Behind the Brand: HFS Collective on Sustainable Fashion.


Nature and Intent Journal

Feature conscious brands and conscious living inspiration to inform and inspire our community.


Rachel and Debra Denison | HFS Collective | Sustainable Fashion

HFS Collective, is a sustainable fashion accessory brand based in Los Angeles that produces fashion-forward hands-free accessories produced locally with sustainable materials without compromising beautiful design.

The founders, Rachel and Debra Denniston, are a mother-daughter duo who reinvented the old fashioned “Fanny Pack”. The brand has been featured on Vogue, Refinery29 and more. Rachel shared how they started their conscious company, their use of sustainable materials, benefits + challenges of working with family, and their social impact intention.

Can you please share when and how HFS Collective began?

Rachel Dennison: 25 years ago when I was still in diapers, my mom fell in love with the fanny pack and it forever changed her life. It freed up her hands to play with and care for two uncontrollable little toddlers. She became addicted to the freedom and convenience afforded by it and while she couldn't find a fanny pack cute enough to appease my sister and I, once we learned how to talk, she realized her love of it never went away. Six years ago, after Debra still couldn't find a fanny pack stylish enough in the market, our brand was born. At HFS Collective, we make hands-free bags to liberate women from their baggage. Our brand is actually centered on the feeling of freedom that Debra discovered so long ago and the "joy of less", an idea that we really don't need all of the stuff we think we do to go throughout our day. In fact, we are able to have more freedom, joy, and happiness in exchange for less stuff.

Rachel Denison | HFS Collective | Sustainable Fashion | Hand Free Bags
Debra Denison | HFS Collective | Sustainable Fashion | Hand Free Bags

Can you expand on how you contribute to empowering women and the planet through each HFS Collective purchase?

Rachel: We tithe 2% of the purchase price of every bag sold to organizations that help empower women and protect the planet. There are a handful of organizations we donate to and they rotate quite frequently. One of my favorites we've donated to thus far is the Geena Davis Institute of Gender and Media, a special organization changing the perception of women in media providing them opportunity for lead roles, as well as creating empowering narratives. Another one of my favorites is the Rainforest Trust. They help prevent deforestation in the few remaining parts of the world where there are still rainforests today. With the money donated to them, they purchase large areas of land and create special preservations where that ecosystem (all of the animals and rainforest as well) is preserved and can't be touched by the ever-growing livestock industry.  

HFS Collective | Sustainable Fashion | Hand Free Bags
 

What is the meaning behind the name HFS Collective and what is your brand mission or intention?

Rachel:  We started making belt bags six years ago under the name Hipsters for Sisters. At the time, the name really encapsulated the hands-free aspect of our brand and our mission of liberating women from their baggage. However, as we grew, we found the name to be quite limiting so we abbreviated it to HFS Collective to give us more flexibility and freedom to grow organically.

Hand Free Bags to Liberate Women | HFS Collective

How is HFS Collective as a brand implementing sustainability? Can you share how your accessories are produced ethically and sustainable materials you source?

Rachel: Our company is purely a reflection of who we are as people. We both care deeply about the planet and all life upon it so we produce everything locally here in LA using only the highest quality, earth-friendly materials including Piñatex (made from the waste of the pineapple industry), Eco-suede (made from recycled plastic bottles), and naturally low-impact fabrics like hemp, organic cotton, plant-based raffia, and cork. I was so excited when we first discovered Piñatex a couple years ago. It is a really incredible fabric because seeing as it's made from pineapple leaves, not only is it biodegradable, but it's also a by-product of an already existing industry (the pineapple industry). No water or extra resources are needed for its production. Another fabric that we've used for ages is our Eco-suede which is made from a combination of recycled plastic bottles and recycled polyester. This fabric is truly beautiful and an example of how fashion-forward sustainable fabrics can look and feel.

