Hardgraft: Effort, Vision and a Meet-Cute Story - IMBOLDN
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Hardgraft boasts the kind of authentic origin story most brands only dream of or dream up. Adventuring owners meet in Austria, fall head-over-heels for each other, and within two weeks decide to leave their separate lives behind for a future life together. This is far from just a love story, however. It’s also the story of how hardgraft owners James and monie.ka became a power couple in the world of luxury lifestyle and tech accessories. Born in 2006 of James and monie.ka’s joint dream of the perfect laptop sleeve, hardgraft is fueled by a continuous commitment to creating products that honor both form and function. 

And while the company’s name derives from an old British term meaning hard work, there’s no denying that hardgraft is and always will be a true labor of love.

A Brand is Born

If you think concepts like “sexy” and “laptop case” are mutually exclusive, you haven’t yet experienced hardgraft. “Insanely beautiful, “stunning,”  and “gentleman-friendly” are just a few of the other phrases that pop up in reviews of hardgraft’s extraordinary line of small leather goods, device cases and sleeves, and bags. The company has also expanded its well-traveled footprint to include footwear and eyewear

While hardgraft has officially “made it,” the company wasn’t even founded until little more than a decade ago in 2008. Like the phrase for which it’s named, the dynamic duo — once lauded as “perpetually innovative” by HYPEBEAST — behind hardgraft have spent the years since tirelessly toiling over every product that bears the brand’s telltale red and white tag. (Even this detail, while seemingly small, is deeply meaningful: It pays homage to the country of Austria, where James and monie.ka met.)

The Innovation Imperative

A major part of hardgraft’s success is attributable to effort — so much so that James and monie.ka have joked that they should have named the company after a word meaning “easy sailing,” instead. However, a shared vision, passion for innovation, and remarkable serendipity are just as responsible for hardgraft’s position in the pantheon of luxury lifestyle goods.  

Indeed, hardgraft is an example of two people being in the right place at the right time. When James and monie.ka first crossed paths, they had both worked at high-profile European agencies and design and fashion studios. It’s hardly surprising, given their backgrounds, that the design process of each hardgraft product is intensively hands-on.  

Said James in an interview with The Pantalones, “We draw a lot and discuss ideas on a daily basis. Sometimes one of the creations really strikes a chord and we can’t think of anything else, that’s when we know we are onto something good. We develop it further, create a rough life-size sample and take it on the journey to Italy where we develop the design with our Italian workshop. We then take the finished sample back to London and test it on the streets to make sure everything works as we imagined. Only by using the products ourselves can we make sure it’s good to go.”

All of which begs the question: What makes a hardgraft creation so unique? James said in an interview with Carryology, “The main key to our products is quality and craftsmanship. We take our production very seriously and develop each product personally with our Italian workshop. They are made to last. Our artisans put as much passion into every single product as we the designers do.”

For example, look no further than the Heritage Laptop Sleeve. Unrelentingly utilitarian and yet effortlessly cool,  it remains the benchmark against which all other hardgraft products are measured. Other enduring hardgraft standouts? The classically inspired 1st Edition Travel Bag and the ingenious 2Unfold Laptop Bag, which HYPEBEAST hailed as “incredibly versatile.”

Hardgraft products’ many allures have earned them spots on countless “best of” roundups.

Hardgraft products’ many allures have earned them spots on countless “best of” roundups across everything from carry-on bags to cutting-edge edge work totes. And while these classics remain impossibly relevant, James, monie.ka, and their partners are always looking ahead. “Generally, we are always trying to reinvent and develop ideas. A lot of the times quite unexpectedly so let’s see what the future holds,” said James. 

A Perfect Match

“monie.ka and I are designers at heart. monie.ka has a strong background in both fashion and graphic design, whilst I used to work as an art director for some big advertising agencies. We both love designing everything – our products, the website, the stationary and packaging. Everything you see is 100% designed and created by us,” James told The Pantalones. And certainly the two could be called the perfect match.

But so could the signature combination of materials used to make every wallet, bag and laptop case. “For some reason we have a real soft spot for brown and melange grey. We are obsessed. For over a decade now our lives have evolved around these colors, different structures, different textures. Never getting tired of it, rich brown right next to cool melange grey just does it for us. Every time,” say James and monie.ka.

“For some reason we have a real soft spot for brown and melange grey. We are obsessed. For over a decade now our lives have evolved around these colors, different structures, different textures.”

And while these materials may be familiar ones, their merger yields a symbiotic result. “Two of the most ancient materials known to mankind. Not ancient is what we create from them,” asserts hardgraft. 

In case there was any doubt, we’re not just talking about any old leather and wool, either. James and monie.ka are determined to work with only genuine artisans, and scoured the planet for the world’s most extraordinary leather. They finally found it being made by a “hearty Italian family” and the rest was history. “Our leather is über premium Italian vegetable tanned leather from one of the best tanneries in the world. The selected European hides are a by-product of the food industry. Each hide with its beautiful skin structure is dyed in age old wooden drums and finished by hand with natural tannins, such as tree bark. It has an impeccable skins structure and ages gracefully over time,” James explains. 

But hardgraft’s hand-sourced materials doesn’t just perform well and feel good, they also DO good:  Natural, renewable and biodegradable, wool is the ultimate in sustainability. 

To find the brand’s special wools, meanwhile, James and monie.ka turned to Germany. “We work with a family run felt producer in Germany to create an especially robust, yet soft, 100% wool blend with a fineness that is unmatched,” he continued. 

But hardgraft’s hand-sourced materials doesn’t just perform well and feel good, they also DO good:  Natural, renewable and biodegradable, wool is the ultimate in sustainability. 

The addition of cotton canvas came later, and only after James and monie.ka were certain that it was worthy. “We put a lot of time into researching the right materials — we love the haptic experience you get when you combine all three of our über premium materials. It’s such a good feeling when you juxtapose our smooth but sturdy Italian leather with our thick and soft wool felt next to our newest material – the waxy robust cotton canvas. The iPhone Cases, Laptop Sleeves and Bags we create not only look great, they absolutely feel good when you hold them in your hands,” asserts James. 

All of the pieces come together in a family-run workshop in Italy. In speaking of their bond, James refers to these partners as “The Brothers.” “There exists a mutual understanding and big respect for each other’s skills. The Brothers take our designs and develop them with us, whether it’s on one of our several visits to the workshop or through Skype. Together we make sure that every single rivet is reinforced inside and there are no critical points which could break. We work very hard to make sure your hardgraft product will accompany you for years to come.”

Not for Everyone

hardgraft knows it’s not for everyone. In fact, this certainty is built into the company’s brand. But for the people who swear by hardgraft — and there are many of them — there’s no substitute.  According to James, hardgraft’s all-online model makes it harder to categorize their customers, although they do have an idea of their fans. “As a quick rule we would say: design conscious, quality loving, young creative online shopper. But we see a big variety of people who see different things in our goods visiting our site,” he reveals. 

If you fit this description — and we suspect that you do — it may be time to get your hands on a hardgraft. Which poses a new question: With so many extraordinary products, how do you narrow it down to one? When asked which single hardgraft product he’d choose to use for the rest of his life, James named the 11” Flat Pack Shore. “It’s kind of my everyday bag and I never spend the day without it. It’s small enough not to be bulky or get in the way yet big enough to fit the wallet, phone, iPad in. Everything is really handy and super secure,” he says.

In reality, however, James not only uses a variety of hardgraft products regularly, but is constantly focused on making sure they meet his own high expectations. “I try to carry all hardgraft products and change them daily. It’s really important for us to test our products in the real life, day in and day out,” he told Carryology.