Meet the Finnish underwear designers making pants for men with dad bods

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Mähöne Brothers underwear campaign picture / Credit: Mähöne Brothers

The idea began, as so many Finnish ideas surely do, over drinks in sauna almost 20 years ago.

At the time recently graduated with a degree in economics, Mikko Penttinen and his friends were wondering: where are the comfortable, durable and fashionable underwear on the market for normal men?

In an underwear era defined by white designer pants with impossibly toned, tanned and oiled models, Penttinen realised there were no premium products catering to the ‘Average Joe’ a long time before the phrase ‘dad bod’ was even invented.

Fast forward to 2010, and many beer-fueled discussions later, Mähöne Brothers underwear brand was launched.

“Our friends got fed up of listening to our talk, and said you need to shut up about the underwear business or actually start doing something” Penttinen recalls.

File picture of Mähöne Brothers underwear / Credit: News Now Finland

“What we didn’t like about the underwear industry was kind of the visual image it portrayed to consumers. We weren’t able to see that similarities between ourselves and what the [other] brands were portraying; the oiled six-pack abs and white underwear and just we didn’t find a lot of common ground between ourselves, our circle of friends and that visual world” Penttinen tells News Now Finland.

So after coming up with some initial concept designs, tested by a seamstress friend, prototypes were put together in Thailand.

The garments had to be durable and stylish, affordable but premium, and most importantly comfortable. After all, it’s where a man’s prized possessions are nestled for many hours each day.

“Our original idea was just to make a brown and yellow underwear. We wanted the visual image to be a regular-looking guy, and we wanted the underwear to be brown and yellow”.

Penttinen is a fan of American baseball, and he was inspired by the colours of retro team sports, a throwback 70s vibe which makes Mähöne’s brand stand out from others on the market. The advertising campaigns too, emphasise regular body shapes, not professional underwear models.

“The models that we use, they’re not chubby guys but they’re just regular looking guys or the abs are underneath whatever’s on top of it. They’re not overweight guys, they’re just regular looking guys” says Penttinen.

Salesman Ville at Mähöne Brothers pop-up store in Iso Omena, August 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Growing the business from scratch 

Armed with their first batch of pants, the three Mähöne Brothers founders – who are friends, not brothers – initially had a tough time getting retailers to stock them.

“Our first retailer was mostly a skateboarding shop called Ponkes on Kaivokatu [in Helsinki], so thanks for believing in us in the beginning. But then we started expanding from there. Our second retailer was a sneaker store and from there we got Design Forum Finland, we’ve done many Christmas pop-ups. We started with a couple of retailers in Helsinki and then expanding in the country.”

These days the brand is stocked in around 20 Finnish retailers, and they’ve had collaborations with Stockmann as well in the past.

And they’re also expanded to two of the most design-savvy markets in Asia: Seoul and Tokyo.

File picture of Mähöne Brothers underwear at Iso Omena, August 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Garment industry and the environment 

In an era when all brands have to think about their impact on the environment, the garment industry is one of the most damaging in terms of water used as a component in the manufacturing process, CO2 emissions produced, or the waste of ‘fast fashion’ that is worn and discarded to be tossed on landfills or incinerated.

It’s not an easy subject for anyone involved in the fashion industry to tackle, because there are no black and white solutions.

“Our pants are made out of cotton. And cotton is not very ecological material to use. But we’re investing a lot of time and effort at the moment to investigate how to move our whole operation to a whole sustainable direction” says CEO Mikko Penttinen.

Mähöne Brothers has already switched to using 100% waste materials in all its t-shirts and sweatshirts – produced for them by another Finnish company Pure Waste Textiles. There’s also research gone into whether it’s viable to use waste fabric in underwear manufacturing as well, but so far it’s not been possible to meet the company’s cost, comfort and durability criteria just with waste products.

Looking ahead for the company 

With a firmly established fan base in Finland – and new customers in Asia – Mähöne Brothers has put Finnish pants on the map with their quality and design.

So what comes next? The Winter 19/20 collection will be arriving in September – shipped from the factory in Bangkok by boat rather than airfreight, lowering the carbon footprint of each order.

There’s four new colours for men; a new design and two new colours for women; a new colour for the long john thermal underwear; and a completely new product line of boxer shorts for boys.

Bold colours might attract new customers – although the classic yellow and brown is their biggest seller – but it’s the high quality Finnish design that keeps customers coming back for extra pairs.

“We’ve always gone for quality first. We wanted the underwear to be as comfortable and durable as possible. And what differentiates us from many of our competitors is that we have a very very durable waistband” says Mikko Penttinen.

“We use high quality, high density cotton with a little bit of weight to the fabric so it’s very soft to the skin.”

Mähöne Brothers advertising campaign picture / Credit: Mähöne Brothers