First there was Kustaa Vuolle-Apiala, a tar factory and a vision. Quite a vision he had indeed, with all the right pieces, a strong will and skills. Kustaa Vuolle-apiala founded the Koskenpää Felt Factory in 1922 to an old dairy. At the same time many more things were taken cared of – he managed a sawmill, he was engaged in agriculture, produced electric power, and burned tar.
Felt Factory’s story begings with cold winters and shortage of felt boots that showed a business opportunity and Kustaa Vuolle-Apiala seized the chance. Professionals were found from Kirvu village and so the old dairy was transformed into a felt factory.
KOSKENPÄÄ FELT FACTORY Ltd – HISTORY IN BRIEF
Industrial development of Koskenpää began in 1909 by tar burning and sawmills.
In 1909 farmer Kustaa Vuolle-Apiala founded the Koskenpää Tar Factory Ltd. At the time tar was extremely important substance in domestic and trade markets. Tar was produced by the Salosvesi in the areas of Valkeamäki farm. The factory burnt in 1915 and it was re-build immediately after. At its best, factory’s production was huge. Tar was made 110 000 kg in a year, turpentine 30 000 kg, and moreover tar burning produced huge amounts of sellable charcoal as its by-product.
Kustaa Vuolle-Apiala bought the Koskela farm from Sahloinen village in 1910. By buying the farm he also got rights for Koskela rapids and a mill. The saw and plane plant was built next to the mill. Timber and saw dust was mainly needed to carry out own projects. As late as the 1950s the saw plant was still in action. At that time Kalle Virkanen worked there as a saw master.
The first electricity plant was founded to Survosenkoski in 1918 by Kustaa Vuolle-Apiala and Otto Honkanen (elder). At the time, there was enough electricity to light up only few buildings.
Business group arose – felt boots came along in addition to tar and wood
The experience gained from developing the tar factory and the saw, as well as observations from felt boots’ widely spread usage led Kustaa Vuolle-Apiala in felt boot manufacture. At the time, Kirvu was basically the only place where felt boots were manufactured and therefore it was a perfect opportunity for a new entrepreneur.
Koskenpää Felt Factory Ltd was founded in 1922 and its production started a year after in a wooden old dairy sited on Räihä cove in Koskenpää. Neither the entrepreneur nor anyone else in Koskenpää had enough knowledge about making felt boots to start industrial production. The only way was to hire skilled workers and master Hemmi Hiltunen from Kirvu, where they knew these things. Factory’s machines came from Germany. The company was able to start its production little by little and after few years about hundred employees worked already in three shifts. Daily production reached 230 felt boot pairs.
Fire in March 1928 made a significant turn in the KH Factory’s development
In year 1928 a huge fire turned everything upside down while the KH Factory was completely destroyed. Construction work in this current area started at the same year. There were 35 men building this new factory and already at the end of the year, this “iron-cement-made” factory started its production. Selling, exploring markets and making plans for founding a factory in Canada by its own representative had important role in the KH Factory already at the time.
Recession periods and weather conditions had an influence on felt boot production
There have been significant stages in the action of Koskenpää Felt Factory Ltd. At first, the recession periods in years 1929-1933 pushed KH Factory’s production very low. However, Factory was able to stay in action the whole time. A general economic recovery in the late 1930s had an effect on this field as well, therefore the production increased steadily until the end of the Winter War. Next stage was the wartime – in 1942 the production fell at rock bottom because of the lack of raw material. However, the war prolonged and the needs of armed forces got bigger, so in 1944 KH Factory’s production reached its best level again.
Production started to diversify already in 1930s
Manufacturing felt boots has always been sensitive for economical situation and mostly for weather conditions. Mild winters caused a thread that whole year’s production would stay unsold. This led to a situation that the production had to be diversified already in 1930s. New products that came along were different kinds of sealing and absorption felts for industrial purposes, felt socks, ski boots, slippers for harbours’ stevedores and voilokki felt. Voilokki is a soft and thick felt material that was used as padding material for example in horse harnesses. Voilokki machines were acquired in 1938. Piano felt pads were the finest products made in the Factory.
Wool was purchased from all over the world
It was discovered very soon that the amount of Finnish wool available was not enough for ever-growing productions needs. Wool from international markets came mainly from Australia, New-Zealand, South-Africa and Argentine. Wool was imported in about one cubic meter bales. In this context it is worth mentioning, that after war during regulations in 1946 KH Factory’s production was over third from Finland’s overall felt production.
