"Each individual has the power to determine their destiny, and look fresh while doing it." That's the ethos behind Hemincuff, a handmade, eye-catching unisex accessories brand launched in New York in 2018. We talked to Hemincuff's charismatic founder Noel Veloz.
What led you to start Hemincuff?
My father Efrain Veloz had a passion for meticulously-crafted leather goods and handbags. At the age of 28, Efrain (pictured bellow) migrated from the Dominican Republic to the lower east side of Manhattan to pursue his dream to be a leather craftsmen. Unfortunately, not everyone is fair and honest. That is the dark side of the American Dream. He lost everything and took a job cleaning floors. Efrain Veloz now may realize his dream through my designs.
When I found out at a young age that my dad gave up on his dream to create bags for brands, it made me want to fulfill his dream but create my own brand to empower people to live their dream.
How did you choose the name?
The advice of my father is echoed in the brand’s own name: “Noel, you can see the best quality between the hem in the cuff.” Hemincuff promises you luxururious sustainable goods. We deliver integrity and style. My father wouldn't have it any other way.
How would you describe your products, and what makes them different?
Our vegan bags are minimal, timeless and always includes a pop of colour in them. We also keep our logo discreet by only featuring it inside the bag or in the back. I am a very private person and my style is minimal, so that’s what my products reflect. That forces people to engage with my customers and ask them “Where is your bag from"? It will make people randomly come up to you.
Unlike other luxury houses, where you can spot their bags from a mile away through their monogram pattern.
What stereotypes exist in your industry – and how are you breaking them?
People tell me that to make it in fashion is very hard, and it's impossible to break into the market. Hemincuff is creating its own lane because we create luxury vegan products that are sustainable, but we're not competing with the prices of other luxury brands. We aren’t chasing fame or any awards. We want to solve a problem in the industry and offer beautiful high quality sustainable products that an 18 year old kid can save up for and obtain. He can’t afford a $1500 duffle bag from a luxury bag, and ends up settling for a regular duffle bag. We want to fill this gap in the market. That’s why I call myself a visionary, because I see the future.
Can you tell us more about where, how and by who your products are made?
I have a manufactuering partner who handles my sample-making and production. He has factories in Italy and artisans in the United States who can do low minimums for me. Our goods are made in the United States and we source our materials from overseas from the best sustainable suppliers. We make sure our products are quality tested, so that we give our clients the best products, while having a personal connection with them.
I spent years studying brand psychology, and we need to start creating more personable connections with our customers to show them we care and value them. Many brands just treat customers like a transaction. I would spend hours secret shopping from stores and learning what I could do that's different. I've been doing this for the past 10 years.
Do you think movements like Fashion Revolution create enough pressure on big brands to change how they work – and what more should be done?
We need to save our planet and go sustainable. It gives me peace of mind knowing that no animal was harmed in order to make my products. If no luxury brands lead this movement, Hemincuff will. It’s up to the world to support me. I’m just a little seed in the process. I’m very thankful every day for all the support I’ve been getting, and without my mentors and clients or people that have taken a chance on me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
What’s your favourite product from your collection and why?
I love all my products but I have two favorites:
1. I love my Origami vegan crossbody bag because it’s completely handmade by an artisan from start to finish. The bag is stitch-free and made out of recycled vegan leather, which was mixed with rubber to give it structure. It’s the perfect everyday bag to travel in and keep a passport, wallet, card holder, keys and phone in. The straps can be changed to different colours, so you have the option to give the bag different looks.
2. I love my Paris vegan duffle bag. I dreamed of this design for years, and to see it come to life has been a dream come true. I have a strong connection to Paris, and my dream is to visit soon. This is the perfect size bag to travel in, since it fits all your clothes for a weekly trip comfortably, and fits in the overhead compartment. No need to check in a bag, and you will be on the go. No vegan duffle bag in the market exists with such a beautiful design that’s under $1000. This is the gap Hemincuff is going to fill.
How has the brand and industry evolved since you started?
I feel like the whole market is shifting to streetwear ,and the main clients are between 14-30 . It was important for me to make sustainable products at a price point that this clientele is used to spending, but to also add a scarcity factor to my products. I want to give this market a luxury exclusive product, but at a streetwear price point. I want to make Hemincuff an elite club.
What changes have you had to make since you started – and which ones were the hardest?
When I first started I went through a lot of manufacturing problems and lost a lot of money. I’ve had people tell me to quit and that I will never make it. I’m thankful that with my roll of decks and faith I got introduced to a good partner who handles that past headache of manufacturing and warehousing for me, and now it’s been a smooth process. You've gotta work with people who are good at what you aren’t good at. In order to win you need a team. It took me 10 years to get my infrastructure together.
Biggest highs and lows?
To be honest I've learned to never let high or low moments get to me. The biggest high for me is getting orders from clients oversees that I have never met, and they genuinely love my brand. That gives me hope daily.
A low for me is seeing major stores not supporting sustainable brands as much, and still putting these luxury brands on top that aren’t really pushing sustainability to make the world a better place. I've been overlooked many times, but I keep pushing daily to lead the sustainable market. I’ve learned to let my designs speak for me and let success make the noise. I’ll keep working on myself to be the best I can be and move in silence. I’ve learned in business that strangers will support you more than family and friends, so appreciate who takes the time out to show some support.
What drives you, and where do you get your inspiration from?
I get my inspiration from my father. He came from the Dominican Republic at 28 years old with no education, and only good tailoring and bag-crafting skills. After losing his leather business asto a result of shady partners, he picked up two jobs cleaning floors in New York, and tailored in the morning to feed his family. I’m inspired by his hustle and motivation to find a way to keep my family fed. This led me to get my first job at 14 years old collecting cans.
What other pioneering brands do you admire and why?
I admire Moynat and Fauré La Page. These brands stick to only making accessories and not expanding to clothing, shoes etc. They stick to what they are good at. I love that they don’t do celebrity endorsements, no advertisements and build their brands via word of mouth. True luxury is kept a secret and is not for everyone. If people respect your brand they will pay. You don’t see celebrities asking Rolex for a free watch. They pay full price. People love what they can’t have.
The next big thing in your industry is ...
Luxury sustainable accessories, and more interactive client experiences
If you were doing something other than this, what would it be?
I would be in real estate or a stock trader. I’m fascinated by the financial markets and how to make money work for me. Wearing a tailored suit, Prada shoes, a Rolex and Creed cologne would be my business uniform lol! I dress the way I feel, and in order to obtain success you have to dress and vision yourself as successful.
What’s next for Hemincuff?
For Hemincuff our next goal is to obtain exclusive retail partners and limited distribution. This will take our brand to the next level. Our goal is to lead the sustainable market. We feel that there is a big gap in the market to find contemporary-priced items that are not mass produced, with minimal design and a luxury feel. We want to give our customers a private luxury experience, but at streetwear prices that a kid from high school can afford and even resell.
You can browse the Hemincuff collection here.
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