Interview with Hayden Harnett

Hayden-Harnett is a Brooklyn based line of fresh handbags, cute leather cuffs and accessories. Founders, Toni Hacker and Ben Harnett and their Siamese cat Py have put their love for each other and their love of design and quality into making some of the hottest handbags we’ve seen.

Hayden HarnettFeatured in fashion magazines and spotted down the runway during New York‘s fashion week, Hayden Harnett is getting plenty of exposure. With such clever detailing and knowledge of what customers want – practical handbags, not a 3 inch clutch that barely fits a tube of lipstick – it’s no surprise that this trio has broken into the impossible industry of high-end handbags.

Their bags are exquisitely crafted in the softest leather with attention to detail matched only by the best couture designers. All of the bags are rich in color, with beautifully soft cloth interiors and many have adjustable straps. These smart bags even have magnetically closing flaps, keeping your goods safe and secure.

Urbanette recently sat down with the designing duo, which once lived very different lives – with Toni having played in several rock bands and being from the south, while Ben grew up in New York and worked as a computer programmer – but the pair now share their business and pleasure.

Hayden HarnettUrbanette Magazine: What inspired you two to start designing your own collection?

Toni Hacker: We felt there was a massive gap between quality and style in the current handbag market. Women today need bags that hold absolutely everything, are lightweight, but look killer great the moment you hit the ground. Our line was designed to look good from day-to-night, while maintaining a very signature look. We wanted to offer something for everyone and our materials reflect this thought process. You can buy into the Hayden Harnett line from $22 for very well made canvas with leather trim to $550 for a huge, super-glam style! I love that! We also offer styles for evening, laptops, beach, and travel. Ben and I both have an overwhelming need for everyone to be happy.

Hayden HarnettBen Harnett: Toni is amazing. What can I say? She constantly has ideas; it’s like a huge stream coming out. We both wanted to work for ourselves for a long time [because] it’s nice to have complete control. We both just reached a point and looked at each other and I think Toni said at one point “Hayden Harnett” would be a great name for a line of handbags. The next day, I registered the domain. It was around April Fool’s day. Toni sketched a logo I thought looked great, and the bags all just blossomed out of that.

Urbanette: In your bio you joke about how Toni likes to make problems and Ben likes problem solving. Do your personality differences ever cause conflict in your business?

Toni: Ben is great to bounce ideas off of, he’s more pragmatic and grounded, while I’m the fashion maven who continuously needs to be challenged and find “what’s next”. Considering that we live together, work together, sleep together, and eat together 24/7…we’re doing great! We may have some ridiculous arguments about Hitchcock or Abe Lincoln, but we learn so much from each other.

Ben: I think our personality differences make us ideally suited for the different aspects of running a handbag company. Whatever she can’t do, I do, and whatever I can’t do, she’s there for it. Sometimes it’s the same thing, just at different times. There are so many different hats we both have to wear, and of course we end up sharing duties on just about everything. We’re actually both problem solvers. I think we have conflicting viewpoints, and conflicting attitudes sometimes, but what’s amazing is how much we agree deep down inside.

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Urbanette: In an industry with such competition, how do you make your handbags stand out from the crowd?

Ben: I know Toni takes in what everybody else is doing, but she has an uncanny ability to see what people will be looking for, and in the end, we just make bags that we appreciate, and forget what else is out there. Toni and I will look at one of our bags in the planning stage and say “Oh, this definitely needs to have an adjustable strap” or stare at it until we realize it’s 10% too small, or needs to have different studs.

Toni: Hayden Harnett is unique due to the thought process, as well as technical/creative design. All components, materials, hardware and function of HH bags are extremely thought out and planned. We worked on the leather line for six months before we were ready to launch. The line was super-refined and edited until we felt we had bags that really reflected our love for beauty, style, travel, materials, and function. All hardware is custom-designed and molded with special finishing techniques, this is something many handbags in our price range cannot or have not chosen to do due to cost. We wanted to make great bags and never skimp on the details, hoping that our customers would appreciate this in the end. They are getting so much more for their dollar with Hayden Harnett.

Hayden HarnettUrbanette: How does having your girlfriend/boyfriend as a business partner affect your relationship?

Ben: It’s really tough; working together means 24 hours together and it can be intense. But I couldn’t imagine doing it with anybody else. Everyone handles situations differently, but I think ours in a way is ideal. At the beginning it was very easy, then we worked like crazy, and it got very stressful, now we’re still working hard, but we’ve adjusted to really take some time just for ourselves, getting more efficient, so we’re not up until 2 a.m. every night with the business.

