A Conversation with

Toni Hacker

Hayden-Harnett, started in 2005 by Toni Hacker and Ben Harnett, has quickly transformed from an up-and-coming handbag label to being one of today抯 most recognizable contemporary apparel and accessories brands. With two boutiques in New York, a bridge line for Target under their belt, and a strong online presence, the designers bridge the gap between quality and style and offer women versatile looks designed with their everyday needs in mind.

Toni, who is both co-founder and creative director for the label, grew up in the South and brings her passion for form, function, travel, vintage finds and a uniquely stylish rock-and-roll spirit to her line. We caught up with Toni to talk about creating a brand, what her customers hair looks like, and how a hair-accessories range would look with her at the helm.

Why did you start your own line?
I could never find exactly what I was looking for in handbags and accessories. There were many options for high-end designer bags, and also for young designers, but I wanted to create a collection that spoke to both worlds. I needed highly styled bags that were supremely functional and had a unique voice.

Hayden-Harnett bags stand out because of the love of aesthetics, design, functionality, and uniqueness of each style. I didn抰 want to create a line of simply 搊ne great bag.

Can you describe the Hayden-Harnett customer? What does her hair look like?
The Hayden-Harnett customer is a lot like me. She抯 creative, stylish, and wants to look unique. When I shop, I tend to look for modern classics. I like pieces that can go super-edgy or work for a luncheon meeting uptown.

The hair of Hayden-Harnett? Although I have been a huge fan of the bob since the tender age of 9, I feel our customer likes the versatility and femininity of long hair. I know that she loves to use the best products in her hair and will spend good money for the best cut and color.

Your flagship and showroom are in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in an area that抯 fairly residential and doesn抰 get too much foot traffic. What drew you to the area?
Ben (my partner/boyfriend) and I have lived in Greenpoint since 2004. I moved in with him and left my lovely little apartment on Macdougal Street in Manhattan after I fell in love with both him and the spirit of the neighborhood. Greenpoint is such a creative, mixed neighborhood with fantastic old buildings. It seemed natural to open our first shop and design studio here after we moved Hayden-Harnett out of our apartment.

I don抰 think we抳e suffered so much by having our Design/Shop in Greenpoint. We definitely don抰 have the foot traffic of Manhattan, but we抳e become a destination shop. People drive or train in from everywhere to visit the store. We have many foreign customers who come in to visit us, also.

As a creative person, what have been the biggest challenges in navigating the business aspect of owning your own brand?
Thankfully, Ben and I are both serious multi-taskers. Part of the reason why we decided to launch Hayden-Harnett was to try out our ideas for running a fashion company.

The biggest challenge for me, lately, is that the business side of Hayden-Harnett has grown immensely (and very quickly). There抯 just so much to do with the business side that I feel at times I don抰 get to design on a daily basis as much as I抎 like.

How did your limited-edition collaboration with Target come about?
Target contacted us! I was so dubious that they really wanted to speak to us about a collaboration that I felt someone might have been prank calling us. The collaboration was very beneficial to expose Hayden-Harnett to an entirely new customer. I feel that fans of the line benefited as well卼hey now have an entire group we created that will never exist again.

What are some of the key things you have done to develop such a loyal following of shoppers?
I hear from many customers that they love Hayden-Harnett because we make such a unique, wide range of products and that they love our creative risks each season. I also feel that we offer great deals and 搒urprise sales. Many people say that our online sales are 搇egendary.

We抮e really connected with our customer through our blog, weekly mailers, Facebook, YouTube and store events. We make little homemade movies to showcase the bags and apparel each season and post them to our website and YouTube. It抯 fun for us and lets the spirit of Hayden-Harnett shine through.

You carry a few local jewelry and accessories brands in addition to your own in your boutiques. What are the benefits of bringing in local talent?
I抦 a big believer in supporting young and emerging designers, having been one myself. It seemed natural to add lines from other designers that complement what we抮e doing each season. The benefits of carrying jewelry and accessories from emerging designers is that their work complements our line so well, looks fantastic in the shops, and gives our customer new ideas and creative work to get excited about.

If you were to design a salon, what would it look like? What would the stylists wear?
I would design a salon that felt 揻ound攨 a little gem filled with great old furniture, books to read on art and style, wonderful hair products. I love tile, so there would be fantastic tile and large mirrors on the walls. I would like a white wooden floor with painted faux rugs or rainbow stripes.

The stylists would wear a cute take on a French-maid uniform a riff on the uniforms at Philippe Starck抯 Felix restaurant in Hong Kong. I would love to have painted white brick walls and Polaroids of each client抯 new hair pasted to the walls. I am a big lover of natural light, so I抎 also need lots of big open windows and a backyard garden filled with benches and lovely plantings.

How about the Hayden-Harnett salon accessory line (capes, tool kits, hairdryer)?
I think we could make some great leather-handled salon accessories. I抎 love to make a big crazy metal hairdryer that makes tons of noise. Very 50s-industrial mixed with leather love. I抎 make printed robes and capes for all of the stylists and clients to wear while getting their hair done. Then they can buy the cape at the end of their service, if they like.

What are your personal luxuries?
Getting a dog was a big personal luxury for me. I don抰 have a lot of time, so when I found Mr. Jackson, I knew we were meant to be.

- SHARON FEIEREISEN

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