What do animal rights, fanny packs and female empowerment have in
common? They’re all at the heart of HFS Collective’s vegan brand, of
course. Founded in Los Angeles in 2012 by Debra Denniston and her daughter
Rachel, HFS collective is an ethical and sustainable-driven brand that
produces a selection of wallets and bags using solely vegan methods.
Also known as Hipsters for Sisters, the brand currently has stockists in
California and New York, as well as further afield in Canada, Sweden,
Norway and Germany. HFS collective offers a selection of wallets between
78-148 dollars and belt bags between 148-295 dollars, all of which are made
at a small family-run factory just a few miles from the brand’s office in
Los Angeles. What’s more, five percent of the brand’s earnings is donated
to organisations that help empower women, protect animals and preserve the
environment. Who says fashion can’t be circular?
Designed with the intention of liberating women through their hands-free
bag designs, HFS has grown in popularity since its humble beginnings in
2012, and has been worn by the likes of actress Elizabeth Banks and
supermodel and philanthropist Petra Nemcova. FashionUnited spoke to Debra –
one half of the HFS Collective team – to ask about her experiences
founding, building and sustaining a vegan fashion brand with her daughter,
and the challenges they’ve faced along the way.
How was the HFS Collective brand born, and how has it developed since
The HFS Collective brand was originally born from an act of rebellion.
I’ve always had a rebellious nature which was somewhat tamed by motherhood.
In fact, motherhood
played a huge role in the development of the brand. Many years ago, I was a
home’ mom, and when my children were toddlers l used to take them out and
lugging a big old diaper bag containing all the necessities for a day out
with toddlers. That’s when I started wearing a fanny pack.
Now it was all well and good until I became addicted to the liberation
afforded to me by my fanny pack and I began wearing it all the time! I
didn’t really care that my friends thought I was a bit peculiar, in fact, I
rather enjoyed the notoriety, but when my kids began to relentlessly
beseech me to leave the fanny pack in the car when I picked them up from
school, I squelched my rebellious nature and did as they asked. I tucked it
away in my closet and went back to wearing big, fashionable handbags again
for the next ten years.
It wasn’t long after my youngest went off to college that I
re-discovered my old fanny pack as I was cleaning out my closet. With no
one around to judge me, I decided to take it out, dust it off and start
wearing it again. One problem: as I strapped it on and looked in the
mirror, I discovered that my daughters were right – it was hideous looking.
Then I remembered that my addiction had not been to that ugly waist sack
but to the freedom of navigating through life hands free. Right there and
then I decided to reinvent the fanny pack and make something so gorgeous
that even my daughters would wear it. My greatest satisfaction was the fact
that both of my daughters not only approved, but joined me in creating our
What has the growth of veganism in the US been like and how do you
think it will
I don’t have any statistics on this, but it seems that veganism – as a
food choice – is
growing at a tremendous rate. Veganism as an apparel choice, on the other
hand, will tend to lag behind that for several years for two reasons:
firstly, many people become vegan for their health, rather than for the
animals, so choosing vegan fashion doesn’t even occur to them. Secondly,
even those who became vegan because of their compassion for animals often
still wear leather. They just know that faux leather products don’t last as
long as leather, unfortunately. Makes no sense to me, but I see it all the
time on social media. Some will continue to wear leather, but only second
hand. A third group refuses to wear any leather products, new or used.
So, from what I have seen, only about one-third of vegans never wear
leather, but I think this will change over time as vegan faux-leather
materials improve in both durability and style. Once we develop raw vegan
materials that look as good as natural leather and wear just as well, there
will be no reason to support the leather industry, whether first or
second-hand. In addition, as people become more and more aware of the
horrendous devastation the leather industry is causing to the planet, even
people who are not vegans will begin to question the morals of supporting
an industry that is so harmful to our planet.
How would you describe the ethos of HFS Collective?
The HFS Collective is a physical manifestation of the ethos of my
daughters and myself. Unlike many other companies, we did not set out to
find a business to make money with. At the start, I just wanted to create a
wearable fanny pack. The fact that our bags are animal free and use only
materials that are certified to be the most sustainable options currently
available is a reflection of who we are as people and our personal values.
Inherent in our job description is educating the public about the very real
nature of climate change and how our choices all affect the planet –
whether that means avoiding fast fashion and buy fewer, higher quality
pieces, reducing meat consumption or buying sustainably certified products
that are made by people being paid fair wages in safe and pleasant working
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced creating a vegan brand?
The biggest challenge for us has been finding the right market mix for
Many vegans are used to paying next to nothing for fast fashion vegan
in China from cheap materials such as PVC. Creating vegan products the right
way, using sustainable materials and paying a living wage to people who cut
them, is expensive, it drives up costs. Many vegans’ number one concern is
about animal welfare and they feel they cannot afford to pay more to insure
fair working wages or sustainable materials.
What advice would you give a brand who might be looking into starting a
line, or collection, but is unsure where to start?
If someone is unsure where to start, I’d suggest looking for what you
want and can’t
seem to find. If you want it, someone else wants it too.
How difficult is it to create a brand that is completely vegan?
It is easy to create a 100 percent vegan brand – it’s not so easy to
create a sustainable one. Sourcing fabrics that are sustainable – as well
as beautiful and durable – has been our number one challenge. Some of the
most popular vegan handbags are created using PVC as the outer material
because that’s actually the material best able to mimic real leather, but
PVC is toxic and these companies tend to bury the fact that they use this
material by focusing on what they use for lining, etc.
Even Polyurethane –
which is much better for the environment than PVC – is still made from
fossil fuels and doesn’t biodegrade as fast as we would like them to. Even
so, Polyurethane – although far from perfect – is still better for the
environment than leather. We are always searching for more sustainable
options to leather so in addition to our sustainably certified polyurethane
(Oeko-tex Standard 100), we use cork, Pinatex, hemp and a “suede” made from
recycled plastic bottles.
Have there been any challenges working as a mother-daughter team?
There is nothing simple about any mother-daughter relationship and
working together every single day multiplies that challenge tenfold.
Working with anyone all day everyday is not without its inherent land
mines. It is so easy to take them, their work and their talents for
granted. Learning to view and respect my ‘little girl’ objectively as a
grown woman has been a great challenge for me. However, now that I’ve
stopped trying to tie her shoelaces, I’m rewarded by being privy to her
creative vision and the process she employs to achieve it, which is really
the fuel that makes things run around here.
We love that, as mother and daughter, we have the perspective of two
generations of women influencing our company – from our mission to our
designs. The generation gap is a natural influence in our division of
labor. Rachel handles all the technological stuff – such as our website and
social media – and I handle the more traditional aspects – such as sourcing
of materials and production. We both work on the design aspect equally.
This balance in duties draws on our individual strengths and proclivities
and seems to work pretty well.
If you had to chose one, what would be your favourite item from HFS
The best part of my job (besides working with my daughter) is having an
wardrobe of belt bags to choose from on any given day. However, if I had to
just one it would be the Moss Green Half Moon (which I wear pretty much all
anyway). I love it because it is not the typical beige straw bag that you
see everyone in
right now – it has so much more personality. I always wear it as a belt bag
comes as a cross body with the belt being an ‘add on’.
Where do you see HFS Collective in 5 years and 10 years from now?
I’d love to see us taking a larger share of the accessories market. How
would it be to have sustainable and responsibly produced bags in the hands
masses? What an impact that might have on our planet and the way we use its
resources! I also see us having more of a presence in Europe. Our bags are
well received over there and we’d love to have a way to make our bags more
Photo credit: Kristine Lo, @kristine.lo / HSF Collective,
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