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12 Jul 2020

Text by Mikel

ØLÅF Citizens: Olaf Hussein

12 Jul 2020

People around him would probably describe him as “quite the character.” Olaf Hussein is always on, always distracted, but somehow manages to get things done that others don’t. In this episode of Citizens, we talk with the Founder and Creative Director of his namesake label, owner of this platform: Olaf Hussein.

Olaf, I know you as someone who’s always doing everything at once, where do you find time to relax?

“I do, and I don’t. As the owner of the company, I am actually never not working but I always make sure that I make the most of my downtime."


Is it possible for you to relax?

“Not right now, I am always on my toes waiting to take the next leap. Doing nothing makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel as if I’m doing something wrong as I am convinced that being stagnant means no progress. I’m always hard on myself to do better or to do more. I blame it on my ego. I have yet to find an answer to that.”



Is there a goal you’re working towards?

“I would love to be the new G-Star. Not aesthetically, but the size and international name they’ve built is unprecedented in the Netherlands. I aspire to reach similar status."


Where does this drive come from, you think?

“Growing up I was told that only hard work gets you far in life. Nothing else. My family and I moved from Somalia to a small village in the Netherlands and I had to adapt rather quickly. With how the education system is set up here, I knew that I didn’t want anyone else to determine my future for me like the majority of the kids that I grew up with. I needed to prove to myself and my family that the move was worth it.”

What sparked your interest in owning your own fashion business?

“Growing up I have worked part-time in various fashion retail stores. I vividly remember the day I realized that I had all the tools to create my own brand. Keep in mind, this is pre-internet and the only resources you had were the ones you heard via friends or saw with your own eyes. I was obsessed with everything and anything to do with fashion.”



I think you know more than just fashion.

“Yes, my actual studies had nothing to do with fashion. In fact, I graduated from the University of Amsterdam with a master degree in Communication Science. During my studies I was working part-time at a shop called 1store in Amsterdam, where I came in contact with the VP of Menswear at Tommy Hilfiger. I had a good connection with him so upon graduating I applied for a job at the Marketing department. He advised that design would be a better fit than marketing knowing a bit of my background. I ended up working there for almost 3 years. ”


You started Olaf Hussein in 2014 as a denim brand. Right now, the brand seems to be have evolved to something more than just a local denim brand. What changed?

“When I started the company the market was already saturated with commercial denim brands with heavy vintage influence. I wanted to bring to the market something more modern and different. Within the last decade the market had shifted from being denim focused to a mix and match of different fabrics. We also realized that to gain a bigger audience you need recognizable graphics. It so happens to be that graphics work better in non-denim products.”


Is that also why you don’t like to be categorized as streetwear?

“Streetwear is such a generalized term now. I am under the influence that it means something else than what I stand for as it is so vague.”


ØLÅF QuickSnap Disposable Camera.


But you do make caps and hoodies.

“Yeah, but nowadays that doesn’t necessarily make it streetwear, does it?. It all depends on how you execute it.”


Besides the shift from denim to “non-streetwear”, the last year has brought some other changes for you and the company with a new store, website, co-owner, and platform. What was that like for you?

“Hard! I’m very difficult to work with. When I have an idea ( even in the middle of the night), I often want it executed immediately. I often forget that not everyone’s brain is on work mode, even in their sleep. I am fortunate to have a dedicated team and business partner who still enjoys working with me (hahah let's hope this is still true).”


Sunflower sketches.


Fashion is an industry that is known to be extremely fast paced, how do you keep up?

“I make sure my internal battery is charged (mind and body) at all times making sure that I don’t lose sight of the end goal and whatever it takes to get there.”


You just released a collaboration with Ace & Tate that sold out immediately. When is a collaboration successful in your eyes?

“It is a good collaboration if both parties are able to utilize their strengths to create a cohesive product. It is fun to see unexpected combinations come together.”

First ØLÅF face.
Why did you start with that monthly newsletter?

“I was in talks with someone from Het Parool, a local Dutch newspaper, about having a monthly column discussing relevant topics. That didn’t happen, so we decided to do it on our own platform instead.”


What were the reactions so far?

“Surprisingly awesome! It sparked interesting conversations between the consumer and myself and it even allowed us to built a personal relationship with our audience.”

Part of the team.
What has inspired you lately?

“PEOPLE aka CITIZENS. With everything that is going on in the world, people from all different ages and backgrounds are coming together for equality and fighting for a better future.”

Tiffany Chung

03 Oct 2021

Text by Tiffany Chung

CiTIZENS: Cynthia Cervantes

03 Oct 2021

From working in educational reform and becoming COO of a high school, to cofounding a creative studio dedicated to celebrating stories of black, indigenous, and communities of color, Cynthia Cervantes has spent much of her career focusing on building a better future for the people around her. In this edition of Citizens, Cynthia tells us about her new city, life as a working parent, and Maroon World, the studio she launched with her husband, Travis Gumbs.


Hi Cynthia, tell us how Maroon.World got started.

