Details ended up becoming the design icons for Hærfest. Design details such as double straps that allow the wearer to decide how they want to carry it. New, unexpected material combinations. Singular pieces. Raw edges that show transparency in materials. Antique brass finish hardware. Rings and studs that allow for free movement.
Haerfest (pronounced harvest), known for their clean aesthetic, have built a brand on transforming everyday bags and accessories into timeless pieces. And while they’re deeply rooted in minimalism, their products are anything but simple.
I first met the NYC-based trio (brothers Tim and Dan Joo and their business partner Gino Reyes) at their original studio in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Walking in, I knew very little about them. I tried doing research prior, but with an almost Daft Punk-like deftness, they’ve managed to work invisibly behind the scenes, focussing solely on building the perfect product.
Tim: To us, it’s more about this universal understanding of design in terms of form, function, balance, and proportion. Those principles, I feel like, move beyond language and culture. Those are things that anyone can relate to and connect with. I think that’s why we’ve never talked much about ourselves. When we start to reference culture and be very location-specific, it can be limiting to a certain audience.
Dan: Muji is a huge inspiration of ours and the idea of brandless branding. When you think of Muji, you probably don’t think of the person behind it.
Gino: It’s bigger than a name. It’s a brand that stands for something.
Coincidentally (or perhaps intentionally), they each wore a different grey button up shirt that varied in shade ever so slightly.
Upon first impression, they carry a quiet, unassuming presence. But, like their bags, spend some time with them and you’ll unlock a rich trove of sumptuous ideas, meticulous thought, and undeniable passion.
But Hærfest didn’t begin with bags. Instead, they started as a foggy vision. In 2010, Tim and Dan were living together in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They would often come home late after work and find themselves discussing their ambitions over a glass of whiskey.
Tim: We wanted to set up a company with the kind of [collaborative] environment where we could be passionate about what we do and work with talented people who we love. We didn’t know if we should provide a product or a service, but we thought, ‘You know, Harvest would be a great name because harvest is about putting a lot of love and care into the things you do and knowing that you reap what you sow.’
Gino: And that grows into something great.
Tim: The standard spelling felt a bit generic and it heavily referenced agriculture. We then found that there was an old english way of spelling it: Hærfest. I think that spelling makes the brand more substantial; it really captures a rewarding feeling and spirit which we pour into everything that we do and make. Hopefully, our products are rewarding to the people that buy Hærfest.
Prior to Hærfest, Tim’s background was in womenswear, production, and the business and marketing side of fashion, having done stints at Patrick Ervell, Opening Ceremony, and the creative shop Anomaly – where he met Gino. Conversely, Dan was an engineer and efficiency consultant at IBM.
Dan: I grew up being interested in how businesses start, asking questions like, ‘what were the pivotal points there?’ I was also curious about technology. Growing up in New York, we were constantly surrounded by inspiring stories about how certain types of businesses took off. I loved the idea that you could be in the city, walking next to entrepreneurs who were doing their thing and trying to make their own path. Tim has always had a passion for creating things for himself. Even when he had his full time job, he would set aside time to produce new shirts, pants, and jackets.
Tim: Awhile back, I had this generic Jansport, Eastpak-type backpack. It did the job, but one day I thought to myself, if I’m going to be carrying this thing around all the time, I want it to be made with nicer leather. I wanted it to be different and my own. So I added special details that I thought were interesting and also functional. I made a few samples when I was in Asia and brought it back with me.
Those details ended up becoming the design icons for Hærfest. Design details such as double straps that allow the wearer to decide how they want to carry it. New, unexpected material combinations. Singular pieces. Raw edges that show transparency in materials. Antique brass finish hardware. Rings and studs that allow for free movement. In pictures, it’s all very pretty. But examine a sample closely in person and there’s a satisfying weightiness to each product. You can feel the thought and care, and the result is a highly visceral experience.
Dan: When Tim returned [with the bag], we thought to ourselves, wow, this is something different, something that’s not usually seen.
Tim: We thought, maybe other people might be interested in these. Maybe this is the first product we make for this company we want to build.