Apart from choosing exclusively sustainable and earth-friendly materials, we also make our bags in small batches locally, just a few miles from our office. For us, it's important that things are mindfully made. We don't want to contribute more waste to an already polluting industry, so small production runs enable us to sell through our inventory, creating less waste and fewer styles that go without homes. We know by name all of the craftsmen and women that make our bags and that they're being paid a fair living wage in safe and pleasant working conditions.


The CFDA released a sustainability report this year encouraging brands to implement sustainability. As a brand that has been conscious and sustainability for several years, can you share how the fashion landscape has shifted to become more ethical and sustainable?

Rachel: So much has changed since we first started (including us!). We started as a vegan brand because we were faced with the reality of what leather was (especially in hide form) and couldn't unsee what we already saw. When we first got started, the fact that we were a "vegan" bag brand felt like a real impediment to growing our business, getting people to care about the materials used and understand that leather-free goods can be just as luxurious and well-made as those made with leather. In the end, I think our vegetarianism was golden because without it and without the crutch of using normal leather like so many other companies that don't question things, we were forced to do research and educate ourselves on materials (what they're made from, how sustainable they are, the impact they have on the planet..etc.) At first, what I saw as our most difficult challenge really blossomed into one of the coolest parts of our company; we don't just accept the status quo about how things have always been done. We care about our sustainable footprint and impact on the planet and this has allowed us to use some really exciting and innovative fabrics that really feel like the future of fashion.

The ethical and sustainable fashion movement has grown tremendously since we started thanks to documentaries like the True Cost, a new slew of ethical and slow fashion bloggers, and influencers and celebrities who are using their clout to talk about the impact of fast fashion and waste of this industry. I am so excited that we are beginning to wake up as a society (myself included) and begin to make purchasing decisions in a more conscious and sustainable way. This gives me hope for the future.

Rachel Denison | HFS Collective | Sustainable Fashion | Hand Free Bags
HFS Collective | Sustainable Fashion | Hand Free Bags | Sustainable Footprint Quote

HFS Collective | Sustainable Fashion | Hand Free Bags | Rachel and Debra Denison
 

What advice can you give to other brand owners seeking to create a successful, conscious, and sustainable fashion brand in today’s landscape?

Rachel: I would say that there is already beginning to be a lot of noise in this industry even for sustainable fashion. I'd say find a specific niche and your original voice that will make you different from everybody else. What do you do that's different?

What are some of the benefits and challenges of working as a mother-daughter owned company?

Rachel: So many of both! One benefit is that with each other, we feel free and safe to express our minds and voice our opinions when we need to without hurting each others’ feelings. I think there is less ego involved and we are more quick to acknowledge when we are wrong or are thinking about something in the wrong way. Having two different generational perspectives is also an advantage in my opinion because it allows our designs to appeal to a wider audience which makes us pretty unique. While it is a benefit, our age gap can also prove challenging because of our different perspectives on things. Debra and I have different styles. We might as well be Grace and Frankie (I'm Frankie, she's Grace), so sometimes it can be difficult to merge the two, but I do think what we come up with in the end is a really great compromise that leaves us both happy.

 

Do you have any exciting new product launches (or materials) that you are working on launching soon?

Rachel: Yes, so many! Right now, we are working on some really stunning evening bags for which we've sourced some pretty cool crystals. I'm really excited about these as we've never done anything like this before and our inner artist selves are very excited about this mixture of textures and materials. We are also working with some beautiful, innovative sustainable fabrics and materials which I can't really divulge more about now -- but just know, exciting things are in the works!  

Where can our community readers purchase HFS Collective?

Rachel: All of our bags are available on our website HFSCOLLECTIVE.COM. We also sell at a handful of boutiques and online stores. As convenient as online shopping is, there is something so beautiful about discovering a new brand in-person in a store setting and falling in love right then and there. I fell in love with MoonaStar Collective when I stumbled in with a friend a few months ago. Her store is really just a perfect fit for us.

HFS Collective | Sustainable Fashion | Hand Free Bags

So grateful to feature another conscious brand leading with their nature and intent.

Follow HFS Collective on Instagram @hfscollective.

Photos and interview by Kristine Lo.