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Forty-year-old leather goods label Ghurka is actively looking to expand its women’s accessory footprint. The brand has hired Kathy Formby — a bag designer and veteran of Chanel and Ralph Lauren — as creative director.

“I think whatever company you are designing for you have to look at its heritage. I think Ralph Lauren has a very strong brand heritage, but so does Ghurka — they are different but you can draw from the core of what those brands are,” said Formby, of her knack for helping labels optimize their brand ethos through accessory design. (She was on the team that conceived Lauren’s “Ricky” bag.)

Formby’s first task for Ghurka was to expand and revitalize the women’s capsule collection that the brand introduced for fall 2015. Prior to this collection, Ghurka had been absent from the women’s bag market since 2002.

In doing so, Formby has designed 28 handbag styles inspired by Ghurka’s military heritage that will hit stores for spring 2016.

The brand projects that its women’s wear efforts will grow the category to 30 percent of its overall sales by the end of 2016 — or more than three times its present nine percent share.

Retail prices of the spring 2016 women’s collection range from $625 for a miniature twill cross-body, to $2,795 for a leather camera bag slung with a handwoven guitar-strap. Large-scale wholesale partnerships are in the works, but Ghurka declined to discuss specifics.

“With Ghurka it came from military, [the brand] has a masculinity but since there is such a trend toward men’s and tailoring, I thought it was the perfect timing to do a women’s collection based off of those trends,” Formby said of her largely rugged, utilitarian collection.

“I think each season we can branch out into something a little more feminine while always keeping a connection to the heritage of the brand, layering on different levels of depth into collections with new materials and hardware,” she added.

Many of the line’s styles are fabricated of French bull skin – hearty leather that softens and gracefully patinas with age.

Most of the collection’s styles come retrofitted with handles, a detachable strap and multiple interior pockets — functional elements that Formby says will become integral to the brand’s women’s offerings. “I think function, form and versatility all go hand-in-hand with the brand’s heritage, so wherever we can put function into the pieces, it’s absolutely a must.”

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