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KAMPPINEN founder and designer Heidi Wiitanen is a third-generation American Finn who grew up in Michigan’s rural upper peninsula, weaving, sewing, knitting, and building. In 2015, Wiitanen said farewell to her job in molecular genetics at Vanderbilt University to pursue art and design full time.
“I wanted to be an artist when I was a little kid,” Wiitanen says, “but I kind of thought the more sensible field to pursue was science, another subject that I enjoyed and was skilled in.”
After working as a medical laboratory scientist for nearly two years, she went back to school to study fiber arts and gained a second bachelor’s degree. Dabbling in creating small, hand-dyed, eco-friendly clothing collections, she intended to switch fields but ended up working in science for 14 years before starting KAMPPINEN. She named the line after her great-great grandparents, who emigrated to the shores of Lake Superior in the late 1800s. That area, where Wiitanen grew up, boasts one of the largest populations of Finnish people in the United States due to a great migration that happened during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wiitanen’s great-great grandmother was a midwife who lived on a farm and wove and sold rugs. Her father is a woodworker.
She named the line after her great-great grandparents, who emigrated to the shores of Lake Superior in the late 1800s. That area, where Wiitanen grew up, boasts one of the largest populations of Finnish people in the United States due to a great migration that happened during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wiitanen’s great-great grandmother was a midwife who lived on a farm and wove and sold rugs. Her father is a woodworker.
“All of these things are very common in Finnish-American culture,” she says. “Traditionally, Finns are foragers. They’re close to nature. They’re practical do-it-yourselfers. And this all carries out in Finnish art and design.” Wiitanen describes her own aesthetic as Nordic minimalism. “It’s completely functional but adds an artistic quality to a space,” she says.
The company product offerings include pillows, euro shams, linens, and wooden boards that can be used for cutting or serving foods. She makes most of her textile wares from hemp or organic cotton, using natural dyes, like madder root, fustic wood, and logwood. Wiitanen's current favorites are the euro shams. The soft, oversized pillow covers feature a five-circle design created by using a Japanese-resist method, called Itajime. Dyeing the shams two at a time, she folds the fabrics repeatedly to create geometric patterns. Solid objects, known as resists, are clamped onto it to prevent the dye from penetrating.
“It’s a very attractive technique to me,” she says. “It’s actually kind of cohesive with Nordic design. Japanese and Nordic design are very similar in their minimalistic, simplistic form and function.”
Wiitanen collaborates with her carpenter-builder father on her Lintu, or cutting, boards, which are made from Michigan-sourced birdseye maple. Keeping the wood’s swirling aesthetic in mind, they hand-sand each board multiple times to attain a smooth, polished feel. These limited collections are a nod to her heritage, as well as a great way to hang with her dad. Wiitanen designs with sustainability, form, and function in mind. “I take historic traditions and combine them with my own modern expression,” she says. “It’s a way to define myself in a way that honors my family and our heritage.”