Anya Hindmarch talks to Masoud Golsorkhi

Text by Masoud Golsorkhi

Anya Hindmarch is the founder and designer of the eponymous fashion accessories brand. Hers is a particularly British success story that has taken on and beaten the industry giants. Traditionally, it is the French and Italian manufacturers who dominate this market. Her green initiative, "I am not a plastic bag", was a global success. So much so that, in a stampede for its Beijing launch, 17 people were hurt. Two decades since starting, she runs more than 50 stores internationally and was presented with a MBE in 2009.

Masoud Golsorkhi I've been wanting to interview you since I saw you pull such a mean pint at your pop-up pub. Not too many in the business would do that.
Anya Hindmarch We had Barbara Windsor there too.

MG I read that you are self-taught.
AH Taught by a craftsman, actually. It's the best way to learn.

MG The industry people I speak to consider you "best in class" when it comes to branding and marketing. How did you acquire that skill?
AH Something to live up to here. Note to self. I mean, branding probably is my fascination. Product and branding. And the two are so interlinked. Because, when you buy a product, even if it's a handkerchief, mostly you are buying into what it stands for. And there's a sort of magic of the philosophy behind it. There's the aura that you can create, which sometimes can be quite fabricated, and then there's the authenticity of, if it's a handkerchief, the thread count and all that. So there's all that mixture, which is the bit that I find really interesting. And it is a science as well as art. If it were just the frilly world of fashion, it would not be enough. I like the alchemy of brand and product.

MG You started as a designer and maker, didn't you? Branding came later.
AH When I was making my first bags I found this dye-caster. I designed a logo and then had it made. I managed to get it out to the manufacturer by DHL just before they press "go" on the production. So, I guess, early on, the brand and the product were both integrated. 

MG Already a super brand? Where did the impulse come from?
AH A girl came to school and talked about the fashion industry.

I remember hearing her and being fascinated by what she did. That's when I started drawing my first shop and what I wanted to do. It had fascinated me since my mother gave me a bag when I was very young, and I remember how it made me feel every time I wore it. And that wasn't because it just was a good shape or it was comfortable. It was how the brand made me feel.  That was the interesting bit.

MG So you started analysing that idea at such an early age?
AH Yes. Slightly subconsciously. But I remember the power of that product. And whenever I wore it, I thought yah. I felt good.

MG You were 18/19? Most sensible girls would go and study fashion or get a job in the industry, not rush into starting their own business.
AH Business is in my blood. It was also Thatcher's Britain and getting things started was very much in the spirit of that period. That inspired a lot of businesses to start. There were us… Jimmy Choo, Philip Treacy, Emma Hope and Carphone Warehouse and Pret A Manger. It was a real sense of "go do it" and it was fun and cool to start a business, to buy shares. I didn't really have much of a university career, actually, so it was the start of my new life. At 18, I knew I wanted to go to Florence because Gucci was there. And I started finding a factory, having samples made. And the very first samples I made had my name on.

MG So the brand DNA was fully formed from the start.
AH We've just done a branding analysis. Our new CEO wanted us to look at that. And we've just done this little exercise of "what are we?" And, actually, one of the words that comes up the whole time is British. Very British.

MG Who is your new CEO?
AH  James McArthur; he's from New Zealand. Comes with bags of industry experience; he was a banker at Morgan Stanley. He did the IPO for Gucci. He was asked to join by Domenico De Sole and was there for seven years doing their strategy and then he did all the M&A [mergers & acquisitions] and he bought Stella [McCartney], Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga. He actually ran Balenciaga and took it from five million euros to 126 million euros in five years.

MG So he understands how to do growth.
AH Totally strategic. He always understands when I say we're just not doing something, because it's all about the integrity of the product. He totally gets it. And he's almost snobbier than me. A lot of times you get businessmen who are about the business, who don't understand that you have to be pedantic about the really small things. So, yes, it's an exciting moment. I'm happy.

MG You are formalising something that has been part of your personality. How is the story of the brand shaping up?
AH We are about exquisite craftsmanship but with that little bit of quirky humour, which is essential for me. Fashion is not saving lives. It's a really important industry but if you start to be over-labelled, then I lose the will to live. When you take a minute to stop and ask, "What are we and where are we going?" That is interesting. I did a timeline and literally went back. As a project, I made myself go through all the product archives. And I realised that I have exactly the same passion today as I did when I started. I started by making beautiful little pieces.

MG It's important to do that now?
AH It's a pivotal time for us at the moment because I've just demoted myself. I was CEO. I have been CEO or managing director or sole proprietor since the beginning. It was just me until last May. And the main reason was to get me back to creative.

MG How do you design?
AH I sketch and still make things in paper. So you could say that Sellotape is my medium. And what's brilliant is that you actually see the form, which is the basis for making a pattern.

MG And do you live with your products?
AH I personally wear things, because I think the other thing that's really important to me, as a busy working woman, running a business and a mother [of five] is that things work - in the same way that it's got to be beautiful and has to have that slight edge. If it doesn't work, it falls flat on its face. And it's amazing that you have a very intimate relationship with a handbag because you're wearing it. It can dig into your arm. You can spend hours trying to find things. And we're all too busy. I'm not the sort of woman who has a driver, that's not me. I'm practical and so is the product.

MG We were blown away by your presentations.
AH Again it all goes back to Britishness and my love of London. If you're doing a show in London, well, I want to show off; I'm proud of the UK.

I'd heard about these deserted underground stations, which immediately sounded fascinating. We managed to find our way in. And when we arrived inside it was so beautiful. They had the original lifts, which needed £2m to make them work again. All that amazing very high Victorian tiling. We've always liked doing a slightly different showroom, in the sense that it embodies the brand. So all those overseas press and buyers get a taste of London.

MG What's your plan for the next one?
AH For the first time we're actually doing a show. Well, a show presentation. The narrative behind autumn/winter 2012 is so much fun. I can't wait to show. §

  • Anya Hindmarch - Masoud Golsorkhi