“Born out of necessity – worn with pride” sums up the ethos at Haspel, a family-owned menswear line founded in 1909 by Joseph Haspel, Sr. Fast forward to 2014, and we have on stage right the ever-so-gracious and thoughtful Laurie Haspel, the great granddaughter of Joseph, who is the current steward of the Haspel legacy. I saw Laurie at the Haspel 105th Anniversary celebration and knew she would be great to chat with for my T-Time series on female presidents and CEO’s. A few phone calls and emails later, we finally “sat” down for a cup of coffee, for Laurie doesn’t drink tea as I soon found out.
Thuy: What is your favorite tea?
Laurie: I am not a tea drinker. I am a coffee drinker. Decaf actually. I have a lot of natural energy, and I do not need caffeine to get myself started in the morning. I love strong, Louisana community style coffee.
Thuy: Speaking of which, congratulations on Haspel’s 105th anniversary. I was at The Griffith Hotel in New York City for the celebration. How do you feel?
Laurie: Wow. I want go back and do it again. I’m ready to have a Haspel party for the 106th anniversary. It was overwhelming quite honestly. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for so long. We wanted to have a fun, New Orleans style party where people could just sit back and have a good time. I hope we accomplished that.
Thuy: Louisiana is Haspel’s home. Yet, New York is also an important city for the brand. Could you speak a bit about that?
Laurie: While I live in Louisiana and my office is Louisiana, we also have an office in New York City. That’s where all the daily operations occur. I think it just makes sense for us to have presence in both Louisiana and Manhattan. My brand manager is here, the designers are here, and of course, that’s where fashion and media live.
Thuy: In your own words, please describe Haspel.
Laurie: Haspel is about being comfortable in your own skin and in your clothing. It is about you being you and not worrying about putting on a face or a piece of clothing that you don’t feel comfortable in. I think clothing is an outward expression of your attitude and your personality. I love the fact that two people could put on a Haspel jacket and have completely different looks, attitudes, personalities and feel as good in it. It’s fun. We want people to have fun with clothes.
Thuy: When did you become the president of Haspel.
Laurie: I became the president in 2002.
Thuy: Did you choose to be its leader or was it a family responsibility?
Laurie: We have several family businesses on my mother and father’s side of the family. When you are involved with one part of the business, it just makes sense to step into all of them and assume that responsibility. While I worked along side my Dad who was my mentor for all those years, I knew it was just the right thing to do. He never specifically asked me to do it. I just wanted to. In family businesses, the children really want to do it or they don’t. I’m lucky in that my Dad is my best friend and allowed me the opportunity to step in. He always tells me “When you are put in charge, take charge.” That’s essentially what I did.
Thuy: You grew up with Haspel. It must feel second nature to you to be doing what you are currently doing?
Laurie: It is and actually, I remember as a child before I was 10, I would go in and out of the factories in New Orleans with my grandparents. I enjoyed that experience very much. Then of course the company was sold in 1977. My family bought it back many years later. But it was really a part of me.
Thuy: You want to Emory University. What did you study?
Laurie: I studied sociology and art history. I had a real love for traveling, and I really got into art history not intending to become a museum director. I wanted to travel and being an art history major allowed me to go overseas. I studied in Italy. It was one of the best summers of my life
Thuy: Please describe three things that have contributed to your success a business leader?
Laurie: In terms of core business, nothing beats networking. Meet as many people as you can. You never know whom you will meet. Meet everybody who you could meet and be genuine. So from the pure business perspective, networking is great. It is not what you know but who you know. I do believe that. The other thing is traveling.
Thuy: You mentioned that your Dad was your mentor. What was the best advice he ever gave you?
Laurie: The best advice is to give a firm handshake. My handshake gets noticed whenever I go into a meeting.
Thuy: Could you highlight some of your top achievements at Haspel?
Laurie: I think bringing everything in-house again and being able to bring the production back to the US. We are making all of our garments in the US. It was very clear to us and to our brand manager that we needed to have production here in the States, and we have accomplished that. It has not been easy or cheap. That’s not who were are. It has been an accomplishment that I’m very proud of. Having control of the brand again, having it in the family is also very important for a lot of reasons. After 105 years, it’s still in the family and still going strong.
Thuy: Are you intimately involved with the design process? That is working with Haspel’s designers Sam Shipley and Jeff Halmos on the Haspel collections?
Laurie: I’m not a designer by trade, but I have been able to put my fingerprint on some of the design suggestions or even on fabrics. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I know enough to know what I like it, what men like, and what they are asking for.
Thuy: Seersucker is the house fabric. How have you and the designers been to contemporize it for the modern man?
Laurie: To start with just the fabric, what Haspel is using today is far from the fabrics we used in the past. There is a distinct difference in seersucker on an inexpensive suit versus high quality seersucker on a current Haspel suit. It’s a distinct feel. We start by using better fabrics but we also have a lot of fun with it. We don’t make just a traditional seersucker suit. Sam and Jeff really take time and incorporate seersucker into a lot of different things, such as the lining of the pocket of our chinos and trousers. It’s a reminder that you are wearing Haspel.
Thuy: Why did you make Sam and Jeff the designers for Haspel?
Laurie: We interviewed dozens of young designers, but Sam and Jeff have a sense, a flair about them. It was their attitude that resonated with Haspel. The Haspel man doesn’t take himself or anyone too seriously. He is just comfortable and his own person. That is the aura that Sam and Jeff gave off. It just clicked.
Thuy: Do you see Haspel designing for women in the future?
Laurie: Gosh yes.
Thuy: I was hoping you’d say that
Laurie: I’ve been saying that for too long but haven’t had the ability to do it before now. So it is definitely in our future footprint.
Thuy: Could you describe yourself in one word?
Laurie: That’s a tough question. Goodness…GRATEFUL,
Thuy: Beautiful. Do you have any last words you want to share with our readers?
Laurie: Be yourself.
Thuy: And the world will come to you, correct?
Laurie: Nothing can replace confidence. It’s something I wished I had learned many years ago in my career. Have enough confidence to go after what you want, and have enough confidence to say what you feel and not be intimated by what others think. Whether you are a businessperson or not, confidence is the best thing you can have in your back pocket.
Thuy: Very inspirational. Laurie, thank you so much for your time and for your last comment. You capture what I’m trying to do with this series on T-Time. I wish you much luck, and I look forward to the next Haspel collection.
Designer Website: www.haspel.com