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Olaf Hussein: designing with a purpose

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If you appreciate the minimalist aesthetic of Nordic design, and the intricate detailing of Japanese workwear, you’ll love Olaf Hussein’s clothes. Having founded his eponymous label in 2015 in Amsterdam, the Creative Director has established himself throughout the years as a respected reference with a large, dedicated following, through commitment, hard work and, most importantly, the support of his community. Inspired by “countries, cultures and citizens”, his brand is a reflection of what he stands for: diversity, community and unity. 

In light of our sunglasses collaboration, we had a chat with the entrepreneur about his brand, how he keeps positive, and his attention to detail in both life and work. 

The beginning of something big

Do you remember that show, How to Make it in America? Yeah, the one in which Kid Cudi plays a dog walker. It’s a brilliant series about two 20-something New Yorkers trying to break into the fashion scene, by selling Japanese denim and hoodies through their label Crisp. When we talk to Olaf about how he started his brand, this show is the first thing that comes to mind: “Yes! It’s literally the same story!”, the designer exclaims, laughing.

It all started with the ambition to make a pair of jeans. “I always had the urge to create something of my own. When I began working on my ideas in 2010, everything was about heritage, Americana, Japanese denim. I was very into APC at the time, it was the coolest denim brand along with ACNE Studios. It was the ideal moment to create simple yet very high quality products, and that’s what I wanted to do.”

What began as a side project, grew into a successful business. “Don’t get me wrong, it took a really, really long time to get the brand up and running. But United Arrows — one of the most respectable retailers in Japan — became one of our stockists quite early on. This helped me to solidify my idea that these kinds of products were missing in the market.”

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The Olaf aesthetic remains as clean as when it started 5 years ago: “It’s still all about the details. Taking two unexpected components and combining them makes any product more interesting. Take the Passport bag from the latest collection, for example — We used a classic glen plaid traditionally used in men’s suiting and used it in a sporty way by using the check as a woven nylon for an accessory.”

His clothes are like a uniform for the modern man and woman on the go: they’re practical, comfortable, flexible, yet stylish. He even manages to make a sweatsuit look smart. The looks he creates are also undoubtedly very Amsterdam, which makes sense seeing as Olaf looks to the street for inspiration: “I’m constantly inspired by the commuters of this incredible city.”

What matters most to Olaf though, is the idea that his clothes are made for everyone: “I want my brand to feel inclusive. What I create goes beyond race, gender and sexuality.  It’s beautiful to live in a city like Amsterdam, where (most) people can be who they want to be. There are a lot of different people around me who all have unique personalities and passions. That freedom to follow your passion and to express who you truly are is what drives all of us. I hope my brand can contribute to that in one way or another.” 

On growth and development

Olaf’s SS20 collection is entitled “Growth and Development”, and it’s all about taking time to breathe and declutter our heads in an ever-changing world, like a mental spring cleaning. It’s a theme that feels very personal to him: “I think a lot about if I’m in the right place in my life — where do I want to go? Am I on the right track? Am I happy? Those are the types of conversations I have with my friends all the time. With this collection, we reflect on the progress we made, and derive new energy and motivation from that progress.” 

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The 35-year-old designer states that a lot of his motivation to keep moving forward comes from his friends, many of whom work in the same industry, “We talk to each other on a daily basis about our strategies, our next moves, they help me make decisions. Our brands are all very different, but because we work in the same industry and have a similar background, we still learn from each other.”

When asked if he has a mentor, Olaf exclaims, “Funny that you asked! Recently I realised that my current business partner has naturally turned into my mentor. With his extensive experience in developing businesses, he is able to not only guide me with business-related decisions but also personal ones.” 

Olaf also openly and confidently reveals that he’s had to work on himself as his business grew: “I have a lot of flaws! Being your own boss gets yourself into this bubble, but as my business flourished, I’ve learned that growing with a team is more enjoyable than growing by yourself. You want to make sure your workplace has the right energy, that everyone feels comfortable doing what they need to do. That means I have to critically assess my own role in the company as well.” 

When discussing his learnings whilst creating the brand, Olaf talks a lot about patience: “Take baby steps. These days anyone can call themselves a “designer” — but it’s important to be patient. When we started there was practically no information at all about production, for example. I had to figure out a lot of things out the hard way.” 

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Living in his own world 

As the name suggests, the Olaf Hussein brand is about combining cultures and gathering inspiration from across the globe. Olaf expresses these values in an online platform called Citizens, where his team shares in depth stories about themes and ideas they’ve been looking into. An updated version of this platform will be launching soon.

Interestingly, Olaf reveals he lives very much in his own world, and even though he values time spent with his friends, he also describes himself as a loner: “Even before this quarantine started I would work from home a lot. I just like to be at home. I watch a lot of documentaries, I listen to podcasts. I’d say my information consumption level is very high. I love getting really deep into different subjects that at first might seem not that interesting. A lot of the times those findings become part of the collection.” 

Olaf also talks about how he purposefully lives in his own world as a way to keep himself balanced: “I focus on myself a lot, and how I can develop as a person. It might be a self-centered way to live, but it’s how I stay optimistic. Only then am I able to spread this positivity with the people around me.” 

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Seeing as our new sunnies collaboration with Olaf, Herman, is an ode to summer nostalgia, we wondered what his favourite thing about this season was. “Definitely the light. There’s nothing more beautiful than that golden hour glow.”

If you’re craving warmer, more carefree times like us, go get Herman — it’s like summer begins the moment you put these sunnies on. 

Pictures by James Cullen

Words by Isabel van Zeller