Award-winning British fashion designer Anya Hindmarch hasn’t let the pandemic slow her down one bit. But then again, why would she? Hindmarch, who opened her namesake brand as a teenager, and embarked on the lonely road to sustainable fashion long before her peers joined her, has never allowed hardship to get in the way of achieving her goals.
From reinventing her retail spaces in London to bridge the gap between physical and digital shopping to launching a new eco tote bag collection, even publishing her first book to address how women juggle multiple roles in society – we speak to the fashion magnate about her life and career, the state of fashion today, and how she’s juggling it all.
Fashion designer Anya Hindmarch on building responsible products for the future, and writing a book about being a woman, a leader, a mother and a female entrepreneur.
You started your brand as a teen, sold it and bought it back two years ago. What is new and different for the brand now as compared to what it was when you first began?
Yes, I think there’s a lot that’s different. I mean, it’s a digital world, but a world in which I think retail still has relevance as long as you give a reason for customers to visit and so we have actually decided to reduce the number of stores we have but to do a few stores in a really creative way in combination with a very strong and creative digital presence.
You believe the future of shopping is digital, and your new London retail space The Village is a very modern concept. Can you tell us how you see the future of brick and mortar and digitalization?
I realized that actually having 65 stores across the world that it felt a bit cookie cutter and actually I wanted to have fewer stores that I really cared about, that I really could get my arms around and opening The Village was really one way of doing that, which is that it’s a collection 4 stores and a little cafe around the side of my very first store on Pont St, London. It felt like I was going home by opening The Village on Pont St and I wanted to use it as a platform for all the creative concepts that we do and the things we care about.
Currently, we have opened a dry drinker off-license with zero and low alcohol beverages in our town hall, it’s fun and engaging, something I think has become a real fashion, so we’re really looking at all sorts of things. We’ve opened a hair salon, we’ve opened a fruit and veg shop, but we do all these things in a very creative way and make fun products to go with them. So for me, I find it so creatively, very stimulating. As we all know, digital is the way most people want to buy things these days and I think that the ease of digital and the creative opportunity as well is also exciting. For me, it’s that exciting combination of the two which is very much our strategy, which is too strong a word because I always do things with gut instinct, but I think it is sort of where we’re heading.
You’ve tackled sustainability a long time before many others have in the industry, with the I Am Not a Plastic Bag campaign in 2007, which now has evolved into the I’m A Plastic Bag collection. How has customer perception changed since then?
I think there’s a marked difference. Clearly between 2007 when we launched I’m not plastic bag and that original campaign was to raise awareness of the problem of the climate crisis and of the misuse of single-use plastic and I think people are aware, I think that job is done. But everyone and certainly I am focused on how we can do the right thing now. The I am a plastic bag project is focused on the circularity of materials and making people aware that actually, we don’t have to buy things and use them for a short period of time and then put them straight into the land so that we need to think about how we can take that linear experience and make it circular so that we actually buy things and use them hope for a long time and then keep them in circulation by making them something else. So I think we are also now looking, for example, at end of life of designing things that have an end of life which doesn’t involve landfill. The conversation is moving on all the time and I really like to use the platform of fashion to communicate the thinking of my thinking.
And how much has the fashion industry in general progressed since then?
I think a lot and not enough, probably. A lot in the sense that I think it is now a requirement for companies for their customers, by their customers and demanded by the customers to be more transparent and to be very aware of making things in a responsible way. I always say there’s nothing luxurious about something that’s made irresponsibly. I think it has come a long way, and I think there are some great cheerleaders and some brilliant best in class examples who are sort of, if you like, pulling inadvertently, sometimes the rest. But fashion is still hugely polluting and there’s too much product that is not used for long enough or repaired and too much product that goes into landfill, so there’s still a lot to do, frankly.
What excites you about fashion today?
Well, I still love fashion for the ability it has to change your mood and to make you feel more confident, signal trends and replicate what’s going on in the world. I find that sort of thinking behind that really interesting and I still love very simply what a beautiful new handbag does in terms of my mood. I love beautiful things and it’s a very lovely subject, but I think it also does have an incredible ability to communicate change and I think that’s quite exciting in terms of what this industry can do.
You’ve also relaunched Be A Bag, which combines digital technology with personalization. Can you tell us more about this relaunch?
I’ve always loved personalization for me, that’s the sort of beginnings of luxury, really. I think the idea of having something made especially for you that has a story to it or a reason for it, that’s very pertinent for me is the ultimate in luxury rather than something that is more mass-produced. So that’s exciting and I love technology. I think that for me, people talk about craftsmanship and often people have the sort of mental image of an old man with an apron that has lots of hammering little nails into shoes, and it feels very old fashioned but actually, craftsmanship can be very modern and I think we need to really embrace that as an idea. When we launched Beer Bag, which very simply is the idea of capturing an image that’s precious to you and making it into something lovely we were the first to do that and it was because the technology had changed and previously you had to make a big screen and it was very expensive to print a photograph, whereas now you can do it digitally. So I love looking at what is happening technologically that can affect luxury and personalization.
