Jouten is an old Finnish adverb with a two-dimensional meaning: for someone to be at ease and for something to be idle, both of which are at the core of our design experiments and philosophy. On the one hand, being Jouten is an untroubled, relaxed, and pure state of mind, and our projects are conceptualized first and foremost with this in mind. On the other, we’re specialized in looking for potential and beauty in idleness and in materials that already exist, but have fallen out of use for one reason or another.
Emmi founded Jouten in early 2016 as an upcycling experiment utilizing old and idle bath towels in adventurous combinations as material for unique towel ponchos. The towel poncho with its relaxed and somewhat goofy character was the first embodiment of the mental landscape of Jouten and Jouten’s first product to be launched. Towel ponchos are typically used nearby open waters in beach environments for changing clothes into swimwear and wetsuits and back, but the cape-like towel outfit settled just as well into the Finnish sauna and summer cottage culture. During the first years of product development, Jouten's one-of-a-kind towel ponchos found their way from Finland to Australia and Japan.
However, while searching for vintage towels is a thrilling and inspiring adventure in and of itself, the continuous material hunt began to bottleneck the production to meet the growing demand for Jouten products. In January 2019, Eljas joined the team as Jouten began a material partnership with the Finnish textile service company Comforta to scale up circular raw material acquisition and develop a textile product concept from discarded hotel towels. Hotels have high standards for hygiene and tidiness, which causes a large amount of high-quality industrial towels to fall out of the cycle with a small stain or a tear on them, but otherwise in excellent condition.
With the first batch of white towels discarded from hotel rooms around Helsinki began experimentation and the development of the Jouten towel apparel, accessory, and home item line. Through eight hotel towel item collections between 2019–2022, the iterative and continuously evolving product development continued until the end of 2022. By then, thousands of kilos of discarded hotel towels went through Jouten’s production chain of sorting, dyeing, cutting, sewing, finishing, photographing, describing, packaging, and preparing the final products for distribution to customers.
Since the beginning of this project, terry towels have gained a precious standing as the primary material of our design experiments bridging the experiential and the physical dimensions of Jouten. The emotional associations with terry take us to the embrace of water in different environments from showers and baths to lakes and the sea followed by the intimacy and warmth of a towel afterwards. Collection by collection, more integrated and in-depth meaning has unfolded of terry as the main material in expressing the relaxed mental state. Exploring the space between doing and not doing and being fully present in one's experience, is an intimate affair that calls for material intimacy that is inherently present in the caring, absorptive, and holding nature of a towel.
While unused, idle towels have left a notable, heartfelt mark in our brief history, the rapid progress in recycling and the circularity of raw materials amidst global sustainability transitions gives a new perspective on the future of material idleness. As methods for circulating unused raw materials such as textiles into new innovative forms develop towards more automated and larger scales, upcycling might remain a temporary phenomenon during the transition from a linear to a circular economy. With this musing in mind, we continue to search for the idle – the beauty and potential in the space between movement and silence.