Let me just say right off the bat: Hammitt is not paying me to be obsessed with their handbags; I just am. As a self-proclaimed handbag aficionado, I have developed a purse crush on this brand, and have built a collection that is borderline worthy of an episode of “Hoarders.” The leather quality is amazing, the suede lining is beautiful, the hardware gives it an edge without being contrived, and the cell phone slots and sunglass pockets are god-sends. This brand was born in the beautiful South Bay, and word of how awesome these bags are is spreading like wildfire world-wide. I got a chance to catch up with CEO (or, as you’ll find out later, Chief Cheerleader) Tony Drockton, and I was overjoyed to find out that the head of the company is just as fun and charming as the handbags themselves. Read our interview to find out why I love these bags oh-so-very much, and you too, will probably become a super-fan (sorry not sorry, wallets).
Marie Spada How did Hammitt get its start?
Tony Drockton: Stephanie Hammitt was the original founder of the brand, and she had the brand alone for about 6 years. She made the first Hammitt clutch for a local barbecue because she didn’t have a bag to wear, and from there she made the bags by hand, sold them locally, and I joined the brand in 2008. I actually hired her to design a collection, and instead she asked me to restart the Hammitt brand with me running it as CEO and her working on the design. That was the summer of 2008. About a year in, we decided it would be best if I took over running the brand and she take more of a back seat. She does still have interest in the company and has provided plenty of great designs, but we now have a five-person design team that really leads the direction of the brand. I take over in regard to most of the business decisions. Stephanie is a wonderful lady. The best-selling core styles of Hammitt are still all her designs: ‘The Montana,’ the ‘Little Santa Monica;’ she really established the DNA of the brand. When I came in, I layered in the business model to make sure that not just women here in Manhattan Beach could discover Hammitt, but also women in New Jersey, Miami, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and that’s what’s happened.
M: That must be rewarding for her to have all of her styles be top sellers.
TD: She’s very proud, I mean, it’s her last name right?! If I go deeper on that, I think every great designer, even someone like Jimmy Choo, needs someone else to really make sure the brand stays on-point and becomes readily available as it grows throughout the world. It’s always been a great marriage in regard to that. She brought the design side and I brought the business side. As the company grows, like Jimmy Choo, the original design person might fall to the wayside on a day to day basis, but they still represent the brand in a great way.
M: It’s a sign of growth though, so it’s a good thing!
TD: It really is. I mean hey, I’m CEO now, but one day this brand may get bigger than me, too! I hope not, but you never know, right?
M: Well you can always grow with it!
TD: (Laughing) I’m trying, I’m trying, and I’m not just talking about the waistline here!
Q: How do you set yourself apart from other handbag designers?
TD: We’re very strict in regard to the basic DNA of the brand. We have what’s called a ‘signature rivet detail’ in almost all of the designs. We’re very committed to the highest quality leather in a very functional bag, so everything is in the right place from the cell phone pockets, to the zippers, to the inside layout. So, the combination of functionality and a distinct DNA representation on the outside is what really creates the perfect combination for the Hammitt fan so that when they’re walking down the street, people can see it’s a Hammitt right away. When they put one on, it’s not only comfortable, but also functional. We like to say that Hammitts flow seamlessly from day to night, from coffee to cocktails. It’s casual-chic. The Hammitt girl wears our bag all the time, she may switch out from one to another, but it’s usually from one Hammitt to another.
M: You guys have really mastered the whole ‘functional but chic’ thing, because usually functional just means frumpy, but Hammitt isn’t frumpy at all. They’re cute, trendy, go with everything, and I actually know where everything is all the time!
TD: You say it better than me! Even our raw-edged leather, which at our price-point, the edges are usually painted or turned, but the raw edges are us holding onto the casualness of life, while still being dressed up enough with the hardware and proper layout of everything. That way it’s a dressy bag, but it’s still just a little bit of that West Coast casual, if that makes sense. Like, ‘We don’t need to paint those edges! Our leather is beautiful!’
M: So, then what would you say is the signature look for Hammitt?
TD: From far away, the raw edges, the signature rivet detail with that straight line of rivets, the grommets, and we use the same look of hardware on almost all of the styles, and again, that’s more of our logo than any logo on any other brand. On a lot of other brands, if you take off the logo, the bag could be anybody’s. With Hammitt, we don’t have a logo. The signature rivet detail, the grommets, the raw edges, the silhouettes, the riveted long strap over the body, those are how people know a Hammitt from far away. And when you open them up, almost every single one of them are suede lined, and you don’t find suede lined in any handbag brand under $1,000. We strive hard to back the quality up with a lifetime warranty on every bag, no proof of purchase needed. We make sure the customer is happy not just when they walk out of the store with our product, but even years later if they ever do have an issue.
