After a decade of running a bookstore and making books, Uwambaga is moving his focus to a new type of storytelling. Here, he tells us all about friendship, fatherhood and creating work that serves his wider community.

20 Mar 2024

Lodia Sebit

Hi Gunifort, you've been friends with our founder Olaf Hussein for a long time, how did that come about?

Fifteen years ago, I was working for a denim brand called Blue Blood, in their store in my hometown. One day this very stylish guy walked into the store and purchased a couple of items. We had some good banter and that was it. Then I saw him a second time at a Pharrell Williams concert here in Amsterdam, where he actually went on stage because he used to wear a lot of Pharrell’s clothing brands back in the day. I recognised him and loved that he was so connected to what was happening internationally in fashion and culture. We became friends on Twitter and then when I came to Amsterdam to study, we properly linked up again and found ourselves in this friend group of like-minded guys with similar backgrounds.

You both work in creative fields too, how has the friendship shaped your work life?

I think Olaf and I have the most similar backgrounds in our friend group, to a certain degree. When he finished university, he worked in the corporate world for a big consulting firm and then made the transition into fashion basically from the ground up. I also have a very academic background in Finance and Information & Knowledge management. Olaf was one of my inspirations to make a similar move from corporate to creative. We’ve always been very close to each other not only on a personal level but also on a professional level.

I recently found these photos from 2013-2016 of some of the first trips he made to Portugal to start production. I was going with him as a friend, a fitting model and as somebody to spar with. It’s been beautiful to see his development.


Born in Rwanda, Gunifort Uwambaga is an Amsterdam-based creative entrepreneur who is passionate about stories, history, art and books. He was previously a co-owner of the renowned bookstore MENDO and is currently working at What’s Culture, a digital platform focused on history-driven stories about music, art, photography, and entertainment.

You touched on your trajectory from corporate to creative – tell us more about your work and what you’re up to at the moment.

For over a decade, I have worked in and co-owned a bookstore and publishing company called MENDO. At the beginning of 2023, I felt quite ill for the first time in my life. I realised then that I’d spent 12, almost 13 years doing this one project and my profile had become “the book guy”. I love books but it’s a singular, somewhat limiting medium. It’s very capital and time intensive endeavour and not an extremely dynamic process.

One of the biggest drivers for continuing with that business was a responsibility that I felt for my community, being able to offer a beautiful space with beautiful books to everybody from students to retired creatives. I also realised that by getting sick and now also being a dad that I should be a little bit more egotistical. It was actually a big burden to keep the business afloat with all the other ambitions that I still have for my life. I love books, but I’m equally as curious about other mediums. Eight years ago, I was writing a thesis on blockchain technology for my masters, and I just wanted to explore that again – the world of digital, other mediums. I found that the red thread of what inspires me is storytelling.

During this time, I was speaking with a good friend of mine, Jamal, who founded What’s Culture as an Instagram page that puts culture in context, covering all different creative fields from music and entertainment to sports and fashion. We identified an opportunity for me to add value and help grow that platform, building a brand around it and a business model underneath it. I saw how it could still serve as a very valuable contribution to my community and help me tell our stories, but this time not limited to Amsterdam - we’re global.

So, What’s Culture is the major focus right now. How is it developing to be more than the Instagram page?

What you see of What’s Culture at the moment is just the very early stage of everything we have in mind. We’re flipping the traditional business practice by working on our social media, following and community first, building the brand by working from this very strong, very organic foundation. Then we’ll deploy the proper platforms and the physical manifestation of what this will fully be. Of course I loved my store and retail, so we’ll have a physical space again in the future.

We’ve started doing events as we have a good community and following here in Amsterdam, but that’s not what our company will ultimately end up doing. It’s not even a soft launch, this is just connecting with our future customers, a building process. We’re also exploring the business case at the moment, which is another reason why we’ve chosen this strategy. We’re very open, not conventional or conservative. We’re talking with people in educational spaces, AI, community building in different parts of the world, in Africa, in travel, in food. We’re talking with individual artists. All of this to figure out what our culture needs and where the company should grow into. So, yea, right now you can only see a tiny percentage of what we’re building.

That’s extremely intriguing! Sounds like you’ve got big dreams and big plans. You’re involved in More Than Goals, too – what’s that all about?

More Than Goals is the sports platform that’s part of the What’s Culture world. It’s something that I’m very passionate about because it’s a very recent revelation of mine after being sick last year. Before that, I never played sports. I’ve just spent my life reading! But I realised that you need to find a balance between the cerebral and the physical. I believe you need both to have a happy and healthy life.

We truly believe that sport unites and inspires. It’s one of the best motors to connect this world and can solve a lot of issues, from health to racism. But, as in the creative scene, there are still a lot of issues and a lot of untold stories. With More Than Goals we shine a light on these heroes from our culture.

Then there’s also The Other Side which is a magazine, right?

I love print and will always table in printed matters. More Than Goals & What’s Culture published a magazine last year. On one side, it was 'What’s Culture' and on the other side it was 'The Other Side'. It stems from this feeling that me, my friends, our community and other marginalised people have always felt that we’re on the other side of things. It highlights fine art, fine photography and other international, high-end practices from creators of the other side. We’ll also be developing the magazine and incorporating it a bit further in the future. But for now it is not our main focus.

How has becoming a father changed your outlook on life and the way you work?

From a work perspective, it’s taught me to be brave enough to start over and continue growing and learning. Outlook-wise, becoming a father is the most beautiful and profound thing that has happened to me. As a thinker, you tend to have this almost dissociative, observer point of view towards life. But with the birth of my son, this lightning bolt hit me and gave me a more “in the now” perspective. It made me a little less philosophical and agnostic about life. The “now” becomes the most important thing, while building for the “future”. It was also the first time that the way I deployed my life energy went from myself to another human, which was almost like this beautiful ego reset. Now his wants, needs and dreams come before mine. He’s just been the most honest and the wisest teacher I’ve had in my 30 somewhat years of being on this planet. Plus, he’s funny, he’s kind and he loves animals!

To tie the two themes together, how have your friendships played a role in your fatherhood?

It’s been beautiful to see our friend group developing from young bachelors, to starting relationships, some have gotten married and now having kids or becoming uncles, as I say. It’s grown very organically. The conversations shift. We’ve found a lot of solace in each other in fatherhood. It’s been fun having more friends with kids. Some friends don’t want kids or it’s not their time right now, but that’s also amazing. I think both perspectives are worthwhile.

We all have one thing in common though - a migrant or refugee background. We’re all this first generation, which means that we don’t have the traditional family structure around us. So, besides our businesses or careers, one of the things I’m very proud of and think is super important is that we’re building our own. I think it’s extremely valuable for the next generation. My son now has a bunch of uncles and aunties. I love that, at 5 years old, he can walk around Amsterdam and say, “oh that’s Uncle Olaf’s store, that’s Uncle Hussein’s. Jefferson’s & Adberahmanne's store, look that’s Uncle Guillaume’s store, that’s daddy’s library”. He can really have a sense of belonging growing up and of actually owning some of the reality that he sees around him. We’re able to give our next generation a different experience, context and framework to what we had.

Finally, what’s the most important value in your friendships?

Loyalty. We’ve been through ups and downs, successes and failures, good and bad times and the most important thing that’s always been there is loyalty. It’s a very nice feeling to know that you have people who have your back regardless.

More articles

Back to overview