B orn May 7, 1969, in England; daughter of Michael (a plastics company owner) and Susan Hindmarch; married James Seymour (a retail executive), 1996; children: Hugo (stepson), Rupert (stepson), Octavia (stepdaughter), Felix, Otto.
Addresses: Home—London, England. Office—The Stable Block, Plough Brewery, 516 Wandsworth Rd., London SW8 3JX, England.
L aunched eponymous label, 1987; opened first store in London, 1993, followed by stores in New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Hong Kong; launched Blue Label line of purses, 1999; launched footwear line, 2002.
Awards: Best British Accessories Designer, British Fashion Council, 2001.
B ritish accessories designer Anya Hindmarch inadvertently found herself in the midst of a media frenzy over the special-edition grocery-shopping tote she created in 2007, with its clever anti-logo that touted, “I’m Not A Plastic Bag.” Though its success inspired a bit of backlash, with cynics pointing out it was made in China—where manufacturing costs are low—and from non-organic cotton, Hindmarch was hopeful that her $15 tote was a harbinger of change and the beginning of the end for the supermarket plastic bag, each of which takes 500 years to decompose. “When you throw something away, there is no away,” she pointed out in an interview with Times of London journalist Lisa Armstrong. “Currently each of us in [Britain] uses 167 bags a year. If we’ve made people think about that, then job done.”
Born in 1969, Hindmarch grew up in a family with a strong entrepreneurial streak. Her father, Michael, owned a plastics company, and both her brother and sister would go on to launch their own companies as young adults. She attended a convent school in Essex and hoped to have a career as an opera singer, though she knew she first had to conquer her fear of performing in public. At the age of 18, she traveled to Italy for what the British call the “gap year,” some time off between secondary school, as high school is known there, and college. The craze in Italian cities that year was for a draw-string duffle bag, which trend-conscious young women were carrying in lieu of a purse; Hindmarch returned to England with one and then looked in the telephone book for a manufacturer who could copy it. She took her prototype to the offices of Harpers & Queens, a leading British fashion magazine, and convinced them to sell it through one of their promotional offers. Hindmarch wound up selling 500 of the duffel bags, and with that her company was born in 1987.
Hindmarch returned to Italy to look for more items to bring back to sell, but she failed to find anything she felt would be a similar hit. Despite her lack of design experience or artistic training, she began sketching out her first line of handbags and began to land accounts with women’s boutiques and department stores. “There were times in the early days when I was sitting alone at my dining room table, packing boxes, fighting through invoices and trying to design the occasional bag in between when I wondered what I was doing,” she told Lisa Armstrong in an earlier Times of London interview. “But I knew I never wanted to work for anyone else.”
In the first few years of her business, Hindmarch designed quirky purses. One was shaped like a clock, for example, while another had bamboo handles shaped like dogs. By 1993, she had grown the company well enough to open her first free-standing store, located on Walton Street in the posh Sloane Square neighborhood of London. In 1999, her company launched a lower-priced range of bags, sold as Blue Label. Two years later in 2001 she entered into her first serious philanthropic venture with Be a Bag, which allowed customers to create their own unique Blue Label handbag via a screen-printed photograph of their choice. Proceeds were donated to the Lavender Trust, a British breast-cancer awareness charity.
Hindmarch launched a footwear line in 2002 in partnership with an Italian shoe manufacturer, and she continued to open more stores around the world. Though her wares were a favorite of fashion-conscious women and celebrities, Hindmarch did not become a genuine household name until 2007, when her special-edition canvas tote imprinted with the tongue-in-cheek logo, “I’m Not A Plastic Bag,” began to gain a flood of media attention. The shopping tote had long been in use in Europe, where grocery stores regularly charged customers for plastic bags, and by a more environmentally aware segment of consumers in the United States and Canada, but such totes were distinctly utilitarian and rarely had any pretension to fashion. Hindmarch wanted to create an item that could be used for hauling groceries home but appealed to the style-conscious as well, and designed her blue-script-on-white bag in partnership with a British organization for social change called We Are What We Do, which publicizes ways citizens can make small changes in their daily routines that have a cumulatively beneficial effect on the environment, such as turning off the water while brushing one’s teeth.
A limited run of 20,000 of Hindmarch’s bags went on sale in April of 2007 at Sainsbury’s, a major British supermarket chain, and advance press prompted a slew of interest; people began lining up seven hours before the sale began at 9 a.m. The bags sold for $15 each but proved such a hot item that some were soon fetching $400 on the online auction Web site eBay. Despite the private profit that came from such secondhand sales, Hindmarch was pleased that the bags had seemed to catch on so quickly. “It’s all good because this whole project is about awareness,” she told Jessica Iredale in an interview that appeared in WWD. “It actually ends up with the bag being much talked about and much worn, and subliminally, it’s a billboard that brainwashes people into changing how they behave.”
Hindmarch married James Seymour in 1996, a widower with three children, and her stepchildren eventually began campaigning for new siblings. Felix and Otto joined Hugo, Rupert, and Octavia at the home in Chelsea that is minutes away from Hindmarch’s company offices. Seymour was once an executive with Jigsaw, a high-end British retail chain, but he left to work for Hindmarch’s business. Hindmarch claims that she handles her dual role as a mother of five and full-time executive and designer by being compulsively organized. She confesses to being a fanatical listmaker. “I have a master list, it’s written in pencil and has sections,” she told Sunday Times writer Claudia Croft. “You have the Immediate list, then As Soon as Possible, then Long-term Projects. There’s a section for blue-sky ideas on the left and I put some things in smaller writing. I understand it, but other people go nuts.” She also added that this trait was intrinsically linked to her designs. “I’m a freak. I love to be given a messy cupboard and organize it into sections. Handbags are like that. They are mobile filing cabinets.”
Evening Standard (London, England), November 15, 2002, p. 58; March 20, 2007, p. 3.
New York Times, July 18, 2007.
Sun (London, England), March 14, 2007, p. 8.
Sunday Times (London, England), April 16, 2006, p. 10.
Time, August 13, 2007, p. 49.
Times (London, England), April 3, 2000, p. 14; May 9, 2007, p. 9.
WWD, July 19, 2007, p. 3.