An Interview with Henrik Saetre of Mamahuhu

Tell us about family background – geography, culture, language, and religion.

A 30-year-old male, born in Oslo, Norway, and grew up in Bergen, Norway, I was exposed to many religions throughout school. However, I am an agnostic, meaning that I do perceive there to be something…bigger…than us out there, and am not convinced by any of the manmade religions. Perceive that there is a bigger chance the religions are talking about the same “thing”, but fighting over which name to give it.

I’m bi-lingual+ meaning my Norwegian and English is at native levels, and my Chinese is conversational 🙂

In terms of culture I’m quite the “mutt” now, after living for 3+ years in both Norway, China, and Ireland, and travelling to over 50 countries. Closest description would be an international citizen with a Norwegian background.

Henrik Saetre

What is your personal story – education, prior work, and so on?

After doing my year of military service on the border of Russia (an amazing and life changing experience) I decided to study international marketing at the Norwegian School of Business. Choosing this study had a basis in the fact that my younger sister was adopted from China in 2001, and International Marketing offered an exchange year to Shanghai for its third and final year.

Once in Shanghai I absolutely loved it, and upon completing my bachelor I enrolled in a Masters in Economics at Fudan University in Shanghai.

While there I met the founders of Mamahuhu, Luis and Carolina. They actually started Mamahuhu while we were studying together, and at the same time I started my venture into the world of mobile apps.

After four years living in China, my fiancé, Effy, who is Chinese, wanted to study her Masters in Europe. So we moved to Ireland where I continued developing apps for another year, while she studied.

Once Effy graduated, I wanted to take a break from the entrepreneurial life and see what corporate life was like. Dublin, Ireland, is the technological hub of Europe, and there were plenty of choices. Finally, my choice was doing Software as a service sale for the red giant, Oracle.

An amazing company which taught me many valuable lessons, it was early apparent to me that this was not the correct road. So on the side of work, my fiancé and I started working on a way to get location independence. (Earning a living that is not dependent on going to work at a specific place)

We spent a year setting up a tea company on side of work, that culminated in a great Kickstarter campaign, that unfortunately failed due to a product/market fit that was not good enough.

After that campaign we (Effy and I) got the amazing opportunity to join Luis and Carolina, who had continued to build Mamahuhu over the last 6 years.

Mamahuhu had an amazing growth and road behind it, from selling on Facebook to friends and family then to having 7 shops in Colombia and 2 in Spain.

There were however large untapped areas, specifically online sales.

We were invited to come onboard as partners to bring Mamahuhu’s ethical fashion to the rest of the world by setting up and running www.mamahuhu.com and other online sales.

Now Effy and I are developing Mamahuhu worldwide, working from wherever we are, and enjoying it thoroughly. So far this year we have spent over one month in Norway, China, Ireland, and Spain, working from wherever we are.

Effy and Henrik

How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?

Growing up in Norway, ethics is something we get both in school and home. It is far from perfect, but I perceive that I’ve had a very lucky and good start on life in the beliefs and mental patterns that was brought from home.

Additionally, I perceive that my generation has a more sustainable view on how life on earth should be lived. So my interest has always been there.

However, it was after coming in as a partner in Mamahuhu that it really crystallized. It is a constant challenge for us, how to balance the combination of stylish fashion brand and an ethical company.

How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?

I view myself first and foremost as a business man, and believe that it is through positive business that we can change the world for the better.

Instead of asking people to give up their car, make one that doesn’t pollute.

Instead of asking people to recycle, make bio-degradable items.

Instead of lobbying the government to support ethical companies, make ethical companies that can not only stand on their own, but thrive in the fight with fast fashion.

You might say that some of the naiveté and idealism I perceive is to be found in students all around the world never got drawn out of me, because I had several years as an entrepreneur before stepping into the corporate environment. (And made sure to leave it behind before it changed me.)

Each shoe is handmade from start to finish by an artisan in Colombia, who has at least 15 years’ experience in shoe making.

What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?

This is a great question, and it ties in with my answer for the previous one.

Often it is said that to succeed in business you must be ruthless and hard. Too many accidents and horrible events are the result of people compromising on their ethics.

Our vision here at Mamahuhu is that it is possible to make a thriving and profitable business on the basis of treating everyone in our value chain fairly, ad with respect. An example is that we pay over 4 times as much for our shoes as most fast fashion brands, yet we are still a strong and profitable company.

How? Through business model innovation. By sending shoes directly from artisans to our stores or to customers, we avoid the middle men. This means that we sell less shoes, as distributors regularly buy 10,000-200,000 shoes at once, but the price they need is unsustainable for ethical production.

And this is the importance of ethical fashion designers and companies: Showing people a better way of doing business, that is both ethical and sustainable for our planet.

Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?

My first thought goes to Amyann Cadwell of The Good Trade (http://www.thegoodtrade.com/), because of the amazing impact she has. I half-jokingly liken being mentioned by The Good Trade as the ethical fashion world equivalent of a Vogue cover story 🙂

There are many webpages dedicated to ethical and sustainable fashion, yet few who I can say truly thrives. I really respect what she and her team has accomplished by building a business that not only thrives, but they are able to stand by their ethics and beliefs.

What is Mamahuhu?

Mamahuhu is two things:

On the one hand, Mamahuhu is a fashion brand that offers colourful shoes, bags, and accessories to modern men and women.

