We all know that leather has been a vital part in the development of civilization and it’s use dates back to pre-historic times when people used it to make shelter, clothing, carpets and decorative attire. Today, the perfect leather jacket is still a must-have in most fashionistas’ closets. But as environmental groups draw more attention to the unnatural way most leather is made, the appeal of looking great in a leather coat starts to fade.
Enter, Hare+Hart, a new fashion and accessories line launched in the fall of 2009 that’s making leather guilt-free to enjoy. This fresh brand is the brainchild of design duo Jennie Engelhardt and Emily Harrison, two young designers who met at Carleton College and shared a passion for high quality fashion as well as the environment.
The line of drool-worthy ethical leather clothing and accessories including jackets, scarves, vests, shirts, skirts, gloves, blazers, and handbags is made of environmentally conscious materials from Argentine grass-fed, free roaming cows, thus ensuring each piece in their collection comes from a cow provided a better life than most others from which leather is derived. Hare+Hart also chooses hides from cows that are being used for beef so that no part of the animal is wasted. The designers believe that not only the cows, but also the people involved in creating their collection should be treated with consideration and fairness, so they make it a point to ensure all of the craftsmen working on their items receive fair wages and benefits.
For a first look at Hare+Hart’s inspiration and the masterminds behind the brand, I asked the Jennie a few questions about how they were able to turn their passion into reality and what we can expect next from this incredible line.
1) How was the idea for the company/ partnership between you born?
I studied abroad in Argentina during college and fell in love with the culture and people and the amazing leather products. Then after college, Emily moved there to work in the wine industry and she also fell in love. Since then, we have been talking about starting our own line, but it didn’t really become a reality until about a year ago. I was visiting Emily and was having a custom leather jacket made. It was nice, but not exactly what I had in mind. We kept talking about ways we would tweak the fit and pattern and then finally we ended up drawing our ideal jacket. Pretty soon we had ideas for an entire leather wardrobe and decided we should start a collection. We both grew up in very environmentally conscious households and wanted our line to not just look good, but to follow our belief systems as well.
2) Who is the perfect Hare + Hart consumer?
Since we design the collection based on things we want to wear, I’d have to say that the perfect Hare+Hart consumer is the girl like us. Yes, she cares about fashion, but is also interested in the world around her. We like to imagine that the Hare+Hart consumer is the smart consumer who likes to know what she is wearing and where it came from.
3) What makes Hare + Hart handbags truly unique?
Our handbags are designed for the girl on the go. We both run around our respective cities (New York and Buenos Aires) and need to bring samples and sketches and swatches along with us. Our bags are designed to be stylish but also carry more than just a cell phone and a coin purse. We also looked hard to find a manufacturer that would work with us using vegetable dyed leather and organic cotton linings. We want our collection to be as environmentally conscious as possible.
4) Can you explain the concept behind animal-friendly leather?
We understand that some people do not think it is possible to have any ethical leather. However, we believe in doing everything as ethically as we can. It is not always possible to be 100% organic, but if everyone moves in that general direction it will make a bigger difference than a few companies going all the way. We source all of our leather from grass-fed free roaming cows that are also being used for beef so that no part of the animal is wasted. This yields a healthier life for the cow and prevents marring of the hide. We also use organic or biodegradable linings when possible and only work with manufacturers in Argentina and now in the Garment District of New York that pay their workers fair wages and benefits. People are always going to wear leather, so we want to make our leather products as ethically as we can.
5) What is a rare quality one can find in Hare + Hart clothes they can’t find in other brands?
Our clothes are hand assembled. There is a human quality to them that you can’t find in other clothing. Individuals are cutting the leather and putting each piece together so there is human contact throughout the entire production process. We appreciate and value the human touch that goes into all of our items and we hope that our customers do as well.
6) What else would you like your consumers to know that they may not already know?
We want their feedback! We love to hear whether they like things or what they would change. What types of products are they interested in that we’re not currently offering. I have a special folder where I save all customer emails – we really interacting with our customers and value their input.
7) What has been the greatest obstacle in getting the company out there? How did you overcome it/ are currently overcoming it?
As with starting any company, there is a huge learning curve. Emily came from importing/exporting of wines and I came from the marketing department at Stuart Weitzman. So while we both had applicable experience, neither of us knew how to start a business. We are lucky to have had lots of help from friends and family and continue to learn and streamline our company as we go. My old boss used to stress the importance of always asking questions, and this has proved to be the most valuable strategy in running our business. We are not afraid to do lots of research and find out as much as possible before making decisions.
8) Where do you see the company in 5 years?
We’d love to see our company as a recognized household brand in 5 years. We love what we do and just hope that we are able to do it for as long as possible. We also hope that in 5 years the market has shifted towards looking for ethical products and that we are part of a large group of fashion companies that are using ethical materials and production methods.
So for all of us who love fashion and leather but still have heart, Hare + Hart is the perfect way to indulge in your not-so-guilty pleasure, go on see for yourself! http://hareandhart.com/shop/
For more from the Jennie and Emily themselves and the evolution of Hare+Hart, check out their blog! http://hareandhart.com/blog/