Inside the Studio with the Sibling Duo Behind Haerfest Bags

Process to product Inside the Studio with the Sibling Duo Behind Haerfest Bags

Anyone that’s walked the streets of New York City knows that backpacks aren’t just for school kids anymore. From digital nomads to Goldman bankers, casually elevated is the name of the game. Ahead of trend, but with a timeless aesthetic, brothers Tim and Dan Joo have taken their leather accessories company Haerfest (pronounced harvest) to new levels of success while disrupting the designer brand business model along the way.

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Now six years strong, Haerfest handbags and backpacks add confidence and understated elegance to any outfit, without compensating functionality – a key for young professionals on the go. “New York culture was a big influence,” says Tim. “Seeing people skateboarding, or on the move with a coffee in one hand and a phone in the other—I never saw myself as a briefcase kind of guy.”

 

It all began after the brothers reunited in Brooklyn after college, where Tim studied design and Dan engineering. They’d long mused about following in their parent’s entrepreneurial footsteps so when Tim designed and produced his first sample backpack that the pair knew they had something special. The siblings broke their lease and moved out. Dan sold his car and Tim emptied his savings. “We took a leap of faith.”

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The brothers Joo have thrived, being awarded a spot in the CFDA {Fashion Incubator} class. This month, Haerfest is set to launch a new collection at W Bellevue from October 26 – 27, 2017.  The new line emphasizes a clean, minimal aesthetic influenced by artists from the 1960s. We visited the duo’s downtown studio to see the process of creating the exceptional bags for ourselves before their debut.

 

“It’s not just about what you carry; it’s about how you carry yourself,” says Dan. “We want our bags to reflect the people that our customers aspire to become.”

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What are some of the influences behind your more recent collection?

 

Dan: It departs slightly from our earlier pieces. We’re really focused on functionality for the young professional. Their life and work is integrated: going to work, going to the gym, going out with friends. We want to accommodate laptops and cords, and the things you carry day to day.

 

Tim: The process began with inspiration from artists in the sixties, particularly in minimalism. The focus on form, shape, color, proportion, balance. These principles and foundations are what we borrowed and applied to our bags. I start with simple sketches of circles and squares, while thinking about materials and color palettes. Generally we stay more classic since we’re not a trend-driven company.

 

Dan: We can do anywhere from two to four collections each year. We focus on what we call pillars of design: aesthetic, essence, and utility. Aesthetic being the design, utility being the function, essence being the materials. For this collection we are using more technical fabrics, materials that are water-resistant and abrasion-proof but still lightweight. Since we stem from minimalism, we put an emphasis on the details. In this collection, we added exposed zippers that are high polish, with larger metal teeth to stand out. And there’s our ring-and-stud system on the handles and straps; we don’t plaster our logo, so the branding is in the details.

 

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Who’s someone you’d love to see carrying a Haerfest bag?

 

Dan: Garance Doré. She’s professional, and she’s got it together. She knows she’s the boss, but stays passionately creative. Olivia Munn and Lauryn Hill both have bought bags of ours, which was really exciting.

 

Tim: We also have a philanthropic approach. We are getting involved with the Ali Forney Center, an organization for homeless LGBT youth. Beyond creating a safe space for these kids, they work to prepare them for careers. We’d like to partner with them in that regard. It could be talking to them about entrepreneurship, or donating bags to them to give them confidence on interviews and in office spaces.

 

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What’s it like working with your brother?

 

Tim: In the beginning, it was tough. We always had the same goal in mind but our work styles were different. At one point we were living together and working together, so our lives were very intertwined. But now our communication style is much more clear and concise. We’ve come a long way.

 

Dan: Am I talking to my brother or talking to my business partner? We were doing everything together, from sourcing to production and sales; but as the business developed, we found our own roles. Business is about solving problems, not creating new ones. Tim knows how to push my buttons, but what’s more important is that we really understand each other. That’s what it comes down to: the trust factor. I know I can rely on him.

 

What challenges do you face as a business?

 

Dan: The traditional models of how to run a fashion business are quickly changing. We’re not simply a backpack company; we’re a business focused on the modern professional. We aren’t rushing to the coolest boutique; we are asking ourselves: how do young people spend their lives on the go? Partnerships with Wework or Lyft or Airbnb are spaces we can reach that aren’t as saturated as traditional retail. Our vision is to equip and inspire visionary professionals in motion.

 

Tim: We want every graduate going to their first interview with a Haerfest bag. The bag is with you for the journey, and it should give you confidence for wherever you go and whomever you meet.

 

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Have you seen someone wearing your bag on the street?

 

Yes! It feels super rewarding. Sometimes we kind of play them and ask, “Hey! Where did you get that bag?!”

 

Who is using the travel bag? Where are they going?

 

Tim: The Haerfest customer is someone that’s on the go. They could be an engineer, a designer, or a creative director—and a lot of these people work freelance today. They don’t consider their office to be this one place; their office is a cafe, an airport, a community workspace. Now that you have a computer in your pocket, you can choose where you work, when you work, and how you work. I’d like them to view their bag as their office in between offices. The thing that stays consistent and familiar is your bag.

 

What are 3 things you always take when you’re traveling?

 

Tim: My laptop, a hoodie, a notepad.

 

Dan: Gotta have my laptop, an eye mask so I can sleep on planes, and a S’well water bottle. We live in such a throwaway culture, but that’s another product I appreciate because it’s nicely designed and considered.

 

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What’s something that excites you and scares you about the future?

 

Tim: We’re not just competing with other bag companies, we’re competing for people’s time. Are they going to want spend their time going to a retail store to see our latest collection, or go see Hamilton, or go to the newest restaurant? We’re competing against so many people now, but it allows us to think outside of the box in terms of who we can partner with and what other communities can we join.

 

Customers dictate the market, and customers enjoy that individualized experience. But from a business and logistics standpoint, how do you create products for every single customer you have. That’s a huge challenge, but if we could figure out how to do that, that could put us out ahead of people using more traditional models.

 

Dan: These days, with new access to capital through things like crowdfunding, a lot of businesses are being created to solve problems. I think this is great and will make us more connected. A lot of companies are creating tools and resources to connect people, but the thing that scares me is certain individuals that seek to drive fear and divide us. That’s on a high level, but I’m still excited for the future.

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