Emily Harrison and Jennie Engelhardt of Hare + Hart are proving that leather is so much more than just a by-product of Argentina’s beef industry.

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Leather defies time, figuratively and literally speaking. From the Native Americans, who relied on all by-products of the animals they caught, including leather, to wanna-be T-birds and rock stars being all cool while donning leather moto jackets, this natural material stands the test of time with its durability, quality and classiness. Speaking of which, welcome Hare + Hart, two classy girls we consider to be some of today’s top leather geniuses. — MEGHAN FARNSWORTH

SHK: WE’VE HEARD THAT YOU GET YOUR LEATHER FROM ARGENTINA…

JENNIE ENGELHARDT: Yeah! My business partner, Emily Harrison, lives there. She handles that whole end, and she’s great at it.

WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH HER? HOW DID HARE + HART TRANSPIRE?

We’ve actually been friends since freshman year of college. We actually don’t know how we met. All I remember is just being friends with her. We lived on opposite ends of campus but would see each other at parties and always talk.

WHEN WAS THAT MOMENT WHEN BOTH OF YOU DECIDED TO ESTABLISH HARE + HART?

We talked about it for a while even after we graduated from college. I studied abroad in Argentina during college, and Emily also moved down there to work in the wine industry. At that time, I was working for Stuart Weitzman. We always had this hopeful “someday, we’ll do this” dream. We even mapped out different business plan ideas and other things like that.

During July 2009, I was visiting Emily in Argentina, which is winter there. However, when I visited then, Argentina’s winter was the epitome of the season, which almost never happens in Argentina. It was snowing and all of that, so we ducked into this really cute, dark-paneled cafe and drank Irish Coffees. It wasn’t until then that we decided, “Okay, let’s do this. We don’t have kids or mortgages. If we’re going to take a risk like that, now is a good time.” That’s how Hare + Hart came to be.

 

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WHY THE NAME HARE + HART?

Emily’s last name is Harrison, and my last name is Engelhardt, so it’s Harrison + Engelhardt, or for short, “Hare + Hart.”

THAT’S REALLY CUTE.

Oh thanks! The name also stands for “hare” as a rabbit and and “hart” as a deer. Apparently, there are pubs in London called Hart + Hare, which I didn’t even know about. Someone had to tell me that!

[LAUGHS] WHAT A COINCIDENCE?! SO THEN, HAS ANYONE BE UPSET OVER THE NAME?

No one has really mentioned anything about it. We actually have a Tumblr called the Rabbit + the Deer, so we kind of play off of the idea of pubs in London being called the similar thing.

hare + hart-leather-zero-waste-jewelry-green-shk-emily-harrison-jennie-engelhardt-argentinaTELL US MORE ABOUT ZERO WASTE JEWELRY.

I consider myself a hoarder, so I have all of these old half-finished leather samples, swatches and various scraps we don’t using anymore. I knew I had to get rid of this stuff somehow because it’s good leather! With this in mind, I started making bracelets out of it, so all of my scraps are being used.

ASIDE FROM THESE SCRAPS OF LEATHER, WHAT ARE THE BRACELETS MADE FROM?

They’re brass bangles with leather set into them. I actually make most of them myself. I hand-paint pieces of our left-over leather scraps and then cut them so that they can more easily fit into the bracelets.

TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR CAREFUL APPROACH IN MAKING YOUR HANDBAGS AND JEWELRY. WE’VE HEARD THAT YOU LIKE TO UTILIZE ALL PARTS OF THE ANIMAL AND NOT JUST WHAT IS USED TO CREATE YOUR LEATHER GOODS.

Emily and I grew up in similar environments. She is from California, and I’m from Minnesota, so we both understand the importance of applying organics into our everyday lives. While I was growing up in Minnesota, I was also going to the farmer’s market before that was a “cool” thing. Since we were living in states that heavily rely on farmers, we really wanted to apply the idea of using all parts and doing things locally when we could.

Argentina has such a large beef industry. Emily and I once looked up how much beef Argentinians eat, and the average Argentinian eats 55 Kg of beef every year. That’s a ton of beef! And they really eat all parts of the cow — from the blood sausage, the intestines and to the cow’s balls. Really, the leather is a by-product of their diet, which is a huge industry in their country. So we’re able to use this quality leather and employ vegetable tanneries in order to treat the leather.

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ASIDE FROM ASSOCIATIONS WITH COWBOYS AND INDIANS, WHAT EXACTLY IS TANNING?

Tanning is the process that you use to stop the hide from decomposing. Most leather is treated with chrome, which is really harmful to the environment. However, at Hare + Hart, we use vegetable tannins, which is much more healthy alternative.

AND BECAUSE OF THIS HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVE, DOES THAT MEAN THE LEATHER LASTS LONGER?

