Spotlight on: Aisha Hillary from accessories label Hills & West
HI AISHA! TELL US ABOUT HILLS & WEST…
I will start with a little about me, as this influences Hills & West, my lifestyle accessory label and Digital & Agile, my strategy consultancy. I really enjoy creating and doing things a little differently. I love working with inspirational people to make beautiful things, to help their businesses grow and have some part in making their dreams come to life.
In October 2014, I left a pretty great global communications role to go out on my own. I didn’t know exactly what that looked like but I knew it was going to be a combination of all the things I loved. Within the year Hills & West was born. Not just another luxury accessory brand, I wanted to build a brand with a timeless aesthetic, handmade with integrity, using old-school techniques here in Australia. Each year I always try and learn a new skill (I have learnt to DJ, Dragon Boat race, illustrate, attempted French and meditate) to do something different, that year I did a course at Ars Sutoria in Milan on handbag making and just loved it. I returned home to resign from my job and source local makers and suppliers to design my first collection of high-quality lifestyle-accessories and work companions for the modern man and woman.
Whilst I was building Hills & West, people kept coming to me asking for help with their own brands so I set up Digital and Agile. D&A is all about working with businesses with purpose, wanting to do things differently, and helping them get digital in an agile and efficient way. I thought, why not share some of my learnings, failings and ‘aha’ moments, of my own journey. And there are many 🙂
I am really lucky as I have the best of both worlds and I love what I do. As the Dalai Lama says, “If we are lucky enough to be living a good life then we should recognise that gift and do something for those people who have less.” So, I try and give back too through fundraising and also give 10% of Hills & West’s profits to help children around the world gain an education and get that little bit closer to their dreams. That is what life is all about.
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE HILLS & WEST AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START?
I have quite a colourful backstory. I started here in Sydney, working for marketing agencies in marketing and digital strategy, then lived in the UK where I was an in-house fashion consultant and worked in consumer retail marketing. I returned 7 years later to launch a chartered airline out of Brisbane, where I was involved in designing livery for planes, crew uniforms, and selecting interiors for aircraft in Brazil. I have always loved learning and discovering new ways of doing things, so did a Masters in Convergent Media on the side while I working at SBS developing content across different platforms and setting up their social media communities.
My last job, before Hills & West, I was a global comms director for a tech business. One day I woke up and thought it was time to do my own thing. I had no idea what that looked like, however after 10 days of Vipassana and travelling for 6 months through countries like India and Nepal, realizing how lucky we are and how life is too short, I started the journey of Hills & West. I wrote about my experiences and all that was inspiring me, I started to design my first collection and define the kind of business I wanted to be. I had helped other businesses grow my whole career so thought why not create a lifestyle accessory brand, where I can give back a little while working with inspiring people myself.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF LAUNCHING HILLS & WEST & GETTING IT TO THE POINT IT’S AT TODAY?
Cash flow. Everyone talks about the challenges of managing cash flow, and it’s so true. I’ve worked in businesses where I needed to be creative with my budgets and do a lot with less; however, creating Hills & West was doing a lot with nothing. I have big ambitions and a stream of new accessories and products I would love to create, however, not having the funds to do it as quickly as I would like is challenging. You have to be satisfied with making small steps forward however if I had my way I would be flying forward.
WHAT DID YOU EXPERIENCE IN THOSE CHALLENGING MOMENTS AND HOW DID YOU DEAL WITH THEM?
Everyone doubts themselves when things get a little tough – however I meditate and it helps in so many ways. When I’m in a creative rut, when I’m tired, when I need to clear my head and make a decision, it really helps me to refocus and pick up my spirits. Another thing I also have is fantastic mentors and people to bounce ideas and challenges from. Two is always better than one. Also, I constantly am grateful, although I work a lot more hours than I ever have, I absolutely love what I do.
WHY DID YOU JOIN FLAUNTER?
When I started Hills & West I spent the first few months taking people to coffee and asking for their tips. Flaunter was one of them. I was too small to have a PR agency on a retainer so Flaunter was a great way to get Hills & West out there, including an easy way to distribute my content and imagery.
WHAT WAS YOUR ‘AHA’ MOMENT? THE ONE WHERE YOU FIRST REALISED THE VALUE AND KNEW THAT YOU WOULD STICK WITH US?
When a friend sent me a picture of our Morgan 3 in 1 Backpack as part of an editor’s pic in Collective Hub. The backpack took off after that and I saw the real power of PR.
THAT’S AWESOME! CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY FLAUNTER EXPERIENCE?
I have just launched a new collection so I have uploaded my product and campaign shots and created some mood boards with different relevant themes around themes of Chevron Chic, minimalist and leather luxe. I can see that people have downloaded my products and followed my brand. It’s pretty exciting.
Hills & West is continuing to grow and flourish. Flaunter really helps you get your product in front of the right people in an easy to digest way. I also love it when bloggers and designers mood board my product for inspiration. There are just so many talented people and products out there.
BEST ADVICE FOR OTHER BRANDS JUST STARTING OUT?
Be bold, have big dreams and follow your gut. If you have enough passion and can push through when things are tough then you can make anything happen. Also, a bit of kindness always goes a long way. I am always willing to help anyone out and share some of my learnings. I have also started ‘Pay it Forward Fridays’ where I allocate two hours on Friday mornings where anyone can book in time for a chat if you have any questions. If I can help in anyway, then why not!
TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW COLLECTION!
Absolutely! I’d love to introduce you to Darcy, Parker and Baxter, from my new Chevron Collection. Inspired by architecture, influenced by Italian design and handmade here in Sydney, these three have been a while in the making. Last year I spent a couple of months in Florence designing and crafting the collection. I worked with some amazing artisans looking at ways to do things differently not compromising on quality or functionality. Over the last five months, I have been working with makers and perfected the first three pieces. All pieces are the ideal companion for the chic commuter with a minimalist aesthetic that delivers maximum impact for your wardrobe.
We have carefully engineered the voids, zips, slips, and pockets so you can fit a lot in what looks to be a relatively compact space. Timeless and trans-seasonal, made to take you from office desk to dinner table. The Darcy top handle tote is an elegant overnight or office bag that is sized to easily fit a laptop and extra wears. The Parker, the perfect weekend crossbody, features an adjustable strap that allow users to wear it on the shoulder or across the body. The Baxter clutch features a detachable wristlet, if the clutch sleek aesthetic is more to your taste. All designs were made to work well in every season with any outfit. The Darcy and Baxter are available now and the Parker can be pre-ordered to get your hands on one of the first ones as they are getting handmade as we speak. I hope you love them as much as we do.
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