Hannah is on of those perfect examples that sums up why we love having a store and doing what we do, she has been a regular for years now, always willing to play and to explore new shapes and new styles. She has become a dear friend of all of us, always supporting our designers, coming to the events and being a really active part of the community. We simply love her. One day couple of years ago, she came by with a prototype of a bag she was making and we were literally blown away! The functionality of it, the personality and innovative design and the incredible craftsmanship behind it literally left us at a loss of words. We were so proud to be the first stockist of her very first collection and we were thrilled to see the second one come to life, from her choosing the color palette to testing the shapes and function, and we can say without a doubt in our hearts that she has become a personal favorite of ours. Her bags are her- fun, different, incredibly stylish, functional and oh so very pretty!
We wanted you to get to know her as we do, so we sat down with her and asked her a bit about how it all started and how she got to where she is now!
Marta: Hi mama! I am so incredibly excited to finally have you doing a pop up with us, it was about time! Let’s start from the beginning how did you started this journey? Did you always feel that need of creating?
Hannah: I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember. I come from a family of artists, so exploring and playing with different materials was a huge part of my upbringing. I always loved it, but I was nervous about the instability that often comes with making a living as a creative. Being bookish, I decided that studying art history in college provided a nice balance of steady employment and contact with the arts. After I finished my degree, I moved to Paris and spent some time exploring possible next steps. Throughout those first few years after college, I kept returning to an undeniable fact; that I am happiest when I am creating, working with my hands to bring my vision to life. I always had a creative side project or job (styling for magazines, costuming for theater, etc)- why not honor that impulse and make it my main career? As soon as I allowed myself to consider a creative path, so much of my career and identity anxiety evaporated. Over the past five years, I’ve slowly worked up to launching my leather goods line- I didn’t want to rush into it. I've learned from watching my parents that a career as an artist or designer is more often an amalgamation of odd jobs, passion projects and learn-as-you-go endeavors that constitute a constant hustle. Now I try to embrace every job as a learning experience- there’s always something to take away and add to my arsenal of skill sets. Being a designer wasn’t my original plan, but it is the right one and I am glad to finally embrace it.
I turned towards leather goods after spending time working with my father for his knitwear brand. I love making clothes, working trade shows and styling lookbooks, but the extreme turnover and consumption of the fashion apparel industry was a big turnoff for me. I like designing accessories, especially bags, because they have a longer lifespan than the average fashion garment. Bags are a daily companion for many, and accompany us for years. I treasure the leather bags I’ve inherited (or “borrowed” ha) from my mother and grandmother. Growing up in the Midwest, thrift was an underlying motif in the way my friends and I shopped and dressed. If I was going to spend serious money on an item, it had to have function and longevity. Leather bags fill that need for me. I want my customers to feel good about investing in a piece from me, and to be confident that it will be a long-time sartorial companion.
M: It all makes so much sense, your bags breathe art, from the form and shape to your use of palette there is something very inspiring about them, almost like they are all part of a whole, of a giant art piece, that keeps discovering itself with every new collection. You can tell your heart and soul is in them, and to us, as you know, nothing can beat that. The amazing thing too, is that they have that timeless quality to them, the shapes are innovative and unusual but them being so incredibly functional makes them bags that you can wear for a lifetime and in any occasion, which is something so incredibly hard to achieve and you did so effortlessly.
I am always so interested in how designer’s brains work when creating a new collection. For you does it start with the colors, the materials, the shape? Or is it something completely different what inspires? What is the first thing that makes it all start taking shape?
H: Visceral experience is most often my primary inspiration, ideally through travel. For my first collection, I drew inspiration from two specific places I visited after leaving my job of 3.5 years- Abiquiu, New Mexico and the Yuba River. More recently, I went to Iceland and Israel. Those trips translated into specific design elements, color palettes and functional needs. Travel isn’t always an option for inspiration gathering, though. When I am in a designing period, I try to give myself a lot of unstructured time to wander, observe my surroundings and flip through books and magazines. I try to avoid screens during this time, since I find I get distracted easily. Often, as I am gathering inspiration, the image of a finished product will pop into my head, but just slightly out of reach. I have to capture that fleeting image in a sketch (and not a great one, as sketching is definitely not my strong suite). I will become obsessed with a color, shape, or aesthetic, and I have to figure out how to translate that into a bag. I then work backwards from the final product to develop a pattern that achieves that form. I am definitely an outcome-oriented designer- the function, aesthetic and audience of a bag are among my core guiding principles when creating. No matter what my inspiration maybe, I always try to imagine how the final product would be photographed, how it would be incorporated into someone’s personal style. It’s fascinating sharing a studio with my grandmother, who is perhaps the most intuitive maker I’ve ever encountered. She never knows what the final outcome will look like when she begins, whereas I have to be sure. With leather work, planning is important, though- leather is an incredibly unforgiving material. Once you make a hole, it cannot be undone. The need for organization in design appeals to my Type A side, while the unchangeability of the leather once stitched teaches me to be at peace with imperfection. That’s the beauty of handmade goods.
