The history of Houdini

We have a chat with Houdini’s founder Lotta Giornofelice about the early years, why she started Houdini and how the company came to carry the name Houdini.

This story begins in the late 80s and early 90s when a young Lotta Giornofelice was working as a climbing and off piste skiing instructor and guide. She shared her time between Åre, Chamonix, La Grave, Kebnekaise and other places around the world in pursuit for the best skiing spots and climbing routes. During a climb on Pyramide du Tacul in Chamonix, Lotta and her crew found themselves in an exposed and dangerous situation. Somebody called out “Save me Houdini” to summon the powers of the famous escape artist. If it was the spirit of Houdini that helped them off the mountain that time remains unknown but the saying became an instant classic and a given name for Lotta’s new clothing brand.

A company run by a woman was something that stood out in the outdoor business.


Houdini's founder Lotta Giornofelice and an early trade show booth, complete with our first garments and hand made fleece flower.

As a climber and mountaineer Lotta was missing clothes for start- and stop activities like climbing and ski touring. Garments that kept essential muscle groups warm but didn’t make the user overheated or sweaty. Lotta started making underwear in fleece to herself and her friends. The garments became an instant success and the rumor spread in the climbing and ski community like a wildfire.

— For me it was important not to start a company just to sell stuff, Lotta says. It has to fill a function or solve a problem. But I knew there was a need for my products and I had an enormous drive and credibility in the community.

The hunt for the perfect fabric

Lotta now had a design concept and a name for her company, but she was still missing the perfect material. She had seen a stretchy fleece fabric from the world leading American manufacturer Malden Mills, later Polartec, that would be perfect. The only problem was that they didn’t take order for less than one kilometer of fabric. But if you can climb Himalayan mountains you won’t let a sales policy stop you. Lotta invited herself to the Malden Mills textile plant in Lawrence outside of Boston and brought her hand made prototypes.

The problem was that they didn’t take order for less than one kilometer of fabric. But if you can climb Himalayan mountains you won’t let a sales policy stop you.

— The Europeans sales manager had never seen fleece underwear before, Lotta says, but I managed to convince him of the products’ value. Eventually he let me purchase fabric in smaller volumes and now everything was in place to start Houdini. Then we won the Maldens Mills Apex Awards three years in a row for my products.

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Lotta Giornofelice and Hope Leezum Namgyal, the Princess of Sikkim, India 1996. Photo by Janna Tahlén.

Making our mark on the outdoor industry

The first collection i 1993 was made by a local seamstress in Vällingby outside Stockholm, but already for the second collection she had to find a production partner with bigger capacity. Functional wear with a stylish, minimalistic look was something new at the time. The success came quickly. A company run by a woman was also something that stood out in the outdoor business that was, and to a great extent still is, run by men.

Now, over 25 years later, Lotta is still a part owner of Houdini, but she is no longer a part of the daily operations.

— Houdini was founded because I needed clothes that didn’t exist, Lotta remembers. I am very proud of what I did achieve and to see how Houdini is evolving. Especially for the sustainability work that lies at the heart of everything that Houdini does.

Houdini’s history is characterized by a constant will to shake things up. We are inspired by Lotta’s determination, creativity and will to drive innovation. We want to create better products, challenge existing norms and change the things we don’t believe in. That’s when we are at our best.

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