Is the phrase 'heritage brand' overused these days? Perhaps. As a result, it is important for those who encounter it, to unpack it and in doing so, question not only the intention but the truth in its use. Is it being used honestly to drive brand authenticity and tell a story? Or to jump on the common narrative or zeitgeist to boost traffic? For many of us working in a world where fashion is viewed sustainably, the phrase embodies so much more than a toe-dip into using traditional British-made fabrics or putting a spotlight on local, onshore business operations in the UK. Discovering brands who place an eye on this wider lens is refreshing, and progresses an often stagnant conversation forward, namely offering fresh answers to two core questions, 'What is the future of British fashion?' and 'Where does true innovation in the heritage space lie?'
For independent luxury British hat brand Penmayne of London, the answers are also all encompassing; heritage is as much about the design process, history of the brand itself and a focus on wanting to be a part of the British market, including manufacturing here ("It's expense and it's harder to scale, but it's worth it," says founder Claire Howeson.) Founded in 2013, Penmayne of London specialises in luxury felt and straw hats for women. Quickly becoming known for a precise brand message ("Confident", "Considered", "Honest" and "Timeless") whilst designing statement timeless hats, since its introduction to the market three years ago, the brand is already able to call both independent and luxury retailers such as Wolf & Badger and Harrods, home.
I recall interviewing Christopher Bailey, chief creative and chief executive officer (CEO) of Burberry, a while back and his words about the core definition of heritage remain as true today as they did two years ago; "Whilst Burberry is very much a British heritage brand driven by quality, this encompasses more than location, the British have a natural ability to blend the traditional with the quirky and here innovation can be borne." If innovation can fall under an umbrella and act in design, process and/or innovation in execution, then does the phrase heritage need only apply to brands dating back centuries in age like Burberry (D.O.B 1856), or a more contemporary use be applied to a way of doing business that is honest, authentic and quality focused? Particularly as - by definition - heritage is 'something that is handed down from the past, as a tradition: a national heritage of honor, pride, and courage'.
I wore a selection of Penmayne of London whilst curating a sustainable style diary for the Huffington Post in September, and can vouch for the peerless quality and design-led chic, but when it comes to the story, no one can share that better than the Chief Designer herself.
Heritage truly is the new contemporary and for brands like Penmayne of London, heritage indeed goes beyond location. It encompasses the minutia of details across to the scalability of global operations, here is what Howeson had to say about her growing brand.
Tell us about the vision for your brand?
Our mission is to make beautiful, timeless hats for the stylish modern woman. Our designs are inspired by a strong sense of natural beauty and honesty and we are genuine, confident and hugely passionate about what we do.
We launched our first collection in 2013 with a dedication to quality, craftsmanship and design. Since then we have continued to create pieces that combine classic and modern sentiments, designing a new generation of hat.
My vision is to empower more women to wear great hats as an everyday accessory, for Penmayne hats to become a wardrobe staple and a trusted friend. Everyone needs a great hat (or two, or three) in their life...
Who are Penmayne - tell us about your team?
I have a small production team who help with making the hats and two amazing women who run our marketing and PR. My family are also really involved in the business; my mum still makes all the hat linings and my dad does our accounts. And my brother and sister are very good at sales! I definitely couldn't have built this without them.
How and why is making in Britain important to you?
It's something that I feel very passionate about and I am really proud to say that we make our hats in Britain. It is important to us to have complete integrity in our supply chain, to maintain an exceptional level of quality and to support British manufacturing as a whole.
What does quality mean for your brand? How does it translate to your product?
It is everything. We put a huge amount of love, care and attention into what we make, and we know that every hat that leaves this studio is of an exceptional quality. We are very open and honest as a brand and we are asking our customers to trust us to get it right. That's a big responsibility for us and I am determined that we will not let them down.
Are you looking forward to growing your brand globally? Do you have any fears around that and manufacturing?
Yes, it's really exciting and it is very much on the horizon for us at the moment. I think it's really important to take one step at a time and avoid growing too quickly - the last thing we want to do it to jeopardise the quality of our product in order to achieve scale. We believe we can do both, it just takes a bit more consideration and patience.
Penmayne of London recently launched a new website, take a look here.