On the other hand, Mamahuhu is an ethical company whose vision is to keep alive the tradition of family owned workshop. We do this by empowering and supporting unemployed artisans to become ethical workshop owners, and develop into self-sustaining companies. So far we have set up 15 workshops, and created over 200 jobs in challenges communities.

Put those two things together and you have a profitable and successful ethical fashion brand.

Every shoes has its own attributes, and deserves to be treated personally to make sure all parts fit perfectly together and all the details are attended carefully. The process is like creating a piece of art. Only those that are handmade by experienced artisans can reach such level of perfection.

What inspired the title of the organization?

It was while studying in China that Mamahuhu was conceived, and the name literally means “HorseHorseTigerTiger” in Chinese. This word is one of the first one learns as foreigners studying Chinese, because of the easy pronunciation. Meaning of the word is careless and casual.

What are some of its feature products?

We have just launched a new collection of Riviera shoes on Kickstarter, and that is looking very good indeed, as we got funded in only one week! I perceive this as real proof that people care how their clothes were made, by who, and how they were treated.

Besides these, our most popular products are our signature shoe collections of Colorines, Nevaditas, and Moccasins.

What is your customer base – the demographics?

Our core customers are women and men between 21 to 35, who has a fun and colourful style. Additionally, we have many customers who are in their heart still 25, fun, and colourful 🙂

From personal observations, more women than men involve themselves in the fashion industry by a vast margin of difference at all levels. Why?

I’ve never looked into scientific research around this topic, so my thoughts here are just uneducated opinions (unlike most of the rest?).

As a child I was not very interested in fashion. It kept me warm when it was cold. It kept me dry when it was raining. It helped me fit in so I could figure out who I was.

I have a thought that this is a common perception for boys more so than girls who seem to care more about what they wear.

Once into the teenage years it became very quickly apparent that my style is how the world sees me, and so I (and maybe other boys?) started caring more what I wore.

These early experiences might be the small pebbles that changes the road over time. Meaning that interest in fashion from an early age might influence choices made in teenage and young adult years, when deciding which “career” to pursue.

This is however complete speculation 🙂

What might make men more involved in the fashion world in general?

Education about what jobs are available in the fashion world, what they entail, and what can be accomplished through them.

As an aside to previous question, I perceive that the fashion might seem very closed off and unapproachable by many young people (and old for that matter).

Personally I’ve sort of “created” my own job in the fashion industry, and before joining I knew little about which jobs were available. Early education for boys into what is possible might have a huge impact.

What might make men more involved in the ethical and sustainable fashion world in general?

I’m not convinced that there are many more women than men involved in the ethical and sustainable fashion world, but I’m willing to speculate 🙂

So again, this is pure speculation. But I would not be surprised if more men become involved in ethical and sustainable fashion as the industry continues to increase in recognition and prestige.

Ethical and sustainable fashion is on a sharp upward trend. Many men seem to me to be drawn towards prestigious and high profile jobs. As ethics become “cool” we might see more men involved.

Will having men in the discussion and on-the-ground improve the implementation of children’s and women’s rights?

I perceive so, yes. A cause will never have full power if half the population is not involved. Though I personally believe that men ARE involved in the discussions and on-the-ground.

Mamahuhu works with artisans from disadvantage areas in Colombia, and rescue leather workshops that was previously unemployed. Currently we support over 110 artisans, spread over 11 workshops in Bogota, Colombia.

What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?

Two types.

Firstly, this is an extremely challenging job. Nearly every day brings a new challenge that I’ve never dealt with before, which requires my full faculties, experience, and educational background to solve.

With entrepreneurship we are creating something out of nothing, and that is hard.

It is also extremely giving. As through these struggles I grow every single day. Since joining Mamahuhu I’ve learned countless new skills, and honed those I already had to a new level.

This development is very fulfilling.

Secondly, I get to bring my full force to bear on a project that I believe makes the world a better place. That is extremely motivating, knowing that this work is in line with my own ethics and beliefs.

I would not wish upon my worst enemy to go day in and day out trying to distract themselves from the fact that they are betraying their morals, and what they do is evil. Money can’t clean your conscience.

What other work are you involved in at this point in time?

At the moment my full focus is on growing Mamahuhu and increase the positive impact that we have.

Any recommended authors or fashionistas (or fashionistos)?

Too many. Oh so, so, many.

I’d like to share a “hidden” gem of the internet though.

https://sivers.org/book

This is the link to Derek Siver’s book summaries. A brilliant writer and entrepreneur, this is a huge gift to anyone who wants to develop who they are. Having read many of those books myself, I find that the summaries often give better return on invested time than reading the full book.

Any recommended means of contacting, even becoming involved with, Mamahuhu?

For those who feel like they are in their twenties, and like fun, colourful fashion, the best place is www.mamahuhu.com

We also respond to every (non-spam) email we get at online@mamahuhu.co, whether happy customers who wants to share their happy feelings, other entrepreneurs who are on their own journeys, or journalists who like good stories 🙂

We are also always looking for great shops or boutiques that wants to partner with Mamahuhu.

We are also on:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/mamahuhu.co/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mamahuhu.co/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MamahuhuOnline

Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?

I find that only through conversation, whether with a person or with a blank page, does one sharpen one’s thoughts. Thank you for the opportunity to sharpen mine 🙂

Thank you for your time, Henrik.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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