Brian Keaney established a ceramics company called Tonfisk Design

Interview with Brian Keaney

Brian Keaney

Hi Brian, you are from Ireland. How did you end up in Finland?

First as exchange student on Erasmus program. Then it was some students in the year before me had been in Helsinki and the facilities were good so I wanted to come. Then I came back 2 years later to do a masters because I thought it was better to go to somewhere which was familiar and I had made friends in Finland.

You are one of the co- founders of TonnFisk Design? Why did you want to start a company in Finland?

Tonfisk Design

Tonfisk Design was established in 1999 by two young designers - Tony Alfström, Finland, Brian Keaney, Ireland - to market and produce objects which are not mere variations. All Tonfisk’s ceramics are produced by hand at Tonfisk’s own factory in Turku.

Tonfisk products are available worldwide but Tonfisk still handles all customer service directly.

Brian Keaney has studied at Aalto university (TaiK). In 2007 Brian was awarded the Ilmari Tapiovaara award and also the Ornamo Design Prize.


My final project was something I wished to continue with. Then I thought to stay here because all the people I knew in the ceramic area were in Finland and I was very new to ceramics. Then I started discussing with the other founder about setting up a studio together and perhaps by accident it grew into a full brand and factory instead. Finland was good for a design company with many more contacts in that area as compared to Ireland. And marketing a company as a Finnish company in the design world is not a bad thing, there is immediately a good impression and you are part if the Scandinavian concept also.

To be a good designer - what strengths do you need to have?

Stubbornness not to let a good idea slip away or to keep battling to develop it. Someone said design is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. So most design work is really boring basic work and very little 'creativity'. A realistic business sense is also important.

What benefits have you gained from your international background?

My starting point was not to think it is such a big thing to also start selling abroad.

Of course it helps in many ways that my mother tongue is English.

What advice would you give to a company who wants to expand international markets?

Best advice in my own area is Price Price Price. When the price is right is makes everything else a lot easier. And to compete international you also have to have a price which is competitive and works through the logistical chains.

What plans do you have in the near future?

To improve our production so that we can grow the company substantially over the next 2-3 years. This means more investment and staff!