PARIS — Can you create a business out of a single — and very familiar — clothing item?
Parisian label Nour Hammour, known for its customizable leather jackets, has been doing just that ever since its launch in 2013.
What started as a small project, with cofounders Erin Conry Webb and Nour Hammour customizing leather pieces for friends, has evolved into a thriving business with an impressive fan base — Kaia Gerber, the Hadid sisters and Hailey Bieber included.
Their focused approach was also one of the reasons the label could keep evolving and growing, despite the multitude of hurdles imposed by the pandemic and prolonged lockdowns.
“During COVID-19, we saw our sales literally take off. We watched in amazement, as we were [selling] 10 times as much as our pre-COVID-19 sales goal. I think women wanted to invest in their wardrobe with a beautiful heirloom piece — customized to their perfect fit — and leather is one of the only materials that actually gets better with time,” said Conry Webb, adding that the label was able to keep production going throughout 2020 by overnighting all its patterns to its workshop in Turkey just as rumors about the first lockdown hit France.
“We managed to shift our distribution ratio from 80 percent wholesale and 20 percent direct-to-consumer to 80 percent direct-to-consumer and 20 percent wholesale,” Conry Webb noted.
Post-pandemic, the idea is to shift their focus entirely to the label’s burgeoning d-to-c business, with a new website in the works and a return to trunk shows and pop-up shops that allow for more intimacy between designers and customers.
The duo is already back on the event trail, with a pop-up hosted in L.A. — where retail is open and life has resumed — at the end of March.
That city’s “It” girls have always had a soft spot for the label, even if Hammour and Conry Webb always made a point not to invest in paid celebrity or influencer marketing.
“I think what is important is when a celebrity wears a brand because they love it and want to wear it. We launched at a time when this new generation of models took over the runways. The leather jacket has always been considered a ‘model off-duty’ uniform and that’s why we became popular during Paris Fashion Week. Now, a few years later, any time Kaia, Kendall or Gigi wear a piece — we see women wanting to wear the same jacket and stores wanting to stock it,” said Conry Webb.
“But we’ve also been working a lot with CEOs and female doctors. We really have loved seeing the increase in demand from these women, over the last year.”
The fact that everyone is always searching for the perfect leather jacket is one part of the label’s success formula.
“Leather jackets have long been a staple, but up until a certain point you’d only see either these stiff, rigid, hard motorcycle jackets that were really hard to wear and make it impossible to move comfortably, or the super short, super stretched little jacket — we saw a niche for us, in creating these statement-looking pieces that were also really wearable, and soft and that you’d want to keep on the whole day,” said the duo, who make a point to offer expert fit and the softest leather in the market in order to stand out.
At a time when fashion’s environmental impact is under more and more scrutiny, labels like Nour Hammour are also gaining relevance because of their no-waste, sustainable approaches.
The label only uses leather that is a byproduct of the meat industry and spearheads a zero-waste initiative dubbed Recut that involves the repurposing of discarded leather from production into new collections or smaller leather goods.
“This means we are creating the smallest environmental impact and the best working conditions for our artisans,” said the designers, who took a step back from big department store partnerships long before the pandemic hit and the wholesale model became an industry-wide issue. “We felt ourselves swept up in the demand of the large orders, designing more collections. And we also started to feel farther away from our clients.”
They also make a point to work with leather masters in small workshops in Paris and Turkey, who can create pieces on a made-to-measure basis, instead of demanding large orders. This means the brand holds no inventory of leather jackets or accessories: An item only goes into production once an order arrives via the site and workshops can generally produce within three to five days.
With sales increasing and a strong production system in place, the designers are gaining confidence, experimenting more with their image, and broadening their range to include more shearling outerwear as well as knitwear.
Speaking from the brand’s atelier-cum-showroom in Paris, the designers said that after endless work amid lockdown, they are now ready to present a fall 2021 they are proud of: “This time we are going to present a new image, more feminine and sexy,” said Conry Webb.
“Sexy” is something the duo has usually been shying away from, fearing the association sexiness with leather was overused. But now that they’ve established their image with a mostly genderless, androgynous look, they are confident enough to try new things.
The new collection, which has been picked up by retailers Luisa Via Roma and Forward.com, also features cocoon jackets and cozy silhouettes in an array of earth tones, neutrals and the occasional pop of color: “Right now people want to feel hugged, comforted, as if they’re wearing a safety blanket — but still with an edgy touch. Just like this leather trench coat embellished with Swarovski crystals,” said Hammour. Another standout was an olive shearling coat that felt light as a feather.
While the brand remains mainly focused on the women’s outerwear category, the duo doesn’t rule out expanding further. They successfully launched knitwear last year and have seen increased demand for custom bridal pieces, as well as men’s wear. “We don’t have a rule book — outerwear is what we love to design, but sometimes we want to have some fun with super embellished party dresses. When we started in 2013, there were two to three leather jackets that were worn by all the “It”girls in Paris — so we were really driven by finding a uniqueness. We wanted to create a niche brand of leather jackets for women that makes them stand out from the crowd.”