M: Totally! Hammitt has such a cult following, too. I see them popping up everywhere, especially in OC and the South Bay. Where else have you seen Hammitt becoming more popular?
TD: Well you know we started in the South Bay, which is a true community. If you live in the South Bay, you’re basically two degrees separated from almost everybody. It grew here the same way it’s grown across the country, which is word-of-mouth, almost tribal. For example, in Minneapolis, we’ve started to get some real core fans over there. It’s one of our larger markets in the middle of the country. Same thing with the residential neighborhoods around New York City, from New Jersey to parts of Long Island, to down in Philadelphia — there are huge Hammitt fans in all of those areas. We tend to be more popular where people actually live, versus the more urban areas where they work. Again, I think it lends to that tribal, community based idea. Women love to share their Hammitt secret with their friends, sisters, daughters, mothers, they’re not afraid to tell them where they got it or what it is. They love to brag about our brand because they discovered it. We’ve really taken over all the way from Boston to Miami, and from San Diego up to Seattle. Most of the main residential communities are doing really well. The interesting part is obviously we’re really doing well in Texas and Denver and Minneapolis, but now we’ve layered in a lot of resorts where people vacation, like Aspen, Vale, Park City, and up in Santa Barbara. A lot of the hotel resort properties are doing really well with our brand because it’s still special enough to where it isn’t available in major distribution channels, but it’s well known enough that the traveler goes, ‘Hmm, I’ve seen that brand! I need one of those!’ On that note, we’re actually going to be on the show “Billion Dollar Buyer,” because we’re the top-selling brand in Tilden’s Co., which is Landry’s Corp., and they have about 500 properties across the globe. They have restaurants, resorts, hotels, the Golden Nugget Casino, and they brought me on the show to help him decide whether he was going to take an order or not from a small New York leather designer, so that’ll be a good plus for Hammitt. We do very well on their properties, so that’s why I brought that up.
M: Do you see Hammitt expanding beyond accessories?
TD: You know one step at a time. We’re such a narrow part of even the handbag market, our small leather goods have really been picking up steam over the last year. I’ll let you in on a little secret, though. We are going to be launching our first sandal collection this year.
M: (Screaming) Amazing! Can I print that?
TD: (Laughing) Sure! I didn’t say ‘off the record!’ We’ll be launching sandals and additional footwear in 2017.
M: If you could make some booties, that’d be great.
TD: That’s another fun category!
M: What are some of your most popular items in your current lineup then?
TD: ‘The Montana Reverse’ and the ‘Little Santa Monica Reverse’ are our core cross bodies and best-sellers. They lie flat on the body, and the fact that they’re reversible is another big plus for the Hammitt fan, because they can literally just turn the bag around, flip the flap over, and go from an all black bag to a fashionable seasonal color. For example, right now we have a very popular metallic snake print called ‘Curacao’ that’s selling out, so they get two bags in one. For our smaller silhouettes, we introduced the ‘Clive,’ which is really an updated double ‘Getty’ clutch, and it’s really been a top seller for us for the past year. In a larger bag, the ‘Daniel’ has been a hit for almost four seasons running. We keep bringing it out in new colors. It’s a $675 retail price-point bag, and it comes in some great color blocking and solids. It holds enough for a woman to be able to leave in the morning and not come home until late at night. It can hold a pair of shoes, a computer, pretty much everything she needs. Between those three bags, you have your nice small clutch, your medium cross body, and you’ve got a great hobo satchel combination. If I had to throw in a fourth, the ‘Joe’ has been a great bag for us also, and it’s a completely different look.
M: What would you say is the overall philosophy of Hammitt?
TD: Great question, there are so many ways I can go with this. Within the company, and outside of the company, I have a rule: We only partner with people that we enjoy. So all the people that work at Hammitt are like a family, and the wholesale partners we work with are all very positive, happy people. The overall philosophy of Hammitt is to really just enjoy every day, and only work with people who have that same belief. That is translated even into the styles of the bags. We truly love the bags that we design, and they resonate with our fans, so when I think of the overall philosophy of Hammitt, it’s that we want to have a lot of fun while still being a very successful brand. I think we combine the two very well. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, either. Within Hammitt, titles are worthless. We have them for the outside world so people can know who is who, but within Hammitt, right now, I’m ‘Chief Cheerleader.’ Everyone that works at Hammitt wants to enjoy that day and have a great time. I have a saying: ‘There’s no fashion emergency.’ No one is going to die if something in fashion doesn’t happen today, so we keep that philosophy in mind when things do go wrong so we can laugh at ourselves and say, ‘Meh! That’s OK, we’ll get through it!’ If you’re not enjoying every day, life sucks!