Jonathan Ward: What about you personally, with the brand, how did you why did you?
ES: I grew up in Lynchburg Virginia where we're based; I left and never thought that I would come back or look back. I went away to college and then I lived in New York for a while working for Hermés. Then, in 2008, like very many people in the world during the financial crisis, I lost my job.
JW: What were you doing at Hermés by the way?
ES: I worked in the press office, with the PR team, and then moved to the wholesale side of the business. I sold fine china, flatware, crystal, and those types of odds and ends. And I loved it – it was such a great company to work for. I really couldn’t have asked for a better learning experience in terms of how to be a luxury brand.
So, that was in 2008, and I pretty much started reaching out to anybody and everybody. One of them was Sackett Wood (president of Moore and Giles), thinking that he might connect me to somebody in the furniture world because I had been working in home décor. I thought that that was sort of a natural place for me to go.
JW: Did you already know Sackett from your hometown?
ES: Actually, yes I did. Little known fact: Sackett and I are related. But it’s not the type of family relationship where I knew exactly what he did or what the company did, to be honest. I just knew that he worked with furniture companies and thought that might be an in for me.
JW: At that time were they in finished goods already?
ES: Yes, barely. They started in July of 2007, and I came in at the beginning of 2009, so I essentially consider myself as having been here from the beginning. After I emailed him, he called and said, “Hey, I would really love for you to come in and look at this bag line that we're doing.” It wasn’t really what I saw myself doing. With Hermés, I didn’t enjoy being in the high fashion world. It was a little too cutthroat. I visualized it being more fashion or trend driven than it actually was (and still is). I liked home decor because it was so easygoing compared to all of that.
So, I came and I chatted with the Moore and Giles team and my eyes opened to the work that they were doing here. It sort of knocks your socks off; it's just so much more than one might think. The rest is kind of history: I joined in March of 2009 I've been here ever since, and I'm so happy. It was a great transition for me, even though I was a little bit reluctant in the beginning.
JW: Seeing the traditional arts find a space online—on social media—and, more importantly, finding viable business models and consumers that are championing independents and craftsmen is so interesting to me in so many ways. Have you guys, as an independent, felt that you're benefiting from that rising tide as well?
ES: That’s a little tough because we are in some ways this startup and still operate like that. But because we have the larger company behind us we don't always feel that way. I think that a lot of the time people see us as a bit more established; we've been around since 1933, so we sometimes get overlooked in that area.
JW: Right, so there are pros and cons because you have the infrastructure and the resources above and beyond what a newbie would have, but, having only been in this specific space since 2008, you kind of lose the PR benefit of that spin. I imagine if you had to pick, though, the former is more important than the latter.
ES: Yes. We are very focused on quality and longevity and really giving people access to the very best leather that we can. Due to the way that the industry has gone in the U.S., even just in terms of access to machinery, we have not found the quality we’re after in a small workshop. We wish that that weren't true, and in fact, we're always looking for people who are able to work locally, but at our level, it seems like there's been a little friction between those two things. But we're not giving up. We're constantly keeping our eyes and ears open and trying to discover new people.
JW: What does your design team look like?
ES: We have a single designer, Thomas. Tray, our vice president, is very creative and often very involved in product feedback. And Sackett, our president, as well. They'll come to us with new ideas or they'll say, “I was traveling and I saw this,” or, “I was traveling and this didn't work for me.” I think the greatest part about what we do is just that we have all these people to road test for us, literally.
JW: A lot of times I have ideas that will keep me up at night that I want to pursue where the idea has merit, the market is viable, and the consumer is waiting. But it takes you just ever so slightly—or immensely—away from your core brand DNA and direction or product line. Do you guys ever find yourselves in that position?
ES: Yes! All the time. How do we challenge our customer and still be successful? I don't know the answer. I think we have a culture at Moore & Giles where you can try and fail, and it’s okay to make mistakes; even though we never want to make mistakes, it's part of it. Gosh, we have so many ideas and it's really about finding the right time, the right product, and marrying the perfect marketing and merchandising to it. There are so many things that apply.
JW: I imagine that could've been an impetus for you to get into collaborations, like the Richard Haines stuff, where it allows you to kind of defer some of that responsibility and see how well it goes over and meshes or doesn't. Is that part of it?
ES: I think so. We talk a lot about collaboration internally. It allows us to sort of flex our creative muscles. One of the things we always look to do is to see leather differently. Leather just opens up a lot of new doors and is something that we've continued to explore in new ways; it takes some of these projects to be able to open up other possibilities. Richard Haines is very well known in a certain segment, but for our core customer, I don't think that most knew who he was. It’s our responsibility to educate and make the statement and have them really want it.
JW: What do you look to see out of young designers?
ES: If we were looking for a new designer, or to bring a second person on, I would look for a mix of creativity but also really hard work. Being able to hang on in situations you’re thrown into, and to have a point of view, is important and will serve these young designers well, wherever they go. You have to have a little mix of everything.