[8 MINUTE READ]
Happy Friday everyone! It’s been a while, but we are thrilled to be returning with another Friday Founder Interview.
This week we had the pleasure of chatting to the wonderful Emma Hill CBE, the Creative Director of Hill and Friends. Hill and Friends is an independent, founder-owned luxury brand that sells handbags and accessories that reflect the values the brand holds dear.
In today’s interview Emma shares how she made her very impressive start in the fashion industry, her favourite part of the job, and what’s in the pipeline for this very unique brand. Without further ado, grab yourself a festive drink, cosy up on the sofa and get ready to be inspired…
Morning Emma! Please could you start by telling me a bit about your childhood and how you feel it has influenced you today?
My beloved older brother Andrew and I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Kingston during the Seventies. We were the typical latchkey kids of a mathematician father and an artist mother. I truly believe that the lack of monetary possessions for all of us back then really contributed, in the most massively positive manner, to how much our imaginations fuelled everything that we did.
"We always consider sensitive skins for any metal hardware pieces that will be in direct contact with the skin and apply a stringent nickle-free manufacturing process."
That makes a lot of sense. When you don’t have many physical things to play with, you have to get creative! So how did you get started in the fashion and accessories industry?
I always thought that I was going to be a Graphic Designer, even though I had been obsessed with all things fashion from a very early age. It wasn’t until I gained a place at the esteemed Wimbledon School of Art to study for my Art Foundation Diploma - and had the great fortune of being taught by the then Head of Fashion, Ken Walker - that everything changed for me. His talent, passion, teaching, knowledge, encouragement, and belief in me completely changed the course of my studies and, in turn, my life. For this, I will remain forever in his debt.
Following that, I gained a place at Ravensbourne School of Design to study for my BA (Hons) Degree in Fashion. Having specialised in Women's RTW at college I naturally expected that my career would follow suit. However, immediately upon graduating, I was lucky enough to be hired by Burberry as their Accessories Designer, which would go on to change my entire career.
Then, I relocated to my beloved New York City in 1993. I spent 14 years there working for incredible brands like Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs, before moving back to London for an incredible six-year tenure as Creative Director for Mulberry.
And the rest, as they say, is history!
Wow! What a fascinating journey. So, what made you decide to set up Hill and Friends and why? Was the timing important?
Well, it all started with a moment of martini-fuelled madness, back in 2015!
I love it! You know that here at CAROLINA GMX we are really interested in the ways brands are considering people who have sensitive skin and allergies. What is Hill and Friends’ point of view on these issues?
We always consider sensitive skins for any metal hardware pieces that will be in direct contact with the skin and apply a stringent nickle-free manufacturing process.
Do you think that people are more conscious of the materials in their accessories these days? If so, why?
Yes, they absolutely are! This growing consciousness has been a crucial development in the global fight against climate change. We all have a collective responsibility to care for the future of our planet and becoming more conscious of our purchasing choices is a massive step forward towards positive change.
I couldn’t agree more! How would you say sustainability factors into Hill and Friends’ ethics and values?
Sustainability has been at the heart of Hill and Friends ever since its conception and we consistently strive to be the absolute best we can be with regards to this most crucial of issues. There are various ways we try to practise sustainability. Firstly, we mostly manufacture in the UK, which vastly reduces our carbon footprint. We also strictly adhere to recycling and reusing past leather and hardware raw materials waste. We have also set up Loveworn, which is our Hill and Friends resale platform. Finally, we use accredited Tanneries, with only the highest standards of both animal welfare and leather production, for all material sourcing.
I love how proactive you are with this! What strategies do you think have been key to the success of Hill and Friends?
Our meticulous attention to detail, our refreshingly honest price-to-value relationship, and our mostly UK based manufacture are key to the brand. We are also 100% committed to ethical and transparent sourcing for our uniquely "humour-meets-classic" products. Ultimately, we dedicate ourselves to only the very highest standards of both product quality and personal customer service, inspired by the infamous NYC slogan: “WE ❤️ OUR CUSTOMERS”!