From steam to electricity in 1949
Foundation of electricity company Koskenpään Sähkö Ltd in 1948 offered a new beginning after the war. Kustaa Vuolle-Apiala had thought many years about founding an electricity company and he had founded Sahlos Ltd before war. In 1949 the electric power company started its action. This way Felt Factory’s energy needs were covered with the help of Kalliokoski power station and of wire network, which was attached to it. Before the year 1949, Felt Factory’s energy was produced by steam power. Fire woods were used to produce factory’s heating energy, and steam machine needed steam to run. Therefore huge firewood piles decorated Felt Factory’s yard for many years.
Factory’s orientation to trade markets
KH Factory has always exported products. Versifying the production opened many doors in markets all the way to sealing pipelines of Siberia. Felt boots were exported to almost every “cold” country – e.g. to Norway, Russia, and USA. Overall we have been exporting to 38 countries. Nowadays our sale is mainly based on domestic markets. The amount of different types of products for industrial purposes has increased to several hundreds.
Production’s focus on felt manufacture
Koskenpää Tar Factory Ltd — which worked closely in cooperation with Koskenpää Felt Factory Ltd — was closed in 1950s, after tar demand and materials decreased in nearby areas. The distribution network and power station of Koskenpään Sähkö Ltd was sold to Keski-Suomen Valo Ltd in 1995 in the context of branch rationalisation of the business group. Felt Factory started to orientate its production towards felt sheet, felt carpet, and felt strip manufacture, which meant that the old factory building simply came to its end. The new factory building was built in collaboration with Jämsänkoski district in 1977 due to the new production processes, and therefore modern felting machines were also acquired. With these modern felting machines, it became possible to manufacture different kinds of products using different kinds of fibres.
Construction industry became the main client in 1990s
After Koskenpää Felt Factory stopped manufacturing felt boots in the late 1970s, the Finnish Defence Forces made an order for several years, which mainly concentrated on separate inner felt linings for rubber boots. Later on the production has mainly concentrated in needs of construction industry.
The felt strip production started at the turn of the 1980s, and in 1990s the felt strip became the main product. About 70 per cent from the sales came from felt strips, 24 per cent from machine felts, and the rest 6 per cent came mainly from processing carded wool. The polypropylene sealing strip for log structures is original Koskenpää Felt Factory product.
Felt and wool in 21st century
Felt products and carded wool have increased their share of the sales during 21st century. After our own felt production ended, we started to import. Coloured carded wool is developed here in Koskenpää as a result how to make use of the felt in the end of the felt production. Our colour chart is designed by textile artist Maisa Tikkanen.
Wool felt has kept its popularity trough years; it is sold especially for industrial purposes. Also synthetic needle-felts have taken a bigger role among industrial felts, and therefore it has shown how versatile felts can be.
The demand of coloured felts has grown fast during 21st century. Special needs in industry have been the key factor to synthetic fibres popularity, while natural materials have become highly valued in the art of living. Nowadays sustainable development is something people consider while making their everyday choices and this has also given more value to hand made products. Wool felt is a good inspiration source for handicrafts, and also interior designers and architects have discovered wool felt’s versatile character.
Our company has 4-5 employees (situation in autumn 2014). All our employees have had long working careers in the Factory. The longest employment is 44 years in 21st century. At the time, we also have employees who have been working here more or less 30 years.
Koskenpää felt factory has always been a family business
From Factory’s foundation to the beginning of the 21st century, Koskenpää Felt Factory Ltd’s share capital was owned by its founding family. The successors to General Manager Kustaa Vuolle-Apiala (Financial Counsellor, granted in 5 March 1948 and Industrial Counsellor, granted in 30 January 1953) have been:
- Erkki Vuolle-Apiala in 1936-1976;
- Pertti Vuolle-Apiala in years 1976-1980 and 1982-1991;
- Mikko Liukkonen in 1980-1982;
- Airi Repo in 1991-1999;
- Erkki Kuivikko in 2000-2001
- Matti Koikkalainen 2001-2014
- Emilia Koikkalainen 2014-
The share capital was passed into the ownership of Matti Koikkalainen in 2003. Koikkalainen has continued Koskenpää’s tradition of entrepreneurship, since he started his entrepreneur career as a trader in 1971. The succession between father Matti and daughter Emilia was done July 2015 and nowadays Emilia is the sole share holder of the company.
The “Entrepreneur of the year” award was given to Koskenpää Felt Factory Ltd in 2006 by Entrepreneurs of Jamsänkoski RA.
The story continues and work is done for successful and sustainable future.