M: That intuition and visceral feeling is so familiar to us, I feel it is the only way I know how to work, first i have to feel it in my gut and then as you say it has to answer all the questions about functionality, the way it is made and how it will translate into everyday life, but without that first instinct, that first gasp when you see something or think of something nothing starts happening. I think that is why i was so instantly attracted to your collection, you can tell the design comes from deep inside of you but that there is a deep thought too behind every stitch you give, it is free and artistic but very precise and very functional. It is also so important to share a creative space with other people, we firmly believe in that, seeing things through other people’s eyes is such an important part of the creative process for us that it makes so much sense that your grandma is an important part of your process, plus she is the coolest person ever!
When you decided you wanted to pursue bag making as a living and started thinking about your brand did you think about a concept or any fundaments you wanted it to be based in? Like what is the core of Hannah Emile, what do you stand for or what in a few words do you want people to remember the brand for? And more than that what keeps you motivated to keep doing what you do and keep creating and designing?
H: HANNAH EMILE celebrates heartfelt, handmade goods that are meant to be used and loved.
I feel like the best version of myself when I am creating. Making a living as a designer is extremely difficult, and I often feel scared by the uncertainty. But I also know that this ability and passion is part of my truest identity, and to ignore that would be a disservice to myself. When I feel overwhelmed, I try to remember how focused and calm I feel when I am in my studio, plugging away, and how happy I am when I see someone using one of my bags. Those moments are definitely worth the uncertainty.
M: I think for any creative person that is also a maker those moments are what we live for, when everything for a second seems to be in place and your see somebody enjoying something that you have had in your mind for so long, and you see it not only come to life but making somebody else happy. I feel at the shop that is all we always look for, that smile on somebody’s face when they come out of the dressing room and look at themselves in the mirror it is priceless, you can feel them being empowered and simply feeling happy and excited, and that is everything to us. And then we get to also see the look on the designer’s face when we tell them about it, and that is just amazing. Being part of not only making people happy by finding treasures at the shop but also being able to help creative makers keep doing what they love is all we ever want in our life!
I am always also curious about what was it that made you choose us to carry your bags and to host a month long pop up with your beautiful collection?
H: Voyager is a very special shop- the community that Marta and Val have fostered is incredible. I’ve been coming to the store for years, and am constantly nourished by the warm, funny, stylish women who work here. Their support has been a big part of my development as a designer and their encouragement means so much to me. This pop up is a dream come true for me. I’m just thrilled to be a part of the Voyager family.
M: Awww we love you Hannah, as I said at the beginning you are such an important part of the community and we treasure our friendship so much. You have become part of this weird and quirky Voyager family that we have and we are the ones that couldn’t be more excited to have you! Ok, now to finish I have to ask you the classic question of how do you see the line in the future. More like would you like to see it if you had a crystal ball?
H: This is a tough question for me to answer, actually! I have a very hard time talking about my goals out loud- somehow voicing them makes me more afraid I won’t achieve them. Counter-intuitive, I know. I am trying to be more open to acknowledging my aspirations and less critical of myself if I don’t always meet them, so on that note…I definitely want to grow my brand in the coming years! I’ve always favored small, curated boutiques and would like to develop within those communities. Maintaining a hand in the production process is very important to me. I don’t know that I would ever be comfortable outsourcing production, although ideally my brand will grow enough that eventually I won’t be able to do all the sewing myself. I’d love to expand my production into a full leather studio, with a team of sewers and leatherworkers. I would still be able produce my line in-house, while taking on production jobs for other brands and providing employment to a team. That’s definitely a long way off, and I have a lot to learn, but it’s been floating around my mind for a while, so we’ll see!
That all sounds so perfect and so in line with you and what your brand is, can not wait to see it first hand and to keep supporting (and buying!) your bags for many many years to come !
Thanks for answering all of these questions, and we can not tell you how excited we are for the pop up and for the opening party this Friday in San Francisco and next Saturday at the LA shop!
All pictures courtesy of Hannah Emile