What would make a person leave a promising lawyer’s career? How could Buzz Lightyear ever be a source of inspiration? What is the founder’s obsession with furniture and design? I had a sit-down with the founder of Volume Orange to ask him why he decided to give birth to it.
When I first met Anders Bodenhoff he quickly started talking about his business psychologist, a path to a meaningful life, and following dreams. Before I knew it, he rambled on about his efforts to write a master thesis over a two months’ Euro trip in a camper van. [Spoiler alert!, red.] He didn’t write his master thesis in the camper van but ended up reflecting upon his purpose in life and decided to follow dreams and meaning. Anders was back then a student of law - top of his year and all that glamor - and had worked his butt off at various Danish law firms. At the time, he was supposed to start working at a Danish leading law firm… but the Euro trip ended up with a resignation email sent from shady mobile wifi on a mountain hill outside sunny Florence. A master thesis later, he was on a one-way ticket to Barcelona to open a specialty coffee brand with the vision to inspire and help others to pursue more meaningful lives. He failed initially, went back to the law office, but later established a specialty coffee roastery and two coffee bars in Copenhagen, sold it all, co-founded a menswear design brand, went back to the law offices… and that brings us to today’s interview.
TO INFINITY AND BEYOND
When he invited me to do an interview he of course insisted we’d meet at his favorite coffee bar in central Copenhagen. What I first noticed about Anders was some long curly hair and a pair of deep blue eyes and some quite random tattoos on his arms. “Let’s start this one out on a random question; I can’t help but notice that you have Buzz Lightyear tattooed on your arm, what’s that about?”
“Well”, Anders replied grinning, “it’s a twofold story. I love the fact that Buzz is a mass produced toy with no spaceship, no lazers, no flying capabilities, no nothing. However, on the contrary he holds an utmost belief that he is a specialized space ranger with a spaceship and a lazer who’s indeed capable of flying. The other toys are skeptical and Woody tries to convince him differently but his mind is unchangeable and this naive belief of his is actually his superpower. I feel the same as Buzz in that way. You would not believe the amount of people who have tried to convince me that I would fail in my endeavors, that a commercial lawyer couldn’t build consumer facing brands, and that I could never compete with established design giants. People laughed at me for wanting to build furniture out of used coffee grounds when I was at my coffee bars or deadstock textiles when I co-founded the fashion brand; to them I was not a space ranger and I couldn’t fly - I was just a mass produced toy. People need to see it to believe it. I have always had that somewhat naive belief in myself and that’s my superpower. The other part of the reason for the tattoo almost goes without saying: “To infinity and beyond”.
THE CHILDISH APPROACH
“May I call you Buzz, then?… what made you want to build companies?”
“I think there are many entertaining facts in life. For instance, that people have to get drunk to dare to dance; I mean, they can just fucking dance but no, no they have to get drunk first. Or the fact that most children love to draw random stuff out of pure enjoyment in the process of drawing random stuff - but then grow up and stop drawing; likely because they focus too much on the end result and are afraid of others’ opinion. The same goes with dancing: “what if people think I look silly”, you know? We forget the love for the process. We stupid grown-ups tend to think too much of the result and we’re held back by a fear of failure and of being judged - we are world champions at telling our selves why we won’t succeed. When I reflected about what truly drives me and what I find tremendous joy in, I have applied what I call “the childish approach”. When I was a child I spent hours collecting stones in various shapes and colors. I would organize them neatly and preserve them like precious gems. I would lie in my bed or in the grass and stare into my bedroom’s wooden ceiling or the sky and I would try to imagine faces and fabel animals out of the patterns drawn by the knots in the ceiling planks or the ever drifting clouds. I would draw everything from the ninja turtles to buildings in Paris when I visited my sister living there. I was fortunate enough to discover at an early age that humans can follow their biggest dreams if they focus on the process one step at time rather than failure. It took a lot of reading and time on TED and watching Steve Jobs interviews and the like but I eventually believed that I could follow my dreams, build meaningful relations and experiences, and to quote the anime character Naruto “That is my nindō! My ninja way!”. When I worked within the world of lawyers I was very bound to computer hours and digital writings, producing commercial advice that people seemed to care little about in the grand scheme of things and I felt like something tangible was missing. I was missing a connection to my childish approach, and to our physical surroundings - to collecting and organizing stones. Also, the lawyer’s path taught me quite a bit about bad leadership, and that has been a huge driver in my life - wanting to build a meaningful organization with a strong focus on the humans involved and to lead out of my core values.”
