Taiga Colors are a Finnish company specialising in pattern design. Their brick and mortar store sits in the very heart of Helsinki, next to the Senate Square. The light-filled store is usually filled with the colourful high-end cushions that form the bulk of Taiga Colors B2C products. The eye-catching cushions are available in a few sizes, several themes and dozens of patterns. Outside of the store they can be spotted in several Finnish hotels and Finnish Embassies around the world.

But, for the last six months, Taiga Colors haven’t been selling cushions but face masks.

With their prime Helsinki location and eye-catching product Taiga Colors enjoy heavy tourist footfall. They estimate that tourists make up around 40 percent of the customers visiting their brick-and-mortar shop; in July tourists are as much as 90 – 95 percent of their customers.

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And then, COVID-19. The company estimates that between March 2020 and the end of that year they were visited by only nine international tourists. The Finnish people rallied around their ailing local businesses, responding enthusiastically to Taiga Colors’ online sales of trays and coasters. But times were hard and after a few months this started to trail off.

Was the six-year-long story of Taiga Colors’ brick-and-mortar store about to end?

CSI Face Mask Challenge

Taiga Colors also fulfil B2B design projects, creating custom patterns and projects for companies and the public sector. The Finnish Defence Forces, Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the city of Helsinki. Through this side of the business they spotted the CSI Face Mask Challenge.

CSI had issued a call to the cruise design and hospitality communities to design a face mask. They were looking for a design that was protective, practical and still looked good. The idea struck inspiration in Taiga Colors. Time was tight but they completed pattern design in just one day and sent the pattern to the printers the next.

Although Taiga Colors did not win the CSI Face Mask Challenge, their designs were an instant hit on social media. Their virus-patterned masks were a particular success. Taiga Colors said, ‘Our customers were making reservations for masks which didn’t yet exist!’ So, how could they turn this to their advantage?

Refining the design

Finnish Minister of Environment, Krista Mikkonen, wearing a Taiga mask at the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg

The next stage, they said, was to refine their design. The process was intense, ‘For several weeks I was reading all the information I could find about face mask materials, tests etc, from Finland and from all around the world. Then we started ordering different materials for testing. In Finland often the face masks are sewn from cotton. We didn’t want TC masks to be cotton because it gets wet easily and wasn’t necessarily the best for protection. Instead we found polyester-elastane (78/22), 78 percent of which was recycled. Ecological values are important to us. We started testing the material, and soon it was chosen for our masks. For the mask to stay securely in place for different shaped faces, the attachment was designed to be tied behind the head with ribbons. The ribbons are recycled and elastic material from the Finnish textile industry.’

And the response? It was overwhelming! Taiga Colors placed their first batch order. Then the second and the third. And the orders kept coming. People were saying on social media how easy it was to breathe in the masks and how well they stayed put on your face. Finnish actors and composers wore Taiga masks to premieres. They were the choice of mask for doctors. The Finnish Minister of Environment, Krista Mikkonen, used Taiga Colors’ masks in the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg.

A worldwide success

Their popularity soared outside of Finland too. They heard from enthusiasts in the US who said that their masks were the best for downhill skiing. Others got in contact to say they wore Taiga masks to their African dance lessons. Yet others said that they found the masks comfortable to wear as asthma users.

The masks, which now come in two sizes and 14 different patterns, are all manufactured in Finland. The price for B2C customers is 25 euros / piece. The mask patterns include for example themes of nature, Helsinki, aviation, viruses, coding and ICT. One of the most popular ones is a pattern with an icebreaker called SISU, with a text ”The Times of SISU”. The Finnish word SISU means perseverance or guts.

Finally, a big custom design face mask order from a public sector company, CSC – IT Center for Science Ltd., provided enough cash flow for Taiga Colors to survive for several months.

Taiga Colors say, ‘Without this order and the individual mask customers we would have had to give up the brick and mortar store months ago. You can easily say that the CSI Face Mask Challenge saved our business!’