean Merino wool products would be much more expensive," explains Eigo. Also, it is important to have consistently good quality, as all yarns and colours must be ordered in advance and prepaid. "For a small business, this means that there can be no possibility for error," he adds. All yarns are eco-tagged, and their origin is easy to identify. The Woolish makers also have a social conscience, and this makes them plan what to do with the leftover yarn. While modern knitting machines are more economical, the older machines have plenty of residue. So far, Viljandi factory residues have been given to the Viljandi Culture Academy. "The idea is to have as little waste as possible. We are also thinking about what can be done in the future together with other Estonian designers," says Eigo.
Article was published in Nordica´s in-flight magazine Time Flies (autumn-winter 2017).