Woodio is a homegrown Finish brand. Not only is its headquarters in Helsinki, but its original founders Petro Lahtinen and Antti Pärssinen both met during a period of research at the University of Helsinki. In 2017, after combining their research, they founded the Woodio company and began designing and making bathroom furniture with their newly formed sustainable material. We caught up with Woodio’s new CEO Terja Koskenoja to discover more about this exciting brand, and what the future might hold.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself and why you are passionate about Woodio?
“Having studied Master degrees in Wood Technology and Wood Construction, and also Strategic Planning and Change Management, I have taken on roles which have involved leading production, sales, product development, and R&D innovations. I think this kind of experience and knowledge is great for a brand like Woodio, because it means everything I have done is applicable to helping the brand progress. I am fundamentally passionate about the work we are doing and the change we are inciting.”
Why is Woodio in the bathroom product business?
“First of all, Woodio’s material is suitable for a wide range of products thanks to its durability and water resistance. But, as we know, the construction business is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and there is huge pressure in that industry to come up with more sustainable solutions both for buildings and interiors. This is where Woodio can play a significant role. We can replace the carbon dioxide-intensive materials - such as ceramics and metals - with our wood-based material, challenging the usual ceramic offering from the industry. We want to bring beautiful and sustainable alternatives to this specific category which is traditionally intensive in the use of water and heat. I see this just as the first step, and we see endless possibilities for our material in the future.”
And what kind of competition is it?
“The bathroom industry comprises a few big players, like Spain and Germany, dominating the European market. The industry is quite traditional as are the consumption habits. The bathroom products have looked the same for decades - it has been all white! We are offering a sustainable alternative and that’s how we see that we can compete in this very traditional sector, because we are offering something completely new. It’s just Woodio at the time being offering this new material and product. We are the forerunner. There are no other similar alternatives (at least yet!) in the market.”
“We are offering a sustainable alternative and that’s how we see that we can compete in this very traditional sector.”
What price point is Woodio in?
“Our price level can be compared quite nicely to the European ceramic producers, but our goal is to be able to offer a product range targeting different price points. Let's say right now it’s like middle or premium class, like European ceramics. We want to be in the position to start competing with a wider range by 2026.”
Woodio has just completed its final funding round and raised 27 million Euros in total to date. Who are the key investors?
“We have some of our original investors, like Metsä Group and Paasikivi family, who have been with Woodio already for a long time. Then, of course, our founder Petro Lahtinen as well. With the new round of funding we also have new investors, including the United Bankers Forest Industry Green Growth Fund and the European Investment Council Fund. Not only are they investing in a financial capacity, but they are also bringing further know-how about sustainability and the market where we are operating.”
“Our price level can be compared quite nicely to the European ceramic producers, but our goal is to be able to offer a product range targeting different price points.”
How does Woodio plan to use this investment money?
“We’re looking to strengthen our foothold in the European markets - mainly Sweden, Norway, and Benelux. And this of course requires investment. We are also planning to scale up our operations in Finland. This is the home market for us. We have selected Sweden, Norway, and Benelux due to the high intensity of the green building industry and considerable interest in sustainable solutions, and we think these countries are the forerunners when it comes to green building. We will have our personnel working in these countries, as well as looking for potential showrooms there too.”
Aside from expanding into the international market, what are the other key areas of progress for the next 12 months?
“Our goal is to develop our material further to make it even more sustainable. This means that we want to still increase the percentage of bio content within the material and also the circularity of the products. We also see big potential to develop our product portfolio and make our production more efficient and automated. As it currently stands it's very manual, but we already have some good ideas with regards to making the production process better. In total we have around 30people working in the company. I would say that there will be about ten more people within the next year, and then I anticipate that this number will increase in the following years. The factory is currently located in Helsinki and we have no plans of relocating it.”
“We want to still increase the percentage of bio content within the material and also the circularity of the products.”
Can you tell us more about how the core Woodio material has been developed with chemists?
“It all started at Helsinki University a few years before the company was established. Petro Lahtinen and Antti Pärssinen were both researching at the university and, on a chance meeting at the Chemistry department Christmas party they had the idea to mix chemicals in a coffee cup to see how wood would react with certain polymers. They then combined their research work and that's how they ended up creating a fully waterproof and heat-resistant biocomposite which earned the pair an EU grant for 7.5 million euros.
A couple of years later it was still a bit of an open topic with what we should do with the material, however, quite soon it was obvious the initial target should be the bathroom market. The first products were sold in2019. Woodio always had a clear vision of the design, but we have also worked with external partners for the designs. We have so many projects that we are proud to have been involved with, however, the very first project was the Valo Hotel in Helsinki, and I would say that was the most meaningful as it was the start of the business. We supply both trade and residential customers. I would say our main business is projects but we also have distribution partners so we have activity in the retail business.”
“The products are handmade in our factory and they are molded. Where traditional ceramic production requires intensive use of heat and water, our production process does not waste either.”
What is the production process for the material and how is it an example of a circular economy?
“The products are handmade in our factory and they are molded. Where traditional ceramic production requires intensive use of heat and water, our production process does not waste either. Woodio is therefore very sustainable in comparison. Our products also have a long lifetime (estimated 20 years) and are easy to clean, maintain, and fix. They don’t break the same way the ceramics do for example. At the end of the life cycle, they can be burned and used for energy, meaning they won’t create any waste burden to the environment.
We are also exploring new ways to reuse the material at the end of its life cycle and we are aiming to fully move away from using wood chips originating from the forestry industry side streams and aiming to increase the percentage of bio-based fillers and bio-resins in our production process. We are confident of producing some great results of this very soon. We’re aiming for our bio-material percentage in the product to be at 80 or 90%. We will get there in steps, every day improving a bit more.”
“Where traditional ceramic production requires intensive use of heat and water, our production process does not waste either. Woodio is therefore very sustainable in comparison.”
Why is Northern Aspen wood so suitable for this product?
“The benefit of aspen is the aesthetic look. The end product is beautiful and it pleases the eye. We also do use birch and have tested pine and spruce side streams, but at the moment aspen wood seems to be the best to attract consumers.”
What other product areas does Woodio plan to expand into?
“There are so many possibilities. We could go very well outside into the garden furniture market, however, because we are a small company we need to be mindful of focus, and that’s why, for this moment, the bathroom sector has our attention.”
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