Latvian capital Riga is a coastal city known as the "heart of the Baltic States". Its ice-free port and strategic geographical location have made it a trade hub that also boasts the best-preserved historical monuments in Europe, beautiful landscapes and great red wines. In recent years, the city has acquired a new distinction, mineral paints, which have brought it global attention.
St Peter's Church and Riga Cathedral in Riga Old Town, Latvia
Ivars Osis, president of Riga Varnish and Paint Factory, received a phone call from an official of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia, who wanted to confirm a news report.
According to the report, the RMB100-billion (USD14.7-billion) Beijing Daxing International Airport had used mineral varnishes made by the Riga Varnish and Paint Factory for its walls. The airport has been placed on the top by famous British newspaper Guardian among its list of "seven wonders of the modern world near completion".
"It's one hundred percent correct," Osis told the official. "Our products were used for 80 percent of the wall coating at the Daxing Airport."
Osis said the airport was a vast construction project unseen in a century. It was an honor for the factory to contribute to the world-class construction.
The Beijing Daxing International Airport, located 46 kilometers south of Tian'anmen, the city center, is a 4F airport, meaning it can accommodate the world's largest commercial aircraft, and an international airline hub. Construction on the new airport started at the end of 2014 and the 1.4-million-square-meter airport officially opened in September 2019. Its structure features grand, sweeping curves and flowing organic shapes, which required advanced technologies.
All the walls are pieced together with irregular hyperboloid parts. Since the airport is connected to the subway and high-speed railway, the trains passing underneath the airport cause vibration. Therefore, the wall coating needs to have excellent adhesion and ductility.
Riga Varnish and Paint Factory's RILAK mineral varnishes perfectly addresses the challenges caused by the hyperboloid roof and walls of the Beijing Daxing International Airport.
The airport terminals have 12,800 pieces of glass in total – 8,000 pieces on the ceilings and 4,800 pieces on the walls – to provide natural light for 60 percent of the interior. Since both natural light and interior lighting cause reflections and refractions on the walls, dark matte paint would have to be used for the walls. And the coatings must also be easily maintained.
All these details had to be kept in mind during the construction.
They first experimented with ceramic coating material. Though rigid enough, its resistance to cracks however was found to be low. Then the airport builders began to look at varnishes globally. Dozens of domestic varnish suppliers offered over 200 samples, but all of them were rejected due to various reasons. Some coatings cracked and fell off. Some were bright yet not anti-reflective enough. Some were glossy yet not rigid enough. Some were rigid yet not ductile enough. Some were not resistant to stain. Some were too expensive. None of the samples met all the criteria.
A bird's-eye view of the Beijing Daxing International Airport
Eventually, someone recommended RILAK mineral paints. Beijing RILAK Mineral Paint, the brand's general agent in China, provided a sample. As they awaited the test result, Shi Wenjie, president of the Beijing company, was excited yet nervous.
As part of the test, Guo Yanchi, head of the airport construction headquarters, opened a bottle of Coke and poured the liquid onto the sample wall. He also scratched it several times with keys. RILAK passed all the tests. Guo said with satisfaction, "This is what I want!"
RILAK's quality and cost effectiveness made it stand out among all the paints and varnishes that had been tested for the airport.
During the China-Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) Investment and Trade Expo in 2018, Ivars Osis paid a special visit to the Daxing Airport. As he proudly touched the coating on the curved walls, he knew the airport was the perfect showcase for RILAK products and believed the brand would stand the test of time.
Ivars Osis (front) discusses wall coating effects with Chinese builders.
The Daxing Airport knocked open the door to the Chinese market for RILAK mineral paints.
In December 2018, RILAK won more recognition when the headquarters of iQIYI, a popular Chinese film and video streaming platform, was being built in Beijing. iQIYI wanted the same green color that was on its logo. Several paint suppliers failed to meet the requirement whereas the modulated green RILAK presented won praise from both the designers and contractors.
In May 2019, the China (Ningbo)-Latvia Cross-Border E-Commerce Hub was launched in Riga. Latvia became a logistics hub connecting China and other CEECs, providing another international marketing opportunity for RILAK. RILAK mineral paints were among the first batch of products sent from the e-commerce hub to China.
