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"Enormous power unleashed as the financial sector embraces sustainability"

“The enormous power that is being unleashed as the financial sector embraces sustainability is something that will ensure profitability and minimise risk. This is crucial if we are to overcome the challenges we face today and tomorrow,” says Eva Karlson, CEO of Houdini, a fast-growing Swedish sportswear company with the uncompromising ambition to create value – not only for its shareholders, but for its customers and the entire planet.

Houdini was established in 1993 as a small, innovative maker of functional clothes for climbers and mountaineers.

“We are a small, authentic and legendary brand that started out with a handful of products that revolutionised the market and were sold in cool backcountry gear stores in Sweden and Norway. We knew already back then that the clothing industry was an environmental villain and decided to work passionately to be a sustainable and circular company that gives society and the planet more than we take,” says Eva Karlsson, who has been along on the company’s journey from sales of SEK 1 million in 2001 to more than SEK 200 million today.

This philosophy has characterised the company ever since and is manifested in products that are uncompromising not only with respect to their design and quality, but also with respect to how they are made, recycled and composted. The vision to be a regenerative power for society and the planet has resulted in a high pace of innovation, where recyclable materials and circular business models have been developed and refined at a fast pace.

“Nature has an intrinsic value – it is not just a resource for us humans and companies to use as we want,” says Karlsson. “That is the core philosophy that we live and work by, and it forces us to challenge ourselves, be creative and do things smarter. I think that is the actual foundation for our success.”

Today Houdini has 48 employees at its head offices in Finnboda Hamn in Stockholm and showrooms in Oslo, Munich, Zurich, New York and Tokyo. The company has sales in 20 markets, resulting in stable, annual growth of between 15 and 25 per cent, with Germany and the USA as the biggest growth markets.

The company has relied on SEB as its bank for many years.

“We have a great relationship,” Karlsson affirms. “It’s been a constant balancing act of fast growth, innovating and managing our resources. In this respect we have benefited greatly from our cooperation with SEB. 

“The most important thing in a banking relationship – just like in all other relationships – is maintaining a long-term perspective and genuine partnership, where you can have transparency and trust to set joint goals for developing the company and the relationship.”

Aside from the regular business contacts, Houdini meets with the bank once a year to describe their long-term journey. And on these same occasions the company gets to hear about SEB’s long-term goals and ambitions.

“We see radical differences in interest for sustainability in the financial sector,” says Karlsson. “We can only applaud, and if we as company can make a small difference by emboldening and encouraging them in this journey, then we will gladly do so.”

According to Karlsson, the financial industry has an innate responsibility and can contribute strongly to this shift as an enabler and by creating financial incentives.

“It would be great if, in the near future, you could attach a premium to companies that take a holistic responsibility and thereby have lower risk from ethical, social and environmental perspectives,” she says. “Companies at the forefront, like Houdini, benefit from brand positioning in their sustainability work. But if we want all companies to embrace this shift, there must be an economic gain. Here the financial industry has an incredibly important role to play. And if the business and the financial sectors were to make a joint effort in achieving the transformation that is needed – what an amazing world we can create!”