Focusing on the Finnish line

During one of my walkings at the shopping street I stumbled upon a nice and interesting small bear printed on a graphical M at a kinda New Balance-looking-sneaker. I found it very interesting and tried to memorised the label brand - which of course didn't work.

What I could notice was that the brand was from Finland - in case you're from there you may probably already know what I will talk about - In case you have no clue what is that, neither where Finland is located keep reading to discover what I'm going to talk about.

First of all, Finland is a country in Europe located close to Sweden, Norway and Russia. The capital Helsinki is a very interesting place with great architecture that mixes influences from Scandinavia - most from Sweden - and from Russia. The history and culture is pretty much connected to both countries. Better then me trying to explain these elements check the wikipedia (or something even more reliable) to learn more. In advance I can say that I had the chance to visit its capital.

Helsinki has an amazing visual and as I mentioned before I was surprised on how much influence they have from Russia. I was expecting a Scandinavian capital and through its charming streets paved with cobbles I could find great stores, interesting brands and a different approach for design and art. It's not hard to find great museums and appreciation for modern art.

From that visit I could revisit the feeling of discovering a good surprise again. There they were, a very "hipster" couple wear the bear's shoes. Again, I couldn't check the brand and what was behind that intriguing sneaker. Finally, after some months, again in Copenhagen. There they were, exposed at the Sneakers & Coffee. The beautiful and mysterious Karhu.

Karhu as many of the others is a sport wear brand that focus also on vintage sport wear. Their story as well doesn't go super far from the way many other famous brands started. Back in 1916:

Ab Sportartiklar Oy establishes a small workshop in downtown Helsinki where locallysourced birch was transformed into the first products: javelins, skis and discuses. It didn’t take long to realize that Finnish birch provided a distinct advantage – its light weight and flexibility helped athletes throw and glide farther and with more efficiency. Running spikes are also developed, and land in the U.S. at the feet of Hannes Kolehmainen, the first “Flying Finn,” and Ville Ritola, the “Flying Wolf,” who raced in Berwick, PA in 1917. Below right: Hannes Kolehmainen (#33) wins in Berwick, PA.
The necessity creates the brand and from there many people start to purchase what were their differential. Comfort and performance. You can see the entire story at their website and check how war, and the start rentability of sport make the brand start investing in what they are today.

As highlights from that chronology: 1960 when the company copyrights the M - which for didn't make much sense until I discovered it stands to "M-symbol—the only trademark used in running shoes—derived from the word “Mestari,” which means “champion” in Finnish." 1970 - invention of the air cushion.

From that point the history goes very similar to what happened to other sneakers. Having of course the 80's and 90's to make the vintage style markable.

I must say that visually their products are very nice and interesting. They have a good style that don't stop bringing to my mind a simple question: why people don't know about that? Or am I the only one who haven't heard about that brand before.

We have with no doubts the supremacy of specific brands when focusing on the vintage style - the one that apparently brings Karhu to the spotlight in Copenhagen at least. Adidas, Nikes and New Balances have a disputed race trying the first places while Pumas and Reeboks come on the middle groups followed by Saucony, Diadora, and a groups of other brands trying to win the race.

Karhu may not being seen around all around but I must say that they have a great potential. Good appealing from a different mark, good logo, and marketing themselves as reference in comfort. Would I be willing to spend the same price of a New Balance on my new discovery? I'm not sure yet. I'm still watching to see if they will get to the "Finnish line".


A sneaker freaker since 2008, he had the time and passion to create the SNKR 2008. Besides shoes he's a creative consultant passionate about art, design, music and culture.

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