OBSESSED WITH OBJECTS AND HOW THEY ARE BROUGHT TO LIFE
“Well, then why did you decide to build a design/furniture brand?”
“I can’t tell you exactly why it has to be furniture and design; I believe there is an artist residing in me, and that part of me finds great satisfaction in objects, in architecture, in art, and especially in furniture and design. To me, furniture is basically functional art. People fall in love with furniture and have them in their home for many years and for this reason furniture as a commodity is truly meaningful to me; the longevity aspect and the idea of objects as companions. Home to me is my sanctuary and a feeling of safety and inspiration, of highs and lows, of solitude and friendship. The furniture in my home is a large part of the feelings that are evoked in me. My favorite object in my home is arguably a large oak wood veneer chest with an inner storage box made out of zinc (I shit you not!). My great granddad used it as his travel “suitcase” when he traveled to Sumatra around 1915 to volunteer as a doctor. Despite never having met him, I feel like I carry the values and the mantras of him when being around that chest. To me, that’s the true power of the affection we may feel for objects. His son - my granddad - became a respected Danish chief of police and I carry his old watch which brings me the same feeling of bearing a legacy.”
“You often talk about greenwashing and circularity and sustainability. Can you describe why it’s so important to you?”
“I have felt tremendous joy and meaning in my journey of building consumer facing brands. Trying to do better than the existing ways of industries, especially in terms of the impact on the environment, has always been my single biggest motivator to build new companies. I opened my very first coffee bar in the showroom of a Danish design company in Copenhagen. Our coffee business was shitty - to be very frank - however I loved all the moments in that aesthetic coffee bar and showroom; being the fly on the wall and dreaming about our used coffee grounds being turned into furniture. When I later learned about the waste and deadstock in the fashion industry, it was clear to me that I wanted to make beautiful creations out of waste streams. Changing the ways we produce and spend the resources of the world, especially those that are limited, is still not mandatory but it is my belief - or rather fear - that it will be. I really don’t like to think in negative thought streams or to paint the devil on the wall but I believe that also in this regard the wise words of William Feather - “If we do not discipline ourselves, the world will do it for us” - may hold true. We’re cutting down the Amazonas to produce cattle and soy beans, we’re producing products in sorts of oak and mahogany to an extent where they’re at the edge of extinction, we’re polluting our oceans and have fish eat microplast which humans then later eat, and we’re shipping air in cardboard boxes. The entire scheme is immensely difficult to change because the “will” of the free market is so fierceful and the same goes for the opportunistic mindset in humans that deviates from the free market. In the global political scheme, sustainability has been narrowed down to a question of CO-2e emissions, carbon off-setting and to limit global warming, and that’s a fair starting point, but we need to do more. Way more. We need to make nature’s resources into investable objects in order to stop mass harvesting. We need to harvest our forests sustainably and to plant trees. We need to educate consumers on how to spot greenwashing and how to buy responsibly.
We need to think in circularity in the R&D departments and not in the fucking marketing departments. We need to introduce “black” fees for unsustainable products. We need to shut down black friday, one of modern society’s greatest scams. I will not accept that we cannot change our ways. We shall change our ways or die trying. And that’s more than enough negativity for the next couple of months - my apologies, and also for the language.
Anders excused himself and went to order espressos for us. When he came back he was calm again and I dared challenge him a little more: “But don’t you think it’s somewhat weird that a lawyer ends up building a design brand?”
“I don’t know about that and I don’t really see it that way. I think society and employers should chill a little with all their stigmas because they are indeed very limiting. If people believe they can achieve something regardless of their past, their education, their social status and so forth, let them try. If people follow their heart and passion with grid and stamina they will succeed eventually. For some years, I was actually quite frustrated with my decision to have studied law. I wanted to be an architect or designer instead and felt like I had wasted precious time. You could argue I was focused on what I didn’t have at that time. Fortunately, I changed my inner narrative, and I started focusing on what I did have. Law taught me much about society, companies, intellectual property, commercial agreements, financing, venture capital and so forth. Due to my choice of a very commercial direction it gave me a really profound foundation for establishing a company. A foundation that I likely wouldn’t have had as an architect or designer. Whereas many designers are highly skilled in the creative directions, I think my biggest strength is my deep understanding of the commercial ways. When I had obtained this mindset, I also learned that other people with a background in Danish law had succeeded greatly in the creative world. For instance Anders Byriel, master of law and CEO of one of the world’s leading textile companies, Kvadrat, and Lone Bendoff, master of law and CEO of the Danish architect firm, C.F. Møller. I hope Anders and Lone will one day know how much they have inspired me to pursue my own meaningful ways in the creative world.”