“It grew out of frustration of having very veiled conversations with clients who wanted a specific look – at that time, everyone was calling it ‘urban content’– but they didn‘t have the language and were not in a position to say what they wanted to say. We wished we could do work that spoke to our own communities in a way that was authentic - made by US for US, so we decided to just do it ourselves. Everything we worked to put out in the world was made specifically for people of color, made by people of color. That’s where it was born from."


Do you have any advice for clients on how to have those conversations?

“If you’re a brand, it starts with having a diverse team. Not just bringing in people to fill periphery positions. When we’re at a table and speaking to a creative team, VP, or whoever is in charge of making decisions, those people need to be people of colour. You have to have people representing the audience you’re trying to connect to."

Photography by Travis Gumbs.

Art direction BY Cynthia Cervantes.


What are your goals for Maroon.World in the future?

“As time has gone on, we’re trying to diversify the kind of work that we’re doing and spread into other areas. It‘s not just about creating content, we're really thinking about how our ethics and our intentions manifest themselves through our work and day to day lives."


What key elements are needed when telling someone’s story visually?

“It starts with intention. What is the intention of what we're trying to relay? What is the intention of the story? In storytelling or stories we were told as children, they always end with ‘the moral of the story is…’ and that’s what we’re looking for. Second, is really understanding who or what it is we’re working with. Then you get a sense of what the imagery is. It’s about becoming inspired by that person's story and finding the nuances that are a part of that."


Photograph By Shaniqwa Jarvis.


How do you overcome any challenges you face in your work?

“I try not pressure myself to create anything or be creative at all. I just focus on the present and do something that makes me happy like meditate, cook, or spend time with my son. He likes drawing, so we draw together. It helps me get to a place where it feels good to create again."


Name a project or accomplishment from your career that you’re most proud of.

“Now that our lives are so different because we have a child and our energy is divided into many different arenas of life, I think differently about my past accomplishments. I am thankful for them, and for the path that has led me to this place in my life, but more than looking backwards at the past, I am more so inspired to think about what my future accomplishments will look like."

Photography by Travis Gumbs.

Art direction BY Cynthia Cervantes.



Can you share news on any upcoming projects?

“I am very excited about a project my husband has been working on for almost two years now. It‘s an extension of the work we’ve done together, specifically in regards to honouring our cultures and ancestral knowledge. It’s called Medicinal Plant Index. It’s an herbal supplement line and resource guide for medicinal plants. It’s going to launch at the end of the year. We’re currently working on building out the resource guide, which explores traditional uses of herbs, documents the people that have been working to cultivate medicinal plants , and provides an understanding of how herbs can be incorporated into our daily lives."


You work with your husband a lot. Has parenthood affected the way you work together creatively?

“Parenthood has exposed very specific parts of our partnership that are very strong and that we rely on daily in order to make it through the day. We often talk about the fact that because we’ve known each other for so long and have worked under extremely difficult circumstances professionally, our transition to parenthood has been really interesting and fun. I think it has also made us reevaluate where is it that we really feel is important that we show up for each other."



Okay, let's play a ‘this or that’ game. New York or Mexico City, which do you prefer for food?

“Mexico City. Hands down. We don’t eat gluten and we eat a mostly plant-based diet, so the food in Mexico City is next level - you can just spend every single day eating your way through the city."


What about a night out?

“New York! A lot of my friends are in nightlife so it’s always just a cute vibe. Also, there's such an incredible mix of people and cultures."


Which city do you prefer for art?

“That‘s really hard. I‘m going to say a tie. New York and Mexico City are so inspiring in such different ways. Both places really push you to want to make work, but I think the vibe is so different in each place. I think Mexico City is much more experimental."


Last one, New York or Mexico City for style?

“That’s so hard. They're so different! For me, in Mexico City, the best style is found on people you pass on the street, who aren’t necessarily in the fashion or art world. In New York, the looks I find most incredible or inspiring are usually on people who are in the scene."


In Mexico City with fam.


Can you describe how your own personal style has evolved?

“It’s been a journey! I definitely had my ‘fashion girl’ moment - a mushroom haircut with shaved sides and COMME des GARÇONS silhouettes. Now, I'm definitely giving off 'on-duty' mom vibes hahaha. It’s more about being comfortable because I am so active. Can I sit on the floor and play? Can I run to the store and grab something? It's pushing towards more classic, I think. I'm heading into like a more simple phase for sure."


Name a person, place, and thing that inspires you.

“I am forever inspired by my grandmother, Ofelia Alvarez. I have her picture hanging by my desk and whenever I feel anxious or depleted I look to her for inspiration and for encouragement to push through. She was such an incredible human being, and she would always make sure I knew how proud of me she was and how much she loved me. Everything about her inspires me – her fierce and profound love for her family, her tireless work ethic, her style – everything!"


“A place that inspires me is Mexico City. I love being here. I love walking around the streets. I love hearing music. I love hearing Spanish all day. I love hearing parents talk to their children. I love everything about being here. There's nothing like it."


“The other truly inspiring driving force in my life is my son, Tenoch. He inspires me every day to be a good person and to live the kind of life that I hope he will emulate and take to the next level. I just want to create a life experience for him that is so full, rich, and undeniably full of love."