Aitch Aitch backpack

Aitch Aitch designer Hailey Harmon is thinking globally for her luxe line of sustainable handbags.

Harmon, who named the brand based on the phonetic pronunciation of her initials, “H-H,” was inspired when she discovered unfinished salmon skins while on a trip to Iceland. “It looks like an exotic snakeskin, but has an interesting feel,” she said.

The former jewelry designer for Monique Péan was already on her way to starting her own business, partly owing to the experience of watching Péan build her own jewelry line. Harmon had returned to her native San Francisco to earn an MBA in Design Strategy at the city’s California College of the Arts, but had yet to figure out exactly what that business would be. While there, she met Beatrice Amblard, a French native who worked for Hermès in the atelier in Paris. Amblard moved to San Francisco when the fabled leather house opened a store there in 1987 to take charge of creating the house’s custom goods. In 2000, Amblard left Hermès to open her own store, April in Paris, in the Laurel Heights neighborhood. In 2012, she expanded with a school, Amblard Leather Making, offering classes and apprenticeships in traditional leather-crafting techniques. Harmon took classes there for nine months, completing the masters level in the Art of Fine Leather Crafting program.

The enterprise is truly a global affair. After discovering the skins, a by-product of the fishing industry, in Iceland, Harmon found a tannery in Germany that uses a nontoxic, nonchemical, vegetable-dyeing process that creates a warm patina on the skin — similar to other vegetable-dyed leathers. The bags are manufactured at a London workshop, which uses the same “time-honored” leather techniques she learned from Amblard. And Harmon custom-makes all the hardware for the bags — a nod to her jewelry-making background — in New York.

Despite the crowded marketplace, Harmon said there’s a place for a luxury bag line that addresses sustainability. “Stella McCartney is my idol,” she said. “My product, while not vegan, appeals to some of the same customers. To pair craftsmanship with Old World tradition, which is starting to be lost in this age of fast fashion, and combine it with a new sustainable material fills a need in the luxury goods space.”
The collection will launch with three colors — black, gray and teal — and four key styles: a hexagonal clutch and slightly larger cross-body, retailing at $1,590 and $2,080, respectively; a larger tote style for $2,800, and a backpack for $3,300, which Harmon feels encapsulates the brand’s aesthetic. She lines her bags in a patent leather version of the skin that she claims is “easier to clean.” She will expand to include other colors and perhaps other categories such as a weekender building upon the first four core styles. The bags will be available on her web site starting March 31 and she’ll aim her wholesale efforts at small boutiques to start. She also plans to hold several trunk shows at Auberge Resort outposts, as it is Harmon’s family-owned business.