LONDON, United Kingdom — Having started her line straight out of school, aged just 18, Anya Hindmarch has built her eponymous label into an international accessories brand with 56 stores in nine countries. Hindmarch designs four collections a year and helms the only accessories brand to present catwalk shows during London Fashion Week. Hindmarch’s work is driven by creativity, humour and a fascination with craftsmanship. The brand offers a bespoke collection, where craftsmen based in-store are available to personalise products with handwritten messages and drawings.
In addition to her seasonal collections, two philanthropic initiatives garnered worldwide attention for the british designer: the Be a Bag initiative, which allowed customers to print personal images directly onto bags to raise money for charity, and I’m Not a Plastic Bag, one of the first environmental fashion bags, which immediately sold out worldwide. As it continues to expand across the globe, the Anya Hindmarch brand and the company behind it has retained all of the personality, humour and passion of its founder and creative director.
Founder and chief creative officer Anya Hindmarch explains why a collaborative and fun work environment leads to great work.
BoF: How did you get started?
AH: Whilst I was at school I decided that all I wanted to do was to make and design leather handbags. Someone came to give a talk at school and they spoke about fashion as a career, and I knew then that it was what I wanted to do. But also, my mother gave me a bag when I was about 16, one of her old Gucci bags and I remember how it made me feel. I left school at 18 and went out to Florence, the centre of the world that I was so excited about. I spent a few months there learning italian and absorbing the home of leather.
I saw a bag in the streets and markets that I thought would do well, a drawstring bucket bag, which was really very simple. It was a bag that just felt cool, it felt great, so I found a factory and I had some samples made up. Harper’s and Queen, as it was then, used to have a full-page shopping offer every month. I sold 500 bags through that and that was how it started. Then I started designing collections and it just sort of grew and grew.
BoF: How did Anya Hindmarch go from one bag to an international brand with stores around the world?
AH: Very organically the business gathered quite a following. After the first bag, I started designing more of a collection and then went and approached various retailers. I quite quickly got orders from Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, Joseph and Harrods.
Starting out was an amazing learning curve because I was dealing with the design, manufacturing and production. I would source every aspect of a bag, which might have 20 different pieces of hardware, ready for the right date to give to my craftspeople to make. Then learning the selling, delivery, invoicing, labeling, marketing — every aspect from soup to nuts, as they say. It was pretty stressful: business school but on the run.
BoF: For a small brand, Anya Hindmarch still has a global footprint, but you are a British brand at heart.
AH: The brand from day one has always been very international. My first ever shop outside the UK was launched 20 years ago in Hong Kong and we have more than 20 shops in Japan as well in North America, Malaysia and Singapore. Today more than half of our business is overseas so it is very international.
I feel very proud to be British. I think London is probably the best city in the world and certainly one of the most creative. In London we have this wonderful mixture of incredible history, and references from ancient crafts and architecture to cutting edge street fashion, music and art. For me, that combination is really exciting and London is a hugely diverse and multicultural city. You can visit Bombay or Beijing in London, pretty much anything you want to eat or experience you can do in London and I find that very stimulating.
BoF: What does the Anya Hindmarch brand stand for?
AH: When I think about who we are, I think about how we behave. We are passionate people and in some ways quite elitist when it comes to design but ultimately we are actually a warm brand. We are good people, fair people but full of conviction. We always say that we are ‘ambitious but humble.’ It is those attributes that I think are really key and I think that humour is one of them, humour is an essential characteristic to work at Anya Hindmarch. I don’t think that taking ourselves too seriously would work very well. There are all sorts of wonderful people here many of whom have been here been here for a long time. There's a real mix; I think it is richer that way. We always discuss the company as a family and that is really important to me.
BoF: How do the brand’s values impact the way the company operates both internally and externally?
AH: I can honestly say one of the things I am most proud of is the atmosphere of this company. I like to have a collaborative and genuinely fun mood where you do great work, and there are times when you work really, really hard but I am a great believer in the carrot over the stick. We make it fun and make it something that everyone gets such a kick out of doing that that is what motivates the team. What’s nice for me is that my whole UK team is based in one building, from the design studio to the accounts department everyone knows each other and feels very personally involved in the brand.
BoF: Is there any particular area of talent you are seeking to add to the ‘family’?
AH: We are opening a lot of stores in a number of countries so there is the project management of that: architectural services, the physical rollout team, sales teams for all the markets, specialist marketing people, and bolstering all the people controlling the buys, stock and the visual merchandising. New product categories are coming through, so we are going to be looking for specialist designers along with a design director to be my right hand when the time is right. There is a raft of things to be honest.
There is a huge amount of creativity in this company. Masses of crazy mad ideas and doing things differently, we have that in spades, and as the business is growing we want to ensure that everyone new who joins the company fits this culture, so that it radiates out to all of our teams, in all our markets. We also have to bring in the real brains and operational experts who know how to really expand the company without losing its authenticity.
This post is sponsored by Anya Hindmarch. To explore career opportunities at this company, please visit the Anya Hindmarch company page on BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent.