The Queen of handbags & British Fashion icon Anya Hindmarch talks about life as the chairwoman of a multi million dollar global accessories brand, blending business & humour, how dyslexia never held her back & why she decided to fire herself.
Counting the Queen and Margaret Thatcher as her heroes, Anya Hindmarch is witty and authentic – we clearly have a lot in common. (Ha!) In fact, if I still lived in London I have no doubt we would be BFFs: lunching at Ottolenghi on Ledbury Road, chatting for hours about politics & fashion as we munch our way through Yotam’s mountainous dessert selection. So, when I had the opportunity to meet Anya in Hong Kong I nearly pooped confetti.
An award winning fashion designer, mother of five, UK trade ambassador and owner of one of the most recognised luxury brands in Britain, Anya Hindmarch MBE started her business at the age of 18 after falling head-over-heels for an Italian leather bag. Boasting 50 stores worldwide and with 2014 sales hitting £28.4 million, her winning combination of humour, quirkiness and an unwavering dedication to quality and craftsmanship are key to her success.
Anya Hindmarch – Attitude Is Everything
Hindmarch has a disarming, relaxed nature. As she recalled belly-laugh-inducing anecdotes it was clear that this incredibly successful woman had never bought in to the fashion-world schtick. In fact, her authenticity is probably one of her most valuable assets. Hindmarch launched her business despite being dyslexic and having not been particularly academic at school. With these challenges in mind, I asked her how she become one of the most influential people in fashion…plus I threw in a few other curly questions…
Notwithstanding your dyslexia, how did you become one of the most influential and successful people in fashion?
I am very lucky to come from a family of entrepreneurs. I started my business when I was 18 after an inspiring trip to Italy. For the first couple of years I worked from my kitchen table, often thinking, what on earth am I doing? All of my friends were at university, and I was a bit lonely. I was the designer, negotiating with the factories, I was the sales girl, the PR, the accountant worrying about cash flow. My youth was a benefit because I didn’t think about the problems, I just got on with it and looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. I can still build a box quicker than anyone at HQ!
You offer guidance to female entrepreneurs as part of your role as a non-executive director of the British Fashion Council. What are three pieces of advice you would give someone looking to break into business or take their career to the next level?
- As you leave the office at night, fire yourself mentally and come back the next day as your successor.
- There is a great quote from Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” I think it says it all.
- Persist and don’t forget to enjoy the journey-it’s fantastically hard work but worth every second.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I am really quite good at parking the car.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
“Be brave. Be Bold”
Be less timid, go for it, don’t shy away from opportunity, never be ordinary, be kind, be respectful.
What is your design process?
Craftsmanship, personalisation and humour are three of the things we are most known for and sit at the heart of everything we do. Laughter is our lifeblood at AH HQ which I think comes through in the product. Laughter and cake! I find inspiration in anything and everything. People inspire me as well as architecture and travel. I’m a big believer in feeding your brain. It is amazing how ideas bank and come to fruition at some point much later. I am obsessed by craftsmanship, the leathers we use and how things are made – craftsman are my celebrity and I have a real passion for leatherwork.
In 2011 you replaced yourself as CEO. This must have been a difficult decision to make – what was the clincher?
It was about five years ago I decided that it was important that I devote more time to the creative side of the business, so rather unconventionally I split my role or ‘fired’ myself as CEO and Chief Creative Officer, becoming Chairman and Chief Creative Officer whilst bringing in a rather brilliant CEO. One of the first things I was asked to do was create a visual timeline – a sort of scrapbook I guess you’d call it, of the brand from the very beginning working at the kitchen table to the now with our 50 stores and 400 employees. What was interesting was that the core values that mattered to me at the very beginning, when I was 19, are the very same 25 years later. This was around the time we started doing rather nuts runway shows during London Fashion Week, a first for an accessories brand.
What’s your pet hate?
Bad manners and a messy handbag.
How do you juggle family demands and a successful international business?
Hard work and the fact that I love my job. This and a wonderful family (at home and the office.)
Tell me about the inspiration behind the Anya Hindmarch Spring Summer 2017 collection.
This season I’ve been preoccupied by the relationship between geometry and art. These two visual mediums are both articulated through pattern, form and colour – things that have always fascinated me. I like to think of this as the leatherwork equivalent of a mathematical equation!
Watch the Anya Hindmarch SS17 catwalk show here – it was a creative spectacle and feat of engineering.
Who is the Anya Hindmarch woman?
That’s quite a difficult question as our customers are quite varied, but in terms of design inspiration, truthfully I design for myself. Not because I am my own muse but because I am a mother, wife and businesswomen and I also like to have fun so I design with all these roles in mind. I am also my own harshest critic.
What does luxury mean to you?
Luxury is a story, it’s not about money and the term us often misused. Craftsmanship is the key, it’s the craftsmen who inspire me. Real luxury is about understanding how something is made specifically to your requirements.
What is the story behind THAT Crisp Packet Clutch?
The bag has proved a big hit, literally. It reached headlines around the world after Beyoncé’s sister was caught on CCTV hitting the singer’s husband Jay-Z with the bag.
It is really complicated to make. We wanted to do a bag that was quite simple modern art and was a take on a crisp packet. It is a really, really complex bit of engineering. You have to photograph it and 3D model it and then you make the mould. We use ten different moulds per bag.
Watch how it’s made here.
Have you experienced a situation, an affliction or perhaps a circumstance in your life, which could have, but didn’t hold you back from pursuing your dream job? I would love to hear your stories – feel free to share in the comments below!
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Cover photo: anyahindmarch.com