PB: Everything is out of NY? Do you foresee keeping everything out of NY, out of the US?
Ben: The production is overseas – that is why Toni is in Hong Kong right now. Actually, everything has been done overseas from the beginning. Some people start out making things themselves, or working with some others, but Toni had started a company with her boss and helped run it from the beginning, they did a lot of work with all different people and developed all sorts of contacts. I don’t think we could have done the range and quality without these contacts.
PB: When it comes to the design process… You have a design team, and Toni is involved, but can you tell us a bit more?
Ben: Toni is involved, she is the Creative Director, and also does about 50-60% of the handbags, all the shoes and some of the apparel. But it really is a collaboration with the entire design team. In larger companies there are lots of teams of people involved – merchandising, design, technical design, sourcing – a whole lot of people to make the final product. But, everything is done in house at Hayden Harnett. So, what we have is a senior handbag design, apparel designer, graphic/print designer and Toni. They all work together to get the final product. You get the materials together, line reviews and then you bring sales into it. It is Toni’s vision that directs what happens. There is a back and forth, but what is in Toni’s mind is what we end up with.
PB: When it comes to the materials that are being used, the leathers, how is the process when picking the leathers? People on the forum talk about how gorgeous the leather is and we were just wondering a bit about that process.
Ben: That is important for us. Well, a beautifully designed bag, it can be ruined if the wrong material is used. Also, the way a bag looks – if you see a bag, a sample is designed with cheap material, just so you can get the idea. But you have to be able to envision the final product. Once you translate that into different materials, some shapes or designs like metallics, or naked leather, all of those have different characteristics. We don’t really have preferences, but we do like soft leathers. The vegetable tan leather is the kind that gets deeper, darker and better over time. The style of the bag has to interact and correspond with the materials. Every season we go to the leather shows and you run through everything while listening to what others say about what they are thinking for the next season. Once we have that is the pallet. What are the colors that you are seeing for the next season? So we either have something that is already being made or we have to have the leathers made in a custom way. We have leathers our customers respond to so we carry that through, but we are always incorporating new things. I think you will find most of our bags are unbelievably practical. We started doing these fun Youtube videos on these bags and you start to realize things about the bags you didn’t know or realize. It is great to know each bag has a story and detail behind it. We aren’t just making bags because that is what everyone is asking for that season. Every bag has a reason for existing, they aren’t just here to fill in a gap or a hole.
PB: You guys started off in bags, but it has extended – I see travel, apparel, accessories, shoes. So, how did you know which step to take next and how were you able to do it so quickly?
Ben: We are very resourceful. We do work very hard which is besides the point. For us, Toni is a designer. She started out not as a fashion designer but in sculpture and product design – like ATM machines, coolers and so on. I would say that is where she gets the fact that everything is intelligent, comfortable. Our reason for doing things is because we think we can and want to offer these things to people. At the same time, early on, we didn’t want to get pegged or labeled as being really good at only something like handbags. Handbags will always be at our core and we love that we are good at them. We had a reason for being – an aesthetic – it’s just not about one thing. There are all different pieces that we think fit together, that work together really well. We can close our eyes and think about a HH shoe, accessory, bag. You know, I think in the kind of world we live in, it is really important to have an identity. Us being able to do a lot of things and offer a lot to our customers is heartwarming. We don’t have to say “this is the bag you have to have”. We are just trying to do things our own way. Our focus is the end customer. We have to keep changing and doing things our way.
PB: Which way did you start?
Ben: Handbags, accessories, travel items, clothing, outer wear and then shoes – they are more recent. We are doing a lot of custom print designs. So, a lot of the lining you see on the inside of a handbag might then be used on the inside lining of a jacket or on a dress. And you will find that the leathers and styles in the handbags, like the hardware are also custom. You can find the same hardware can be on the shoes and the bags or the same leather is on shoes and bags. Not that it is having everything be all matchy matchy. But it is about getting people to know the items. They might try one thing one day and then branch out and try something else. Like these little charms that people will even put on their Prada or Gucci bags.