Yeah! The type of leather we use is different than what most companies sell. Our leather is thicker, and since it’s treated with vegetable tannins, the finish comes out differently than with typical chrome tannins. What chrome does is make the leather stronger, but because our leather is thicker, we are able to compensate for the difference in strength that vegetable tannins propose.

Aside from being better for the environment, vegetable tannins actually cause the leather to gain more depth and character over time. You know vegetable-tanned leather by first sight because you can notice the depth of the hide. It’s like a horse saddle — the more you use it, the more the color of the leather deepens, and you get these beautiful variations of tone. The leather almost patinas with age, which is something that Emily and I really like.

We also use these natural cow hides, which are all different from each other because we don’t dye it. Our bags are leather in its most natural state: they’ve been tanned, and that’s it.

Being as ecologically friendly as possible is important to us, but we understand that this is leather. We are not out to sell ourselves as “100% Organic.” Hare + Hart is about doing what we can within the leather industry in order to make a difference.

HOW LONG HAS IT TAKEN YOU AND EMILY TO GET WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?

We’ve been doing this for about three years.

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AT WHAT MOMENT DID HARE + HART REALLY START TO TAKE OFF?

I feel like we don’t have a “one moment.” It’s just that, every now and then, you get these little things, like January Jones being photographed in a bunch of our bags and seeing Hare + Hart in magazines. Last March, I met the fiance of one of my boyfriend’s friends, who, after asking me what I did for a living, said that she had a Hare + Hart bag. When I heard that, I knew that this was a “whoa!” moment. I think I even turned deep-red after hearing she had one of our bags. [Laughs] But it’s those types of things that really make us realize how far we’ve come since the beginning.

ARE THERE ANY PLANS OF EXPANDING THE LINE TO INCLUDE CLOTHING AS WELL?

We would love to, but I think we really have to nail what we’re doing now first. At the moment, we don’t have the infrastructure or the resources people-wise in order to do more than what we’re doing right now. I think we would expand into housewares before clothing.

WHAT IS IN-STORE FOR HARE + HART?

We want to do more with what we have now, like creating more styles and housewares. Now, we’re doing this bone jewelry, which is an expansion of our original idea of using all parts of the cow. After all, we think cow bone is beautiful, and we’re trying to find ways to incorporate that into our line as well. In the end, we want to expand on our original concept of using what we have in its entirety without producing waste.

On Monday, November 25, we’re also launching a whole new website we’re excited about. We worked with this photographer, David Brandon Geeting, on developing images for the site, and he’s so talented. He’s also a really great guy, so the whole process was just really great. David captured exactly what Emily and I are like as people. [Laughs] Neither Emily or I are very sexy people. In other words, we’re not in the latest Alexander Wang and other things like that, so we wanted our brand to truly be a reflection of us. I feel like a lot of photographers want to take more of a “sexy angle.” While we want to do many things as ecologically friendly as possible, we didn’t want too much of an earthy, Hippie aesthetic, so we wanted to take more of an angle that is humorous and interesting. David was just great for capturing what we wanted. A little side note: I was reading a profile of David, and I saw that he was born in 1989. [Laughs] He’s young and talented, and I’m so much older than he is!

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WHEN DID YOU BEGIN THE BONE JEWELRY?

We just started that for Spring 2013.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE SHOULD BE…

SEEN: The Magritte Exhibit at the MoMA. Since Emily and I both went to Carleton College, we attended a special alumni event, which was being held at the MoMA. A woman who graduated a year before us is now a curator at the MoMA, so she gave all the Carleton alums present at the event a special after-hours tour. It was amazing because you think you know Magritte. But for someone to take you through his development as an artist and show you that the Magritte we know today didn’t start out that way is really rewarding. Being able to see someone grow and find who they really are stylistically is something that not a lot of art exhibitions show you.

HEARD: This American Life on NPR. Emily and I are huge fans of the show. I think the stories are very relevant because they just show a very human side to the world. For instance, they will take something you wouldn’t normally find interesting and show you the human aspect of it. Illustrating this makes you think of different ways of life and all the other things going on in the world and be able to connect with it somehow. I think being able to empathize with the world’s various cultures and ways of life is crucial.

KNOWN: I think people should be more aware of the educational system and how far the U.S. has fallen behind in comparison to other countries. Even though, yes, Americans think that education should be for everyone, but recently, education is not really a hot issue. After all, education is the foundation for each and every person because it develops how we grow as a society. I’m obsessed with the show, the Wire, which I think in its fourth season really showed how social problems and political problems all begin in people as children. Having someone really pay attention to you as a kid can have a huge direct impact on your life and the goals you envision for yourself.

Learn why Ira Glass is what he is in This American Life via News4News.

[featured image from lookbook photographed by David Brandon]

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