The year 2019 marked the 101th founding anniversary of Latvia. In November, Latvia attended the Second China International Import Expo, where it had a national pavilion for the first time. RILAK products were displayed at the expo.
On November 6, 2019, in the presence of Latvia's Economy Minister Ralfs Nemiro, then Ambassador to China Maris Selga, and Mayor of Harbin Sun Zhe, the Municipal Government of Harbin, a city in northernmost China, signed an agreement on strategic partnership with Riga Varnish and Paint Factory at the expo. The factory would provide customized RILAK products and services for Harbin's urban construction projects.
In May 2020, RILAK paints and varnishes were used for the renovation of historical buildings from the 1920s and 1930s on the Central Street in downtown Harbin. The colorful paints restored the pedestrian street to its prime.
On June 8, 2020, Latvia's Ambassador to China Maija Manika and Economic Counselor Ingus Rozenblats held a livestreaming session on the Chinese e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, promoting RILAK at the online sale-cum-exhibition of quality products from CEECs.
Due to its success in the Chinese market, Riga Varnish and Paint Factory has greater confidence in its development. When tapping markets in other countries, it always showcases the use of its paints in the Daxing Airport, which never fails to win compliments from clients. Today, it is one of the largest paint and varnish suppliers in the Baltic Sea region.
Larisa Polosuhina, chief accountant at the Riga Varnish and Paint Factory, has been with them since 1979. "I am lucky to work for a company that represents Latvia's national image," she said.
The company, founded in 1898, has a history of over 120 years. The old Soviet-style red-brick workshops have been preserved at the factory site. When Polosuhina joined the factory, its products were mainly used for military and national defense. There was also some civilian use for anti-corrosion and decoration.
According to Polosuhina, the years 1996 and 2018 were critical for the factory's growth. In 1996, it was privatized and registered by its current name. A new managerial team was given the responsibility to develop the new company and there were new criteria for the employees. Since Polosuhina held the prestigious post of chief accountant, she was made chair of the board. The company improved its technologies and increased its range of products, becoming a leading paint and varnish manufacturer in the Baltic Sea region. Moreover, it set up offices and franchised stores in neighboring Estonia and Lithuania.
The Riga Varnish and Paint Factory, a 122-year-old time-honored enterprise
In 2018, it achieved another development milestone. It established a partnership with Beijing RILAK Mineral Paint Co. Ltd., which led to RILAK's debut at the Daxing Airport and participation in more key construction projects in China.
Polosuhina attends the signing of an agreement between Riga Varnish and Paint Factory and Beijing RILAK Mineral Paint Co. Ltd., August 2018. The agreement authorizes the latter to act as the former's general agent in China.
Polosuhina said the factory's development made her aware of the significance of cooperation. "I am proud of the past and present of Riga Varnish and Paint Factory, as well as what it has achieved in the Chinese market through cooperation. We will work harder to provide our Chinese clients with high-quality and eco-friendly products."
In the past, Latvia stood at the intersection of the ancient Silk Road and the Amber Road, a major trade route in Europe. Today, more Chinese are evincing an interest in Latvia and learning Latvian. Several universities in China offer Latvian language courses and dozens of Chinese students are studying Latvian in Riga. As economic cooperation between the two countries increases, there is also a rising trend of learning Chinese in Latvia. There are Confucius institutes and Confucius classrooms in some of the prestigious universities and secondary schools in Latvia while think tanks and academia in Latvia have established various research organizations on Belt and Road cooperation. Through economic cooperation and cultural exchange, China and Latvia have become closer to each other.
The Riga Varnish and Paint Factory, founded in 1898 and based in Riga, Latvia, has a history of over 120 years. It is one of the largest paint and varnish manufacturers in the Baltic Sea region. Its products are used in submarines and aerospace products for military and national defense purposes. The factory has also been developing advanced technology products for civilian use.
Under the "17+1" cooperation framework between China and 16 Central and Eastern European countries, the Riga Varnish and Paint Factory signed an agreement with Beijing RILAK Mineral Paint Co. Ltd. in 2018, authorizing the latter to be its general agent in China. Subsequently, RILAK products entered the Chinese market and began to be used in many key large-scale construction projects such as the Beijing Daxing International Airport and the Central Street in Harbin.