When you daydream about the handbag that has long sat on your “must-have” list, often what doesn’t enter our mind is the journey it takes to build a brand that has even an ounce of clout in the sartorial sphere. And for power trio consisting of Hermione Espie Underwood and sisters Airlie and Alexandra Hamilton, their luxury handbag range is now slung on the shoulders of fashion girls around the globe. What does it take to break through a notoriously fickle industry? We interviewed Underwood to find out.
After chatting to Underwood, it seems that building a brand comes down to the basics: Practical goal setting, multi-tasking and a heavy dose of hustle. Read on to learn about her entrepreneurial journey to date.
What has been your career journey up until now?
Looking back at my career to date, every role was paving the way to the next without me even realising. My ﬁrst role was at LVMH while studying. Post Uni, I moved into the PR world which evolved into my own agency, The H Collective, which I launched at 24.
The career link has always been luxury brands. Moving from consulting with clients to developing my own brands now seems like the natural evolution. The move to London four years ago has culminated in the launch of the jewellery brand Atelier Romy and most recently, our leather goods brand, Espie Roche. I have incredible business partners on both ventures and feel fortunate to be developing brands in Florence and London. I still consult clients to this day under The H Collective banner, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to continue working on some of my earliest clients.
Though it's now in a slightly evolved service, offering and across two markets, both in the UK and Australia.
How has your job evolved over the years?
My job is constantly evolving, and I’m sure it will continue to, particularly as these brands grow and expand, with bigger teams and into new markets. That’s the most exciting thing about where I am now: So much of what I’m doing is for the ﬁrst time. A work day can now be in Florence, Paris or London, or even ﬂying back to Sydney for a client which I ﬁnd incredible. I’ve integrated my passion for travel into my work life which I've realised is the dream.
Did you face many challenges launching your brand?
Of course we’ve experienced countless challenges and, most frustratingly, delays. But this is unsurprising, as we’re talking about working on Italian time!
“Is not possible” might just be the most commonly used phrases in Italy. I jest, but seriously, they do move slowly. We now say that perfection takes time, and they’re the best for a reason.
Working in foreign countries, and in an industry dominated by super players, isn’t easy. I’d be lying if I said it was. There are few new entrants in this arena for a reason: It’s risky, it’s costly and it’s bloody hard work. Luckily, I have business partners with a very good sense of humour, so we have a lot of fun along the way, navigating whatever we encounter.
What are some of the biggest obstacles for women pursuing a career in your chosen ﬁeld?
Perhaps this isn’t trendy to say, but I don’t see any difference between the challenges in this field for women than those that men may face. Having your own business, having a brand, and in my case running multiple businesses is tough—regardless of sex. It requires passion, determination and hard work.
What are the biggest challenges you need to solve in your role?
My greatest challenge is managing time and expectations. I have to be very considered in how I work, with whom and when.
Have you encountered any gender bias in your role?
No, I haven’t. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to experience equality… Perhaps an advantage of working for myself?
Shop all of Espie Roche's sleek designs, that are also perfect for work.