Hammitt Chief Cheerleader Tony Drockton arrived at his team’s beachside office one day last December with a muddy mission in mind.
If Chief Cheerleader feels like an ambiguous leadership title, Drockton’s announcement for his team puts his role at Hammitt, one of the country’s fastest growing handbag brands, into clear focus. After nearly a decade as the leather handbag company’s CEO, Tony spent 2017 working to recruit a leadership team with deep roots in the challenging world of fashion. Now, Drockton regularly leads his company and retail partners in team-building exercises, challenging them to welcome discomfort and think outside of the box. Drockton’s philosophies take “company culture” beyond a line item or recruiting tactic: Here, these experiences take a front seat on the road to success.
His latest proposition? A group entry into the now world-famous Spartan Race.
Held at a variety of sprawling courses across the country, Spartan Races challenge everyone from hobbyists to professional-level competitors at intense strings of obstacles, connected by pools of mud. At times, course runners completely submerge themselves between rope climbs and inverted walls - a fitting mirror of the journey Drockton and his team have taken.
Many of Hammitt’s first obstacles came soon after Drockton took the reigns of the company from early designer Stephenie Hammitt. In addition to challenging financial times in 2008, which left Drockton temporarily couch-surfing, Hammitt’s early team grappled with prioritizing good craftsmanship - and the long-term implications of investing in quality materials.
“As interest in Hammitt rose, we had to find a way to balance higher production rates with quality that would last. When retailers and customers came back to me with feedback that initial designs didn’t hold up, I recognized the opportunity to build long term partnerships by promising we would back every bag we sold, forever.” This meant in-depth research on the world’s best artisans and materials. “We replaced all of the faulty hardware for those early customers and made a commitment to blow everyone away with hardware that lasted. If anything doesn’t hold up, we replace it. Plus, we pick leather that gets softer with age.”
In fact, testing (and hopefully showcasing) Hammitt’s signature quality was part of Tony’s motivation for recruiting a team to race. “We really didn’t know how this would turn out, but we wanted to see how our bags would rebound from 3 miles of mud, with nothing but simple leather conditioner.” The hope, Tony explained, was that these investment pieces would far surpass expectations of resilience that customers and investors expected. (After all, most people won’t be toting their leather handbag through mud - but this puts everything else in perspective.)
The results? Nothing short of stellar. Drockton and Hammitt Creative Director Devon Craychee cleaned one bag on site, drawing a small crowd of impressed - and intrigued - onlookers. “This reminds me of our early trade show days,” chuckled Drockton. Before they hired a permanent sales team, Drockton and Craychee appeared themselves at industry trade shows, earning a reputation for memorable - and admittedly wacky - gimmicks.
This mud bath, however, was no gimmick: After a few minutes of cleaning each, every bag emerged from the race in near immaculate condition. Not quite ‘like new,’ but perhaps better: Buttery, supple and with a story to tell. Drockton pointed out that without this type of resilience, Hammitt itself might not be here today.
“This race felt like the ultimate way to kick off a second decade. It’s a very muddy metaphor for what it takes to build a business in fashion: A tight team, high quality product and sheer determination, no matter the obstacle.”
Watch team Hammitt’s Spartan Race vlog here.