At MOO, we champion design and love discovering great ideas, so we teamed up withThe 9th annual Independent Handbag Designer Awards to sponsor the “Stand Out & Look Great Work Bag” category and help them find the next great accessory designer. We were looking for a unisex design that fulfilled both style and function—and had a little fun along the way. We received nearly five hundred submissions, but the winner was ultimately chosen by you lovely lot on MOO’s social media channels, along with select members of MOO’s design and creative teams. You can watch Jennifer’s amazing nomination film here.
Last month, handbag designer Jennifer Hamley of Bristol (UK) picked up the award at a ceremony in NYC. Her innovative design combined form and function by including USB ports, a reusable shopping bag, and a detachable iPad case—all intuitive additions to the clean, sophisticated exterior. In light of the well-deserved praise for Jennifer’s smart work bag design (which also took away the InStyle magazine ‘fan favorite’ prize among all finalists’ designs) we thought we’d get the back story on her inspiration … as well as what’s on the horizon for Jennifer Hamley England.
How do you feel about winning the “Stand Out & Look Great Work Bag”competition?
I am absolutely blown away by the win, and also super proud of myself. I worked really hard to promote the design, to get “likes” and votes, and to make it to the awards. I’m so happy.
Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
I design for hard-working women, entrepreneurs, and business people. The bags are stylish and beautiful on the outside and hard working on the inside, with plenty of pockets and sections for everyone to do our best work day-to-day. I think it’s time we banished ugly work bags from the face of the earth.
I couldn’t agree more! What was unique about designing for this competition?
To create a unisex work bag was a challenge. I needed to make the design clean and simple to fit to a man’s work wardrobe, but still have all the features that a man or woman can use in their work.
What are the key design features that make it visually compelling?
Visually from the outside, it has clean lines with gold hardware to give it a luxurious feel. The inside is where the bag gets to work for you. Bright lining means that nothing gets lost in the bottom of your bag, plus features such as a USB power pack, multi-tool, shopping bag, removable iPad case, and key chain support our busy tech-powered lives.
You had me at “USB power pack”… Can you talk a little about your design process?
Sure— it’s my favourite part—so I LOVE to talk about it! Every design starts with dissecting my creative brief, taking note of every little point that needs addressing. Then I get out there and ask questions relating to the brief and what current and future customers would want in a specific kind of bag.
People love to talk about their work, their needs, and problems they have with current apparel. This is a goldmine of information that should not be ignored. This helps me know who will be in my market once the bag is in production. For some, my price point will be too high or too low, some will not like my materials, style, etc. But that’s okay, it means that I find the customers that really love what my design is all about.
How do you tailor the design of each bag?
That’s the next stage—take all the information, wants, needs and decide what I think is important to include. There has to be a balance. Too many features just become overwhelming to use, and the final shape and design is compromised. But too few features, and I’ve not listened to customer needs.
I like to sit outside with a coffee and observe how different people are using their work bags on the street. I take notice of what straps they use, how much they fill their bags, and how comfortable they are carrying them.
It was also nice to find out what people considered a unisex bag… Men tended towards the dark brown, black, and grey messenger or satchel style, whereas women would go for something with more design features and colour. These findings have influenced the design, which will be available in muted leathers for those wanting a subtle look, and in some coloured, printed, or embossed leathers for a more fun and playful look. The silhouette will stay the same, but the materials and hardware can change infinitely.
That’s a really thorough research process – what’s next?
After so much research, I get down to sketching out my ideas and fitting in all the features. I am completely old-school and work with pencil, pen, and paper at this stage. I find it meditative, and I can get into a design flow much more easily than I can on screen.
I have a studio full of dummy electrical items (cell phones, iPads, laptops), as it’s important to make the pockets the right sizes to fit the latest gadgets. I make full-sized card models of my designs and tweak them from there until the design is complete. Then it’s time for my favourite part—to choose materials—leathers, lining, and order custom fittings. And as I mentioned earlier, this really changes the feel of the finished bag.
When did you know that you wanted to design bags?
I started making bags with my last business, Head Full of Feathers. The label started off specialising in handmade feather hair pieces but moved into accessories and bags. I went to a handbag design course at London College of Fashion, and that’s when I was hooked. I carried on with my business and had dreams of setting up my own handbag label one day.
In February last year, I was chatting to a lady at a business event, and told her of my own handbag label dreams. She asked two simple questions, ‘Why not now? What are you waiting for?’ It was then that I realised that it was time to stop talking and start doing. By June last year I had closed down my first business and started on the journey that has led me to where we are now.
Is there a specific designer, role model, or mentor who has been particularly influential in your career?
I went to the same school as Vivienne Westwood, and she has always been an inspiration to me. I have the utmost respect for her unconventional style and fearlessness. I believe fearlessness is a superpower and great things can be achieved with it.
Michelle Mone of Ultimo is a role model for me, the things she has achieved in business and with her label completely blow my mind. Her hard work, determination and again, fearlessness are keys to success that I want to carry with me through my own journey. I think she would be the perfect mentor.
Well, now we all want to know when we can see your full collection and purchase a bag!The work bag collection will be available by July 17th on Handbag Designer 101. My launch collection (ladies’ handbags) will be available on my own website shortly after that, in August. (Awesomely written by David at MOO)