We caught up with Aisha Hillary-Morgan the founder and creative director of Hills & West the Australian luxury accessory brand.
L.N Aisha, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A.H Sure, I will start with the fact that I am a Dutch-Australian girl who loves creating, collaborating, travelling and food.
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Before I became my own boss I spent 15 years in the corporate world, primarily in the branding, communications and digital space. In 2014, at 30 something, I decided to take a leap of faith and spent 6 months travelling around the world to rediscover my passions and start the next chapter of my life.
Today, I am the founder, designer and storyteller of two boutique businesses:
1. Hills & West, where I create Australian handmade luxury lifestyle accessories. With a timeless, minimal aesthetic that is cleverly designed for the stylish and practical man or woman on the go.
2. Digital & Agile, working with inspiring businesses that want to make a difference through technology, improving the way we live and work.
My work has taken me to Italy for new crafting techniques and inspiration, Singapore, Malaysia and Tokyo for setting up tech businesses. Countries like Ireland, Holland and the UK (I lived in London for 7 years) are part of my annual repertoire, to visit family, friends and a new place every year to keep me inspired.
L.N Can you share your journey launching Hills & West with us?
A.H Would love to share, as it has been a pretty interesting journey…
I became tired of the humdrum nature of corporate life, travelling for work and only seeing boardrooms and hotels. I was at a stage where I wanted to reconnect with my loves and find my purpose. When I decided to leave my pretty fantastic career behind, in pursuit of finding what I was really passionate about, I decided to dedicated the six months and go on an ‘eat, pray, love’ style journey of meditation, travelling and finding my next chapter’s why.
From the beginning my mission was simple… create something exceptional and different, while always doing what I love and to make people happy along the way.
I knew it was time to pursue a long ambition to create a lifestyle brand and this would start with high-quality leather companions for the modern man and woman. I had said many a time whilst travelling in my corporate days, there was a gap in the market. I realised there weren’t enough luxury everyday accessories which are versatile, durable, timeless and stylish. And did not cost an arm and a leg. I wanted to have a bag I could take from a plane to meetings, my desk, to dinner, drinks and more!
This desire lead me to the crafters of Italy, where learnt the appreciation for the art of leather and handbag making. 6 months later I launched my brand with a small capsule collection containing 5 pieces, “The Morgan Collection” as an ode to my husband’s namesake as he has been incredibly supportive of my journey. Today we have 5 collections, 22 styles and 37 pieces, including a traveller collection. I absolutely love what I do and am so grateful I took that leap of faith.
L.N What makes you different compared to other bag designers?
A.H I wanted to create high quality, luxury, everyday accessories, locally in Australia. I didn’t see the benefit in adding the huge retail mark-ups and making them inaccessible. So I started a pure online business. I wanted to share my products direct with like-minded customers with a love for artisan techniques and locally made.
My pieces are different because they are handmade with the same care and consideration as premium high-end brands. All of my pieces have been created out of understanding my customers’ needs and their feedback, researching what it is they want and developing multiple iterations so that they may have a piece that isn’t just an accessory, but an investment.
Hills & West cares about the environment and ensures there is minimal waste throughout the manufacturing process. And we support local business, as all of our pieces are handmade in Australia. We believe that one exceptional piece is of higher value than 100 that are factory made, and also focus on limited collections and bespoke made pieces.
L.N What attracted you to leatherwork?
A.H I am a big believer in timeless pieces that are tran-seasonal, high quality and will last generations. I also believe in sustainable production and animal rights, I have been a vegetarian since I was 16 years, so I strive for ethically sourced leather and I design my pieces for long-life companions to try and counteract fast-fashion. Leather has a beautiful quality as it becomes even more beautiful with age. Leather tells a story with the markings, blemished and how it wears over time. I also make sure I upcycle so nothing is wasted and make smaller pieces out of the leftover leather.
L.N What kind of person has a Hills & West bag or wallet?
A.H In the beginning, Hills & West was targeted to people who had the same busy corporate life like me. Today, we have been fortunate enough to expand our range to the busy man and woman from all walks of life, whether they’re a student, mother, business person, athlete, wanderluster and so on… The type of person who will be carrying a Hills & West accessory is one who appreciates smart, considered, minimal design, versatility, quality and the story behind the brand. They are confident yet understated, thoughtful and determined and want to strive for a better tomorrow.
L.N How has your interest in travelling inspired your collections?
A.H I have travelled my whole life, as a daughter of an international book publisher, and with visiting all our family living in Holland. It’s part of my DNA. I also have adoptive brother and sisters, from India and Thailand, where we have visited and absorbed ourselves in their cultures.
When I was 22 I packed my bags, booked a one-way ticket, and travelled throughout Europe and parts of Asia. After a year of living in various places, I landed in London where I spent 7 years visiting new destinations on weekends. I just love travelling and experiencing new cultures, food, landscapes and meeting new people. I have also always been lucky to find roles where I have been able to travel for work.
Of course, this was where Hills & West bags and accessories idea came from when I experienced first-hand the need for a reliable carryall and you can definitely see the inspiration in my Morgan and Traveller Collections. I couldn’t seem to find something that married a good, durable design with a reasonable price tag. That is the impetus for what inspired my collections.
I also did a residency in Florence two years ago and that is what inspired my upcoming men’s essentials collection. Watch this space as it will have some wonderful companions for travelling.
Travelling has always inspired me in all aspects of my life, as I am a big believer that a deeper knowledge in culture and context from places outside of my own enhances my designs, makes me a broader thinker and hopefully helps me create more unique and valuable pieces.
L.N Which one of your bags is the perfect travel companion?
A.H There’s a few… My top pics would be
3. The Everyday Shopper – perfect for carrying the heavy load, stylishly
4. The Lenny Chevron Belt Bag – everyone needs a hands-free on holiday
L.N What’s your number one packing tip?
A.H Make like Marie Kondo and roll, roll, roll…
For more information visit https://www.hillsandwest.com