A Cut Above the Rest: How Finland's Orange-Handled Scissors Inspired a Design Revolution

By Evan-amos - Own work, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Evan-amos - Own work, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Finland is home to brands like Marimekko and Artek, and has produced architects and designers like Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. But you don’t need to go shopping or visit Saarinen’s Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, to fully appreciate the nation’s design legacy. All you likely have to do is open a kitchen drawer, office closet, or garage toolbox and pull out a pair of orange, plastic-handled scissors.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize the maker—Fiskars Corporation, the Finnish consumer goods company—you’ve likely used these lightweight shears at least once while sewing, gardening, or wrapping presents. More than 1 billion pairs have been sold since they first hit the market in 1967, and in Finland, the word “Fiskars” is even synonymous with scissors. Their ubiquity, though, isn’t without reason: As the world’s first plastic-handled scissors, they’re considered a game-changer in the field of industrial design.

Scissors are likely thousands of years old, and were used by everyone from the ancient Egyptians to members of China’s Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 CE). Fiskars itself—which was founded in 1649, in Fiskars Village, Finland—has manufactured the tools for centuries. The brand was once known for forging quality metal scissors that were used in tailoring clothes and upholstering furniture. But these tools were “quite, quite heavy,” and cumbersome to use, Jay Gillespie, the company’s vice president of marketing, tells Mental Floss.

Olof Bäckström, the Finnish industrial designer who created Fiskar's famous orange-handled scissors.
Olof Bäckström, the Finnish industrial designer who created Fiskars's famous orange-handled scissors.
Courtesy of Fiskars

This changed in the 1960s, as plastic was just starting to become a popular material. Fiskars began using the light, strong compound to make tabletops and dishes, but one of the company's industrial designers, Olof Bäckström, sensed an opportunity to completely reinvent one of the company’s signature goods. Using plastic, he created a lighter scissor handle that was curved to fit the hand, thus making them easier to hold. Ultimately, this tweak also helped make the scissors easier to manufacture, helping them become affordable to the masses.

With a single prototype, “we completely redefined a product,” Gillespie says. “Today it’s very hard to find scissors that don’t have plastic handles.”

Bäckström didn’t technically invent the concept of ergonomically designed scissors, as Fiskars had been casting similar designs in metal for years, Gillespie says. However, the designer “probably took it to the next level,” he concludes, as he “solved the problem of weight and fit.”

Fiskars scissors over the ages
Fiskars scissors over the ages
Courtesy of Fiskars

Bäckström originally wanted his scissors to be black. But at the time, Fiskars was making orange juicers from—you guessed it—orange plastic. The first prototype for plastic-handled scissors was created with plastic from a juicer that was left in a machine. Fiskars employees ended up liking this original look so much that they ultimately voted to stick with it.

Prototypes of Fiskars scissors in black and orange
Prototypes of Fiskars scissors in black and orange
Courtesy of Fiskars

Save for a few minor tweaks, like a more durable plastic handle and an improved angle, the scissors’s original design has remained largely unchanged since Bäckström’s initial stroke of genius. They eventually became so iconic that competitors began copying their look, forcing the Finnish company to trademark their signature “Fiskars Orange.” Today, Fiskars is the only brand in the world that’s allowed to manufacture orange-handled scissors in the U.S., Canada, and Finland, according to Gillespie.

For all these reasons—and to mark the product's 50th birthday in 2017—the Design Museum Helsinki has created an ongoing exhibition that celebrates the utilitarian household staple. The “Our Scissors” exhibition, which ends on October 29, features works by artists and designers who use (or simply appreciate) orange-handled scissors. They include contributions from fashion designer Tracy Reese, Design*Sponge founder Grace Bonney, and other creative influencers, all of whom sing the praises of a tiny Finnish tool that ended up taking the world by storm.

"Our Scissors Exhibit," a special art collection inspired by the orange-handled scissors created by Fiskars, on display at the Helsinki Design Museum.
"Our Scissors Exhibit," a special art collection inspired by the orange-handled scissors created by Fiskars, on display at the Helsinki Design Museum.
Courtesy of Fiskars

Bathroom Reading: This 18th Century Toilet Was Disguised as a Book

Image courtesy of Daniel Crouch Rare Books - crouchrarebooks.com
Image courtesy of Daniel Crouch Rare Books - crouchrarebooks.com

When producers of the family sitcom Leave It to Beaver wanted to air an episode in 1957 in which the Beav and brother Wally hide their pet alligator from their parents in the toilet tank, CBS was wary. Despite the fact that all humans, fictional or not, needed a commode was irrelevant to the network: It was considered in poor taste to show one.

This bashfulness over toilets has persisted for centuries, as evidenced by a recent offering from Daniel Crouch Rare Books. The “book,” which was produced circa 1750 in France, appears to be a weighty tome meant to impress guests with the owner’s literary tastes. In reality, it’s a toilet.

The combination toilet and book 'Histoire des Pays Bas' is pictured
Image courtesy of Daniel Crouch Rare Books - crouchrarebooks.com

With the cover closed, you wouldn’t know it. Unclasp it and it folds out to a wooden stool, with a gaping hole meant to accommodate a chamber pot underneath. As Atlas Obscura noted, the publisher had a winking sense of humor about it, too. The title, Histoire des Pays Bas, translates to History of the Netherlands. Netherlands. Nether regions.

Perhaps the French weren’t advanced humorists, but they did know how to preserve some semblance of modesty. It’s possible such objects were used to obscure chamber pots while people were traveling.

If you happen to be a collector of fine lavatory antiques, the toilet book can be yours for just under $10,000. As for the Beaver: Network censors prohibited the show from depicting the toilet, but they were allowed to show the tank.

The Reason Why Button-Down Shirts Have Loops On the Back

Erin McCarthy
Erin McCarthy

The apparel industry has presented a number of intriguing mysteries over the years. We’ve previously covered why clothes shrink in the wash, deciphered the laundry care tags on clothes, and figured out why shorts cost as much as pants. But one enduring puzzle persists: What’s with that weird loop on the back of button-down shirts?

The loop, which is found on many dress shirts for both men and women, is a small piece of fabric that typically occupies the space between the shoulder blades, where the yoke (upper back) of the shirt meets the pleat. While it can be an excellent way to annoy someone by tugging on it, history tells us it originally had a much more pragmatic function. The loops first became popular among naval sailors, who didn’t typically have much closet or storage space available for their uniforms. To make putting away and drying their shirts easier, the loops were included so they could be hung from a hook.

The loops didn’t remain exclusive to the Navy, however. In the 1960s, clothing manufacturer GANT added what became known as a locker loop to their dress shirts so their customers—frequently Ivy League college students—could hang the shirts in their lockers without them getting wrinkled. (The loop was originally placed on the back of the collar.) Later, students repurposed the loops to communicate their relationship status. If a man’s loop was missing, it meant he was dating someone. Women adopted an apparel-related signal, too: wearing their boyfriend’s scarf to indicate they were taken.

Particularly enthusiastic partners would rip the loop off spontaneously, which became a bit of a trend in the ‘60s. At the time, women who had crushes wearing Moss brand shirts complained that their loops were so strong and secure that they couldn’t be torn off.

For people who wanted to have a loop without ruining a shirt, one mail-order company offered to send just the loops to people in the mail.

You can still find the loops on shirts today, though they don't appear to have any social significance. Should you find one that's torn, it's probably due to wear, not someone's relationship status.

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