Almost immediately, they received positive feedback from friends, strangers, and buyers alike. They decided to take a gamble: they sold their car and most of their personal belongings in order to move to Korea, where they spent months developing and producing products. When they returned to New York, they debuted Collection A at the Fall/Winter 2011 Capsule trade show. Two stockists picked them up that season, one of which was Opening Ceremony.
Tim: Opening Ceremony were really supportive. We were so surprised, because generally speaking, buyers like to wait a few seasons and see that the companies are here to stay before committing.
Two stockists turned into four the following season. Four turned into eight, twelve, sixteen, and so on. Hærfest is now sold globally, including in Paris, London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, and Toronto.
Early on in the business, they collaborated with Gino to bring his years of art direction, branding, and visual expertise to help develop Hærfest. He then joined the team as a partner.
Gino: I ended up doing much of the design – it began with the logo, which led to branding as well as some of the lookbooks, and then the website. After awhile, I thought man, I’m doing so much work with you guys, we should just all work together because I love the product, love the idea, and believe in it.
Since their inaugural season, Hærfest has continued to push their own boundaries of who they are as a brand by exploring new projects and products. They’ve introduced Alpha Experiment (Æ) Projects, which grants them the space to collaborate with other artists on new products, free from the constraints of time or season. They’ve also expanded their offerings to include trainers, shoe horns, wallets, duffle bags, totes, pouches, card sleeves, and bag hooks.
Tim: For us, it’s about taking things that are familiar or things that people take for granted, and injecting a renewal into them that makes you see it in a new light.
Gino: But we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.
Instead, they’re reinvigorating it.
Gino: We have the utmost respect for design – from the materials, to how it fits within our world.
Tim: A lot of our inspiration comes from artists and creators who value design, such as Brâncuși or Isamu Noguchi who somehow create works that bring out the essence of their materials.
Dan: Essence is a word we often use because it strips everything back and reveals the true nature.
Tim: Exactly. The poetry remains. Dieter Rams said ‘Good design is as little design as possible.’
When people drop names and references, it often escapes their mouths like a bowling ball. But any artist the guys mention rolls off their tongues without an ounce of pretense. With each new season (which systematically corresponds to the next letter of the alphabet; Collection E will be out soon), Hærfest looks to a number of artists who they share a creative sensibility with, to inspire the next collection. Then, they do their research.
Tim: I try to go deeper and look at who people are and what they stand for. And you find that a lot of these artists looked at form and balance and proportion, materials, light, texture space…all these things that became fundamental principles of design.
Gino: We always knew we had a deeper respect for those movements and those great artists. We just didn’t know how to apply it to what we do and distill that message into something beyond just looking at it in a book or an exhibit. And I think that’s where the magic happens for Tim. He recognises these patterns that are happening with these movements and can apply philosophies into a practical process.
Tim: I ask myself, ‘What are the common threads? Where are the connections and relationships? How can we create the next collection?‘ After that, it’s editing, editing, editing to its purest form to communicate those specific references.
This painstaking attention to detail and commitment to design principles is no lip service. Visit their Tumblr page — COLLECTED — and you’ll catch a glimpse of how they approach the world and their craft. It’s a visual journal littered with words and names like Donald Judd, Ad Reinhardt, Dan Flavin, Ellsworth Kelly, Margaret Howell, pattern, texture, and minimalism. Many people cite Apple. They cite its precursor: 1960s Braun. They live and breathe these schools of thought.
Dan: I remember when Tim posted a picture of a piece of sushi on Tumblr — when it was all still new to me. It was a really beautiful piece of tuna and I said [sarcastically], ‘Tim, I didn’t realise we’re about food now.’ But when I looked deeper and saw the hashtags, I began examining it from a texture and colour perspective.
Tim: The sushi image, to me, represented history, work ethic, and a quest for perfection that you can’t achieve but you still strive for anyway. In the end, we don’t want to be one dimensional or make bags that will only last a season. I want our customers to buy quality products that they’re going to have around for awhile.
Gino: I think our consumer is the person who appreciates deeper thinking and execution. Someone who appreciates the honesty in how we approach things.
Tim: Some people throw in all the bells and whistles, and add value in that sense. We subscribe to the cliché, ‘Less is more’.
Dan: I think Hærfest is for people who understand that you don’t have to shout to have good style.
We hear you perfectly.