Ole Hansen
interview Ole Hansen London Janis Kanga

Coming from Norway, Ole took a few detours that all led towards his company HANSEN & LYDERSEN selling one of a kind salmon, smoked in the heart of London. He uses his grandfathers' techniques merged with his own creative ideas that evolve into superb craft work. We managed to meet between appointments and changing nappies.

Janis: Please tell me about your daily life as a salmon smoker.

Ole: I guess my daily life is changing all the time. Setting up the company was a big struggle, because I decided to go against the stream. I had a budget of three hundred pounds plus a side job - to find materials, I went to scavenge the skips of the city.
For me, life as a salmon smoker is about integrity, I'm an artisan - I believe in putting all my energy into one thing and perpetually improving. Now that we're growing, it involves other people as well, so making sure that works, is the most difficult I find now – not smoking the salmon, not keeping interest in what I do – but to motivate the staff to feel exactly the same as me.

I grew up in the country, where you had the right to roam. During my work process I have to use all of my skills to improvise myself from stage A to B, and then C.
You realize, when climbing mountains thinking: I get up on the top of this one I'll see very far, that actually if you're going to walk further, there's going to be another mountain, even higher. But at least you accumulated some kind of self esteem on the way, if you managed to succeed. I think this self esteem and that sort of urge to get further, helps you then overcome the challenges of the next mountain.
Then there are rivers as well - sometimes you cross a river and if you slip on a rock, you can drift with the river, or you can hold on to a stone and your knuckles will get white. You're stressed and you're holding on to something, but then you have to let go. That's where we're now, I feel: we're in a river, flowing. But for sure there will be some waterfalls, and we'll have to tackle, too.

Life as an artisan, life as a salmon smoker, life as a father – - I'm very happy to do what I do, because I have something I believe in and I'm giving pleasure to people in terms of taste. I have an influence over the world that we live in, what means that I'm also a designer: I'm changing the perception of the world that we live in by changing the way how smoked salmon is packaged for instance: we never vacuum pack anything. We started off doing it the way my great grandfather was doing it: simply wrapping it in paper. Then I dug deeper. I had this tutor at art school that I called and we sat down for a whole day and did wrapping and packing and folding -

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How nice!

You start caring about details, which all are so important! Once I've seen something is possible, I don't want anything else that would be the mediocre way.
So right now we have a packaging, were the salmon is in direct contact with calcium carbonate, the material eggshells are made of. That means we have created the first packaging for smoked salmon, that will be sold in supermarkets, which is not vacuum packed! That's what it's all about. Making a difference and feeling a reason to get up in the morning, not just making money.
Doing something personal (like to play the piano for the salmon) and being straight forward about our work process, is what I enjoy. I think it is very very important, that there is substance behind things - companies used to cover themselves with a story, that was made up, but I think this is finally changing.

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How come you chose London, what made you come here?

Yeah, good question.. I had started experimenting with sounds in that house in Stavanger [Norway], were I had loads of instruments, when one of my best friends encouraged me to apply at this art school in London to study sound art. I felt pretty alienated in my city - an oil city - there wasn't much art going on, so I was keen to find more people of the same interests.
After I got accepted the following years of creativity were amazing! I also checked out the graphic department of the school, the ceramics and metal class and just really enjoyed myself. I guess, all of these things came to use, when I decided against a pretty artist career off-the-shelf. Still I wanted to stay in London, what meant to have an income. First I did some really random business ventures, but actually got completely lost, ended up doing very little of what I wanted to do. In those jobs I couldn't find interesting people either.. I was suffering quite a lot - until I found this boiler room from the fifties outside this warehouse and it all kind of came together!
I felt like there'd be nothing better, than taking a family tradition and bringing it to this new place. All these childhood memories of fishing with my father and grandfather, eating an open-face salmon sandwich, sitting in my sleeping bag watching the midnight sun coming up... And since I couldn't find my place in that world of working for someone who doesn't care, but to generate profit for the share-hold, I felt the need to find a way of sustaining life on my own. Probably that was a big driver behind it.

Then I put a lot of individualism into shaping the whole thing. Of course, you can go and hire a photographer or graphic designer, but they, unless they are really motivated and interested in what you do, will never give the same amount of passion.
I rather have some tears and cries along the way – because when you believe in your ideas and you managed to solve problems, it becomes ten times more solid.

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When was HANSEN & LYDERSEN founded?

Six years ago. We've gone a lot of miles, but we've got a lot of miles left to go! I had all these people along the way that were supporting. So important to believe in yourself, while starting something like this and to sort of filter out people's scepticism. People are always sceptics and they love to be sceptics.

Especially if they don't dare themselves.

Exactly. Instead of going like: hey, let's do it! Let's go for it!

I like, that you explain your work process and all the concious decisions on your website in many details, very openly – you think that's a big part of your success?

I think so – I'm a very direct person and I believe that by conversation you can get close to someone: by opening up yourself, you open up other people's doors.
I don't mind being exposed – I don't feel like I've got anything to hide. We're all flesh and blood, no? (smiling)

So it wasn't a marketing decision, it was just a natural thing for you to do?

Yes – I never thought in those kind of terms, I never established marketing rules, or an action plan.

But it also explains the price for instance -

Of course. I think the process is important and even more the philosophy behind it: why are you doing this and that, where does that come from and who are you?

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Are there many people interested to come around the smokehouse and ask a lot of questions (smiling)?

Yes! There are loads, which I find really nice. I met so many interesting people! Most of the times, if someone was interested, I said: ok - bring a couple bottles of wine, I will host the salmon and show you the process. In return, which was I guess calculated on my side, I could train these people to become small ambassadors for my company. They learned a lot and left to talk to other people about what I do, and carried some kind of enthusiasm in them. I met writers, poets, artists, a horse-racecourse owner, top bankers, the leading guy on the diabetes research...

I guess London is a good place for a project like yours -

London is a fantastic place! Of all colours and there are so many people searching for good conversations, good people. Constantly looking to find themselves and to find someone to discuss that with - I've been very lucky with attracting the right kind of people.

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You sell your fish on markets.


Every week?!

Every single..... Saturday! (both laughing)

And are you careful with what you shop yourself?

I try to buy things that are of quality, and localism is something that I really burn for! It isn't restricted to just London, you can support a localist in Japan, or in Yorkshire – the wool I buy, costs me more than polystyrene, more than double the amount, but I'm supporting local Yorkshire farmers and a small company up in the north, which I find great! For me it's a way of life.

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How did you find good suppliers for the materials and ingredients you use?

It takes time to research, and it takes time to find the right kind of people. Sometimes you believe in people and they disappoint you terribly, but it's a journey. Now my network is gradually becoming bigger and the people that are similar to me contact me, or I contact them. 85% of my suppliers are family businesses, so I know they have a good way of working with their staff. Your suppliers are key! It's important for me to have a personal relationship with them, to give and take, to understand - it's like family life in a way – sometimes they disappoint you and you disappoint them but then you laugh about it! And you can influence each other in becoming better, because you trust each other - that's a powerful thing.

How big is your team now?

We are seven plus the market helpers - a growing population of fish (smiling).

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Thank you Ole Hansen for the interview! To find out more about his work visit his website and online shop here.

photography, interview & text: Janis Manini Claudia Kanga
October 2014