What I love, particularly about Be A Bag is you make beautiful bags and wash bags and accessories and evening bags which have really beautiful pictures. It might be of your grandparents, it might be of a lovely holiday, it might be a thank you present wash bag full of sun creams to say thank you, it might be a washbag to sit on the bedside table of your grandmother in the hospital to make sure she always has the equivalent of a photo frame but it also doubles up as a wash bag or a beautiful bag to take to the beach or as your travel bag to keep those that you love all those memories that you love close to you and what’s particularly special is we’ve always done this project so that it donates to cancer charities and it donates to the Royal Marsden in London and local cancer charities around the world. Also, the canvas that we print on is actually made from recycled plastic bottles so big tick frankly.
Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind the Return to Nature collection and why is it important today?
Yes, this for me is really the sort of next stage of the conversation on responsible products. I remember when I was designing the I’m A Plastic Bag project and when I say I’m Not A Plastic Bag project the whole point is to avoid landfills and pollution of oceans and hedgerows and of course also to encourage people not to use single-use plastic. So that was the point of that and it’s very much the point of that project still very worthwhile because there’s so much a waste of plastic that we can use up and keep out of the landfill. However, during that project someone said to me, of course, there is no waste in nature and it really struck me because of course nature is so well designed that when an apple falls from a tree it biodegrades and compost into the soil, producing nutrients for the next plant to grow and it made me wonder could we do the same in fashion? So we spent two years with the aim of making a biodegradable and compostable leather bag that could therefore never end up in landfills, which is hugely significant. Using fully traceable animal skins that don’t deforest, tanning that has removed anything which would be negative to the soil like heavy metals or PU finishes mixed into the leather. We worked with a company called Evolve by Nature who used liquid silk to finish the leather to protect it from the rain. It’s been proven with externally ordered tests that it actually adds nourishment to the soil to end up with a 20 percent better plant growth as a result of our bag being in the soil. Like the Apple, it nourishes the soil. So it’s a mega exciting project and most importantly, it’s a beautiful bag and we have used the most beautiful leather. So a project I’m really proud of.
What message you’d like to reinforce with the industry, factories, and customers?
I think start by being aware, be aware of your own behaviour and it’s quite useful to go onto the UN website which has a carbon calculator where you can work out your family’s carbon and it takes less than five minutes. So you just type in how many flights, how many cars you own, just various aspects of your life and it fires out a rough version of what your carbon footprint might be for your family. It’s a very rough estimate that when I did mine, I doubled it and on the same website, you can then offset it.
Now, offsetting is not the solution because that’s planting trees or doing some environmentally beneficial solution to offset the damage you’ve done effectively but it’s a good start. I think that also as a company it’s really just digging into every little aspect you can, from your packaging to the way you source your materials. Are they recycled materials? Are you sourcing items locally? Just keep chipping away at everything. I think it’s very easy to get a bit overwhelmed by not being perfect and I think that they always say perfection is the enemy of good. I think I put my hand up to say I’m absolutely not perfect, but I’m trying to do everything I can whilst I’ve committed to a target by a certain date. I’m just trying to do everything I possibly can now. So let’s not be tricky with each other about what we haven’t done, let’s talk about what we have done and just keep making strides. And it’s amazing. Once you start, it becomes quite a passion and quite a project that you can really accelerate.
Busy as you have been, you’ve also managed to publish your first book. Can you tell us what we’ll find inside and what inspired the name, If in Doubt, Wash Your Hair?
Yes, I wrote the book during lockdown and I had this book in my head for a bit, I wanted just to write a really honest account of being a woman, being a mother, being a stepmother, being a woman in business, being a creative entrepreneur, and being a female entrepreneur. I wrote it really as if writing to a friend or to my daughter or someone in any one of those roles and to be honest about what it’s like. So often people are not honest, I think and I think it’s important to share the bits I’ve struggled with and to compile all the things that have helped me navigate those roles and that journey and to put it into a book to hopefully help other people, not just women, and encourage other people to share, too. So it’s as simple as that. When anyone says “what’s your best bit of advice”? I was jokingly saying, you know, what? Isn’t that wash your hair? Because I think any woman knows if you feel like you’ve got freshly washed hair, you feel like you can take on the world and it changes your mood. So it was a sort of jokey response, but it also has that word doubt in the title and I think women suffer a lot from doubt. I would encourage women to think of doubt is actually quite a positive emotion because it keeps you good, it keeps you safe. So anyway, read the book and you’ll find out.
What’s one story from the book that you almost didn’t share but are glad that you did?
I mean, lots really. I think probably the sort of sense of imposter syndrome. I don’t think anyone ever feels and I think whether you’re the Prime Minister or the Queen of England or the President of the United States, I don’t think anyone ever feels that they’re truly confident to know what they’re doing. I think everyone suffers an element of doubt and imposter syndrome, and I think that it’s really important to be aware that that’s how everyone feels some people are better at disguising it than others and some people are better hopefully at channelling it into a positive result because I think doubt does make you really question what you’re doing to then drive a good result, a considered result. I think it’s really about being honest about that and how we all feel, but there are lots of things that I can’t really didn’t write, but I decided just to write it openly and honestly.
What’s a word of advice you would give to a budding entrepreneur/ designer?
Quite simply, just don’t give up. And I think success is not about being successful. I think success is about not failing, mostly. Don’t give up and remember that things come of things – If you do things, things happen. So it’s always the thing that you nearly didn’t do that actually led to meeting that person, that led to that that actually gave that result, which actually gave you that idea that ended up in that amazing thing. So get out the door and go and do things.