Within each of us resides a maverick spirit. This series delves deeper into those people who's maverickness paves a way forward in business, creativity and sustainability – awakening our own inner maverick.
Houdini is a brand with sustainability at its core. It's their heartbeat. Challenging the norm and driving the outdoor industry forward has become part of their everyday. Their team is driven by a passion to protect the natural environment that inspired their initial purpose; to keep the great outdoors great and provide the gear to take you there. We caught up with CEO, Eva Karlsson to delve deeper into their journey so far.
Words by Eva Karlsson (Houdini CEO) | Photography by Houdini
Can you tell us about the journey that led to the creation of Houdini?
It all started in the late eighties when my friend and Houdini founder Lotta Giornofelice came across the stretch fleece fabric during a climbing trip to New Zealand. Impressed by the fabric, she started making a small range of garments for herself and her climbing buddies. Rumors of the magical mountaineering products grew like wildfire and as demand grew Houdini became a company. I joined Houdini in 2001 and can honestly say that in some ways it hasn’t changed much. It’s still driven by passion and run by an awesome group of people who push the brand forward every day. The products have developed of course, but are still designed with the same philosophy: products that provide comfort for all senses, for body, mind and soul. Holistic comfort.
Every brand has a purpose, what’s yours?
We want to keep the great outdoors great and provide the gear to take you there. I believe that being good to nature starts by spending time in it. Therefore, we make clothes that inspire you to venture out into the outdoors. Clothes that make you feel like you can do anything you want after work and never feel restricting. If you look at it from a macro perspective, our mission is to create ripples far outside our own sphere. That means we have to be bold in the way we do things, challenge the norm and be a positive force for good. To succeed, we always share innovation we create, such as materials or business models. Companies that don’t have an open source mentality about sustainability clearly haven’t understood anything about the challenges we face, the way I see it.
With so many outdoor apparel brands, how do you stand apart from everyone else?
I would say that within the outdoor sector our design philosophy is quite atypical. We don’t make garments that are specific for one activity, we want them to be as versatile as possible, both in terms of design and functionality. Like wearable multitools. Sometimes this results in unconventional aesthetics, like our transformational heat garment The Cloud. Sometimes it results in a cutting-edge fleece jacket that looks like a regular sweater - like our iconic Power Houdi. In the end, it’s about owning fewer garments that can do more. For too long, the outdoor and textile industry have been telling consumers they need one product per activity or context. And then that they need to get something new next season. That’s really nonsense!
We also focus a lot on material innovation and work together with suppliers towards new ways of closing the loop in terms of sustainability. It makes me really happy to see that we are not that lonely doing that anymore.
91% of your line is made from recycled, recyclable, renewable, biodegradable or Blue-signed certified fabrics. What have been the challenges you have faced achieving this incredible figure?
There are many, let me tell you. Creating a fully circular shell layer was a tricky one. Historically, shells are the one segment where the user has been told they really need maximum protection from the elements at whatever cost. In reality though, all they did was wear waterproof garments with membranes made out of chemicals that have no place in nature and at the end of the day, end up in landfills. We wanted a recyclable membrane. It took a couple of years of testing and evaluation, but we found the perfect solution. All our shells are recyclable at the level of a PET bottle, yet provide the same breathability and weather protection as the conventional ones.
Another challenge is to not let sustainability become a separate endeavour, it needs to be interconnected with all departments and colleagues working here. Very often we see companies launching super ambitious sustainability projects, yet the main operation stays the same. That’s our worst nightmare. At Houdini, if you are not working with sustainability, you are not doing your job. No matter what your position.
What have been those pivotal moments that keep you doing what you do?
It’s hard to pick one. Sometimes when I’m out skiing or mountaineering it strikes me that I’m very lucky to be doing what I’m doing. We work closely in partnership with nature and try to mimic natural processes and learn from the amazingly complex and perfect system that nature is. Basically, the outdoors is where the most inspiration for our products, systems and business models stem from. From there, it also becomes clear why we must become a regenerative company, giving something back to nature rather than taking from it. I know that might sound a little philosophical - but hey, I don’t mind.
Last winter, when we were awarded the ELLE Sustainability Award, we began to notice larger players were looking our way for inspiration. When we get approached like that and companies truly want to be a part of the Houdini universe, that's the ultimate reward. Another project that I’m super proud of is the Houdini Menu project where we showcased the purity of our merino products by placing them back into the natural system. We composted our worn-out base layers - creating a fertile soil, grew vegetables in it and had a chef cook a fine dining dinner out of them. Now we’re looking to do the project on a global scale with local partners.
For people out there with ideas, dreams and ambitions to follow their own path, have you any advice on how to get started?
It might have been said before but I think the key is to just do it. Do you have someone you admire for their work? Call them and ask for advice! Also, don’t be afraid to find partners. We work a lot with bringing in other corporations along the way. It gives us inspiration and we learn heaps from it. And don’t forget that even though there are a lot of tools out there that make it easy to start a business such as crowdfunding and social media, it still comes down to who does it and who just keeps on dreaming. Go with your passions and take your passions seriously. Stay curious. Be daring and never compromise.
What is Maverickness to you?
Maverickness to me has nothing to do with acting on your own. I think the strongest individuals are those who are including and invite others to join their quest. We try and live that as a company, because when you think about it - nothing is fun if you do it alone.