Our menswear dialogue series continues this week with an interview with Mr. Paul Holmes, proprietor of HYPE luggage. We have been corresponding with Paul over the last few weeks about his business and his product and we have been fortunate enough to take one of his bags for a test run on our travels. A product review is set to come. In the meantime get to know more about Paul and his work in our discussion.
Image Granted - What was the beginning of HYPE Luggage? Where did the idea come from? What was the inspiration behind the business?
Paul Holmes - It's a long story and maybe one day, in a quiet bar, I'll tell you all about it.
I lived in South East Asia for about 10 years, where completely by accident I got into manufacturing specialist luggage, making a lot of cases and bags for a specific purpose, at one point we were making in excess of 15,000 cases a year, exporting to countries all over the world. In essence, I have a number of years experience in manufacturing (goods for other people's brands) for reputable, blue chip companies, we would receive a brief or design and create a physical product, which would then be presented to the client for review. Over the years we have made some stunning product, that retail customers would love but in almost every case products would be compromised in an attempt to reduce the cost, or achieve 'target' prices.
I found this very frustrating, we invested a huge amount of time in selecting the right materials, hardware and designing a product that would perform well, only to have the product (and our work) compromised to save a few pounds here and there.
Part of the longer story, is getting ripped off for a huge amount of money in China, which resulted in my returning to the UK with not very much in my pocket, but what I did have was an idea and desire to create a range of 'Made in England' leather goods. It took quite some time (so many of the English factories have gone out of business) to find a factory with the skills and capability to achieve the levels of quality we demanded, however, through grinding away we managed to find a factory with the same attitude and approach who understood our vision. Working with craftsmen who manufacture using traditional, tested and proven methods was fantastic, a little slow, but fantastic and once they understood our focus was on achieving a level of quality and not a level of price, their enthusiasm went up a notch.
The inspiration was having the shackles and restriction of achieving a 'target' price removed, we were focused on making the best possible products we can, offering what I believe is true value for money. Even in our 'throwaway' world there are people who appreciate quality and take pleasure in knowing their purchases have been made by people who care about their work and understand a customers expectation.
I took inspiration from other great brands that I admire - and there are quite a few who do a great job, many of them are small companies who care passionately about what they do.
IG - You recently attended the Best of Britannia event. What was it like being part of such an event in its inaugural showing?
PH - As you know, we have been exhibiting and it was inspiring to see so many other like-minded businesses in a host of diversified fields, from cured meats to speed boats, ginseng drinks to leather goods, and all 'Made in England'. I can't explain the atmosphere and do it justice, it was almost like a music festival atmosphere, the camaraderie was truly fantastic with everyone exhibitor involved and enthusiastic about helping each other. The team who put the event together deserve a huge pat on the back, I probably sound a bit odd but it was incredible and every single exhibitor wants to do it again next year, I have to say it does make you proud to be British.
IG - You work with several different types of leather. Why have you chosen these leathers over others? How has your choice of materials affected your business?
PH - We want to be in a position to offer our customers a choice of product style and some leathers are more suited to certain products or offer certain attributes and qualities, we use leathers and fabrics that will perform well, that offer durability and longevity and that will improve with age. The cosmetic appearance of our luggage is always going to be important along with the feel - it never ceases to amaze me how many people touch our leather products, it's almost as if they're magnetic. Just as important is the ability of the product to perform and last, the materials play a huge part in this area, as do the manufacturing techniques.
We have to be aware of the tasks our luggage needs to perform, for example, if you are using a 'carry-on' for a flight and the luggage itself weighs more than your allowance, we have failed in the design and our customers probably wouldn't be dashing back to buy another piece from our range. That said, if the 'carry-on' is so lightweight that it starts pulling away or breaking up, we have failed just as miserably, it is about finding the correct balance between weight and durability and this is where a careful selection of leather, linings and hardware is important. Ultimately the correct choice of material for the job, along with an attractive cosmetic appearance has had a positive effect on our business.
IG - How has high-end luggage changed over the years? How are you changing and/or improving the menswear environment with your offerings? What is the ultimate goal for your brand?
PH - High end luggage has changed a lot, gone are many of the rigid framed pieces in favour of a more practical user-friendly soft sided or semi rigid style, with a huge amount of focus on weight for air travel. I think high-end luggage is far more versatile, with many of our pieces being suitable for an overnight business trip, weekend away or a visit to the gym - versatile, practical and far removed from the days you bought a suitcase and used it twice a year for a holiday.
HYPE luggage is about style, not fashion, with cues taken from traditional classic pieces our luggage is always 'in' and it needs to be as it will be around for quite some time, it is designed and manufactured to last. Our luggage is designed to be understated, it should complement and enhance your chosen clothing, formal or casual, adding to your overall appearance subtly and not being the focal point, you won't find 'bling' all over it.
The ultimate goal for our brand is to be respected for our quality, appreciated for the time and effort that goes into making it, represented by quality retailers but also, to give our customers pleasure and pride in owning it.
IG - What else should we know about your brand and your offerings?
PH - We are constantly looking at what we are doing and if there is a way to improve a product, we will. For 2012 we changed zippers in our gun slips to RiRi 'symmetrical', they are beautiful and perform so well that for 2013 all of our zippers will be 'symmetrical'.
For early 2013 we have a new business range being introduced, along with a stunning canvas/leather range of travel luggage.
We offer a lifetime guarantee on our range.