I honestly believe that customer-centred brands are the most successful. What do you think makes Hill and Friends stand out?
Our unique sense of humour-meets-classic brand positioning, our love of colour, our commitment to both quality and customer service… and our pink-tastic brand colour!
With our brand motto of “Fashion Just Got Friendlier!”, we like to think that we have fused the quality, craftsmanship and desirability of a luxury brand with the democratic and emotional appeal of a brand created for people just like us! Our products are made with love, laughter, passion, intricate attention to detail and a transparent price-to-quality-value ratio.
We are a relatively young brand but what we lack in heritage, we more than make up for in authenticity. We believe in creating cherished, heirloom pieces that both capture and outlast seasonal trends, using a brand-specific mix of artisanal craftsmanship-meets-subversively subtle twists!
We are independent, female-founded, female-led, and determined to put the fun back into fashion with our Hill and Friends girl-gang inclusivity!
I totally see that! You have such a clear brand message at Hill and Friends! What is your favourite thing about your job?
Hands down, it has to be working with the incredible Hill and Friends team. They inspire me every single day with their passion, dedication, talent, humour, compassion and all-around fabulousness!
How lovely! And which is your favourite piece that you’ve ever created?
How can I possibly choose between the Hill and Friends bag babies?!
However, I must confess that my current obsession is our “Slang Clutches”. These are butter-soft leather zip clutches with perfectly of-the-moment irreverent slang acronyms, applied in unique pale gold bubble letters. Another obsession is our entire #TAGMYNAME program, which uses a completely artisanal, graffiti-inspired, hand-painted method to personalise your bag with your name.
Oh, those bags are so cool! I love them. Could you describe the biggest “pinch me” moment of your career so far?
This would have to be when, back in 2012, I was awarded a CBE for services to British Fashion, by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.
"I absolutely love people-watching, and am lucky enough to be inspired every day by the unique style of both Londoners and New Yorkers, and am often to be found chasing after strangers taking photos of their bags!"
That must have been so surreal! Congratulations! What inspires you?
Anything and everything! I have a really eclectic sense of inspiration, drawing from both the past and the present, so I always have my eyes peeled.
My incredible son Hudson, friends and family and my team inspire me! I absolutely love people-watching, and am lucky enough to be inspired every day by the unique style of both Londoners and New Yorkers, and am often to be found chasing after strangers taking photos of their bags!
I also love all things Seventies. The saturated colours and bold graphics of classic cartoon characters like Mr. Men, Babbapappa and The Beano’s Minnie The Minx inspire me. I adore vintage bags, prints, wallpaper, and all things leopard print too. Oh and old school hardware stores, music, and film!
I definitely see some of those influences in your handbags and accessories. Could you describe what an average workday might look like for you?
After I see my son off to school, I take our beloved French Bulldog Bleecker out for a walk. When I return I make my first and imperative iced coffee of the day, answer emails from the night before and have our daily team zoom call to deal with any past, current or upcoming issues. Then, I work on the day's issues with our fabulous Martina, make lunch, and take Bleecker out for another walk. The afternoon is a creative-a-noon involving more coffee. After I finish, I make sure my son is doing his homework, go for a quick swim, make some dinner, and usually phone a friend. I’ll unwind with a glass of wine, have a bath, and watch some crap TV before falling into bed!
An average day in your life sounds jam-packed! Do you think you are able to strike that all-important work/life balance?
Yes, I think so, although it might not seem obvious at first glance! It has always been a tricky one for me to strike that balance because I love what I do for a living so much, which means the lines between “work” and “life” are quite blurred. I just try to give both sides my absolute all and remind myself to not be too hard on myself!
That’s a brilliant mentality! What words do you live by?
Oscar Wilde said it best with, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
Ah, that is one of my favourites too! Finally, what’s next for Hill and Friends?
A continuation of category expansion and the growth of our resale platform Loveworn….oh, and world handbag domination, of course!
Like what you read? Head to Hill and Friends to shop now!
If you fancy checking out some of our previous interviews, you can find them here. Want more from CAROLINAGMX? Check this out: The Ultimate WelleCo Super Elixir Review