Tassie lifestyle gives Henty time to grow
How Henty Designs has created a global luggage and carry brand from Tasmania.
It all began when Jeremy Grey couldn’t figure out how to commute to work on his bike and walk into the office in a presentable suit. Enter the first prototype of what would become Henty’s signature Wingman – a multi-purpose suit and garment bag.
It’s the beginnings of many successful business ventures. Experience a problem the market has no solution for and resolve it. For Jeremy, who grew up in Tasmania, the problem was transporting business clothing to his office, ready to wear on arrival. Working for a private tech start-up in Sydney, Jeremy created his own prototype that swiftly gained praise from others.
“It wasn’t until I moved back to Tasmania in 2011 that I had the time to fully commit to this new business,” explains Jeremy. “I joined forces with my childhood friend Jon Gourlay to start Henty, named for a region on Tassie’s west coast that fits well with our brand ethos.”
On arrival in Hobart, Jeremy provided professional services for Deloitte Australia before moving full time with Henty in 2014. The early days required Jon, an accountant by trade, to work the numbers and together the pair delved into the likes of product and brand development, customer needs, manufacturing options and distribution channels.
“Neither of us had a background in this area so we started from scratch,” explains Jeremy. “When our first shipping container of product arrived we realised this was real – we’d have to get cracking to move stock. It was a huge investment with no guarantees. In those early days I had boxes in my living room, hallway, shed, you name it.”
Early marketing efforts included Jeremy returning to Sydney where statistics indicated 2,000 commuters crossed the Sydney Harbour Bridge daily. He stood at the northern end before a staircase requiring riders to dismount, and shared Henty flyers with potential Wingman wearers. The mission would result in their first online sale – the first of a Wingman-wearing community that today is global.
Jeremy and Jon also purchased a stall at Salamanca Market, giving access to an audience of some 25,000-plus on strong market days. Despite growing an international brand, this face-to-face connection with the customer gave the Henty founders an opportunity to design with the wearer in mind.
“There’s nothing like it in the world,” says Jeremy. “To have Salamanca Market on our doorstep – it really accelerated our growth around Australia and across the world. It was instrumental particularly early on and the market revenue alone paid my wages. It’s also fantastic to be around the other stallholders and like-minded businesses – it’s a creative community that Henty enjoys being part of.”
Aside from the innovative carry solutions, ranging from Enduro hydration packs for mountain bikers to everyday business travellers, Jeremy and Jon paid particular attention to the quality of materials. Following extensive research, the founders came across a family-run factory in Vietnam that have made their bags since Henty’s inception. Prior to Covid-19, Jeremy would visit the factory once a year. Each Wingman is also fitted with recycled plastic ribs, Henty’s intellectual property, the plastic sourced from George Town Tasmania and sent to Vietnam for insertion into each bag.
“Gone are the days where we have boxes piled high,” smiles Jeremy. “With three young children there’s hardly room anyway. We have warehouses worldwide, based in North America, the UK and Australia. Having this hands-off approach, where product is shipped direct from warehouse to customer, has freed us up to focus on the business itself.”
Since his return to Tasmania, Jeremy has found greater work-life balance too. “Big cities are really ineffective towns for a start-up – there’s the commute times, difficultly accessing affordable storage solutions and high rents. Coming back to Tasmania was a lifestyle choice that I couldn’t be happier about. As an example, I got my hair cut in lower Sandy Bay, dropped some Wingmans to the Post Office, picked up some items from the hardware store, had time to grab a coffee and was home in an hour and 15 minutes. In Sydney, that would be my day gone.”
Today, Henty has retailers across Australia and have won a number of awards for innovation and design, including the Good Design Award from the Chicago Brand Competition. What’s next? The pair have been using Covid-19 downtime to expand their range, based on their ‘carry clever’ ethos. Having split the range into commuter (Wingman) and traveller (Co-Pilot), Henty are moving to a product base with broader appeal not just cyclists but those who travel for business, exercise daily at the gym or need a well-crafted backpack for walking.
“We’ve designed a new backpack that’s ready to go and a messenger bag that’s about six months away,” adds Jeremy from his home office. With that, three energetic children appear in the Zoom background and Jeremy is called off to home duties. It’s dinner time.
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