You can guarantee that European Capital of Culture status will put you on the map indelibly. Liverpool has been a resounding success story since its stint. Ditto Bruges. It also did wonders for Turku, when it basked (alongside co-star Tallinn) in the spotlight of international attention throughout 2011.
Indeed a whole year of cultural events has done much to foster ongoing urban regeneration in Finland’s second city, although a scarcity of flights still means Turku has maintained a sort of best-kept secret status for those intrepid enough to travel overland from Helsinki.
Regardless of how you get there, you’ll find an elegant city poised in two very distinctive halves on either side the straight-as-an-arrow River Aura as it flows towards Finland’s famous 20,000 island archipelago. Come the warmer months (reader beware: winters can be lockdown chilly there!) the local spill out into the myriad bars and restaurants that fringe the length of the Aura, seemingly determined to make up for lost time before hibernation calls again. Despite the cooler-than-school facade, Finns are very well versed in partying.
Which is maybe what you’d expect from a fiercely Nordic city with a 35,000-strong student population. With them comes a progressive liberal outlook and a strong green sensibility, so much so that great swathes of the city are traffic-free and geared up for cycling and walking. Such a youthful population has also done much to drag Turku into the present, its cutting edge food scene backdropped by stunning medieval architecture. The contrast, just one of many, is a heady one indeed.
And little wonder the city is also yielding some amazing retail hotspots; the kind of spaces that are de rigueur in traditional hipster hangouts like Dalston in London, or Brooklyn in NYC, but far scanter here. Compared with other businesses currently starting up in Turku, Echo Dek feels like its at the vanguard of something exciting and unique. We caught up with eccentric English proprietor Mark Bromley for the lowdown on its very distinctive aesthetic.
What first prompted you to open Echo Dek? Was there a gap in the market that you felt you could fill?
Even before moving to Turku I knew I wanted to continue working for myself in some creative and social way. The idea of a cafe or shop came to me whilst still in London and ideally I always imagined a hybrid of the two. I also wanted to bring some of the independent designers and makers I knew from the London artisan scene to the Finnish market. Once we had been living here for a few months the concept began to formulate itself … which brings us to now!
What have been your most successful product ranges?
I think these have definitely been the T’s, both from Conquer Gear and Plain Bear. Bold striking colours and unique illustrations combine to make something very special. After a little research I knew these were going to be something very new for Turku.
How important is ethical sourcing and sustainability for you as a retailer?
Echo sounds like ‘eco’, which means people often assume we are an eco-friendly store. Although this was never strictly the intention with the name, it’s entirely appropriate. I’m always on the look out for ethically produced garments, as well as recycled and fair trade goods, plus eco-friendly products that are also very distinctively designed. We’ve also started a collaboration with a local vintage reseller called Black Spot Merch. These guys have curated a special selection of vintage and secondhand clothing for us, so if you’re looking for some classic Lee, Levi’s or army surplus supplies, head on down!
You sell a wide range of items, from T-shirts to stationary, from fine art prints to kitchenware. What criteria determines the kind of choices you make about what and what not to stock?
If I’m completely honest here, it’s a very instinctive process. A potential new product has to really resonate with me in order to justify stocking it. If I’m confident pitching others, then great, but that’s impossible to do if you don’t really believe in it. Ultimately the store is very much an extension of me.
Your shop offers a very particular brand of British chic, one that is in sharp contrast to the prevailing Nordic style. What has been the local response to what you are doing?
People have been great, despite my lack of Finnish. Indeed the level of local support and engagement has been nothing short of incredible. No doubt they think I’m some crazy Brit, but that’s a cross I’ll have to bear!
The fact that you also serve coffee and are connected internally with Round Sound Records suggests you are keen to offer a kind of lifestyle environment. How would you like to develop this in the future, either by yourself or in collaboration with others?
I love the potential for interaction that these elements create. Meeting new people is what really adds to the experience. As for the cafe, selling coffee was always on the radar for me. It was more just a question of when, not if. Coffee is a great hook and gives people another reason to pop in and check out the store. So when I discovered a new coffee roasters had opened during the same year in Turku, it was a no-brainer. Locally roasted coffee, emerging UK design and vintage records in the neighbouring space all felt like the perfect mix.
Where do you ideally see yourself as a business a year from now?
In a year from now? I hope we’re still offering new and up-and-coming design. I’d be interested in venturing into music events of some kind. More collaborations with Turku based creatives is also a must. We live in such crazy times, so who really knows, but hopefully we’ll continue to challenge and excite.
Check their website www.echo-dek.com for opening hours, full range details and mail order options.
Photo Credits: Hilja Mustonen words by Charles Hetherington