Swedish outdoor wear maker Houdini aims to make its product line 100% circular by 2022. CEO Eva Karlsson tells us how.
Houdini’s journey began almost 30 years ago, when Lotta Giornofelice, a skiing and climbing instructor, began to make practical fleece innerwear for herself and a few friends. The project quickly snowballed — so to speak — into a full line of stylish, minimalistic sports and outdoor wear made from sustainable and, eventually, recycled materials. Now Houdini has committed to be 100% circular by 2022.
I had an insightful chat with Eva Karlsson, CEO of Houdini, who won the NMC The Swedish Association for Sustainable Business Award for Sustainable Leadership in 2018.
What’s different about what you’re doing that shifts the climate impact of your company? And how will it change what others are doing?
Houdini is a values-driven company with a clear vision: to enable an active outdoor lifestyle without the negative climate impacts of a conventional business and become a force for good in society and for the planet. With an ambitious roadmap, uncompromising commitment, and speed, we have set new standards in terms of product performance, quality and sustainability, become a trailblazer in sustainable innovation and built genuine and lasting relations with partners and stakeholders throughout our ecosystem. Sustainability is an integral part in everything we do, [and] hence affects every aspect of our business.
We have been designing for circularity since 2001, with the ultimate goal of becoming a regenerative force for society and the planet. More than 80% of the products we offer are circular by design, aiming to reach 100% in 2022. We are designing our entire ecosystem for circular flows of natural resources, circular flows of products through collaborative business models and circular flows of knowledge through open source innovation and sharing of insights. Nature is our blueprint. It is an amazingly complex, self-organizing, waste-free and constantly evolving system, which we can mimic by forming partnerships with nature and modern technologies.
Our circular principles have implications throughout our operations and in the way we look at our company’s responsibilities and relationship to the world around us. It requires a stakeholder perspective, a long term and systemic understanding of our societal and planetary impact as well as a more holistic perspective on our value creation for the entire system — from customers and users to society, the planet and the myriad of species it sustains.
What do you wish you’d known before you started at Houdini?
We had our purpose and enough knowledge to build our business right from the start. If you think about it, most things we practice are common sense. Circular design, because why on earth would you design in the conventional way where everything becomes waste. Profitable, but not at the expense of others, be in people or ecosystems. Honest, because we all thrive in an environment built on trust. Regenerative, as otherwise we will end up consuming the natural world and everything that makes life worth living (and possible, for that matter).
Along the way our curiosity, systems perspective and collaborative approach have enabled us to iterate, adapt and evolve. We collaborate across sectors, disciplines and continents — with earth-system scientists, artists, conservationists, adventurers and engineers — and this has been essential for our success. These sometimes unconventional collaborations enable us to push boundaries. There is endless opportunity to reimagine, reinvent and redesign things for the better.
What’s the most important thing for you to get right in the next year?
There’s the organic process of continuing to provide truly great outdoor products that enable an active and sustainable lifestyle and inspires more people to reconnect to nature.
Everything we do is connected to our ambition to build a company that contributes to the world rather than takes from it. A couple of exciting and important projects and launches in 2021 are connected to the implementation of digital tech and the seamless circular ecosystem we are building. Lots of hard work. Lots of fun. As always.