Toni: What? I’m still up until 2 a.m. I never stop thinking about the line. I design by osmosis, it seeps into my skin at night and I dream of new designs and hardware often. We’re definitely our own taskmasters, but then we go out and have a blast with friends who can really party us under the table!

Urbanette: Your handbags are soft and refined, not flashy. What kind of woman comes to mind while you’re designing?

Toni: The Hayden Harnett customer needs a bag that she wears and that works with her life, which is busy, and she’s probably quite social as well. She needs a bag that can hold an extra pair of shoes or a light sweater, if needed, as well as an iPod, mobile phone, 5 lip balms, not to mention a wallet and other daily necessities. Our bags do that, are very lightweight, and you never have to worry about the bags being too “precious” to put down in the back seat of a cab or on the floor of a bistro. “Go anywhere” would be our design mantra.

Ben: We imagine our customers as being, [like us in a sense], intelligent and artistic, and those who love the idea of discovering something new, whether it’s a place or a product. They appreciate things that aren’t just beautiful, but are useful and clever too, and they aren’t exactly made of money either – if I’m going to buy something, it’s not just going to be on a total whim, it’s going to be because I can’t imagine going another day without it. It’s more about our customer relating personally to the item. That’s where the refinement and softness come in. If other people notice and comment on it, that’s great too but totally secondary.

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Urbanette: You put an emphasis on quality and beautiful detail. Are there any particular designers that inspired you along the way?

Hayden HarnettBen: Toni and I both bring very different inspirations to bear on the designs and feel of the bags. If you would ask me, I’d say Cezanne, Picasso, Fellini, and Faulkner. Our bulletin board at home is covered with disparate things, from pictures of sea life, Phil Spector in court, Brigitte Bardot in St. Tropez wearing a tight nautical striped sweater (ooh-la-la!), celebrity clip-outs, random Mexican embroideries, fabric-swatches, post-cards, poems, Abe Lincoln’s head and the box top from a package of Russian squirrel candy. Everything finds its way into the bags.

Toni: Chaos creates order, our influences are very “big-bang” theory in a sense.

Urbanette: Your cat Py is a big part of Hayden Harnett. With the recent popularity in dog accessories, have you ever thought of designing cat collars or accessories? What are the next moves for Hayden Harnett?

Toni: Great pet products are definitely coming. I’m trying to get Py to schedule time for some R&D. She’s terribly busy working on the marketing of late. She says “no fur EVER”. She loves leopard print, but that’s not really our style – she’s so glamorous, she loves to show-off!

Ben: Py is long overdue for her annual birthday cat-collar. We’ve both discussed making one for her, and of course we’d end up selling it as well. I think we’re going to do a bunch of different things. We’ve talked about doing outerwear – the perfect trench-coat; we’re experimenting with scarves and belts, also talking about hats. The sky’s the limit – the only thing is we want to find what works and what fits in naturally. We’re just going to keep brainstorming, and every season we’ll have something new, something fresh. Don’t stand still – don’t look back.

Urbanette: Toni you played in several rock bands and grew up in the south, and Ben you grew up in New York, do wither of you have any unique past experiences that have helped you with your designs?

Hayden HarnettBen: Me, I’ve studied art, traveled around the world, am currently studying Greek, and was once a computer programmer – I think all those experiences and more have greatly contributed to what we’ve been able to do. I’m not sure how. I think it’s something about our attitude. We don’t want to be serious, except about things like quality, beauty, and utility. Everything else is just way more relaxed. We’re trying to make great products that work and are beautiful – that’s what we appreciate in others, and that’s what we want for Hayden Harnett. So, having a wide range of experiences, bringing things from every-which-way and every-which-where has contributed not only to our designs, but to the success of our company as a whole.

Toni comes from a background in product-design, and so first and foremost she’s thinking about utility, but she was also a sculptor. And this has a lot to do with everything being so formally beautiful too… perfect marriage of form and function. Her experiences living in Hong Kong have been an amazing aid to the business, but also it gives her a nice perch to design from, coming from rural Kentucky, growing up there, and then moving half-way round the world – it’s a unique, beautiful perspective.

Toni: Awww…Ben…I never knew you felt that way! Wanna go make out on the leather-pile?

Ben and Toni: Ciao!

Check Hayden Harnett’s collection out at www.hhbags.com

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