Hats Off to Harding-Lane
How Sarah and Steve Gifford turned their love for New England into a family business
By Sarah Emily Gilbert
The post college years can be a daunting time for young professionals, but brother and sister team, Sarah and Stephen Gifford were able to dodge the drudgery by taking matters into their own hands – or shall we say heads.
Two years out of Bowdoin College, Sarah was putting her Masters in 20th Century Design to use at a contemporary art gallery in New York City. Meanwhile, her younger brother Steve was in the thick of his senior year at the University of Vermont. Although Sarah and Steve seemed to be embarking on the traditional early-20-something’s career path, the Gifford siblings shared an entrepreneurial spirit that they just couldn’t shake.
As children, Sarah and Steve could be found exploring the wildlife around their vacation home on Harding Lane in Chatham, Cape Cod. The quintessential New England getaway, the Gifford duo ventured the mountain ranges, observed the marine life, and dreamt about one day starting a business together. Never quite settling on what that business would be, it wasn’t until Sarah and Steve started worrying about the preservation of Chatham’s natural treasures that Harding Lane became more than a summer home, but the name of their very own eco-conscious brand.
While big-headedness might seem like a deterrent when starting a business, Steve Gifford’s literal big-headedness became the driving force behind Harding-Lane’s debut product. A baseball hat fanatic, Steve was tired of ill-fitting caps that came too high on his head and featured distracting insignias. His idea to reimagine the design of the baseball cap, paired with his older sister’s needlepoint hobby, resulted in the preppy – and well-fitting- needlepoint hats of Harding-Lane.
“We wanted to create a cap that didn’t have company logos on the front, but had designs that spoke to our common interest and inspiration: New England.”
As a result, the simple, yet handsome embroidery found on Harding-Lane’s baseball caps act as an homage of sorts to Sarah and Steve’s childhood: boats, skis, aquatic life, and more.
“We always try to think about those designs that will bring our customers back to a place, time, and an activity that they love. We also make sure that the fabrics of the cap are washed twice before being assembled, so that they have that worn in look and feel. We want to give off the impression that it’s something you’ve been wearing and will be wearing for years to come.”
It’s clear that the Harding-Lane products effectively capture the homegrown feel that the Giffords desired, and for a good reason. Harding-Lane is actually based out of Sarah and Steve’s hometown of Dedham, Massachusetts. Originally shipping and managing their products from their parent’s garage, Sarah and Steve eventually had to hire a Dedham company to warehouse their Harding-Lane products so as to handle the influx of online orders.
Infused with childhood memories and Massachusetts pride, it is ostensibly the thoughtfulness behind Harding – Lane’s brand that sets them apart from their competitors. Not only do Sarah and Steve work with a Fair Labor, Worker’s Rights, and Social Accountability certified manufacturer, but they also give a percentage of their annual profits to The Trustees of Reservations, a non-profit organization in Massachusetts that protects nearly 27,000 acres of land in the state.
And while it may seem like a brother and sister business team would lead to sibling rivalry, according to Sarah and Steve, it’s been one of the biggest factors in their success. Well that, and Michael J. Fox (famous for his role in the show appropriately named Family Ties) having been photographed wearing their Striped Bass hat.
“Being siblings is the first thing that defines our relationship, but after that, it’s the fact that we’re really good friends. It’s amazing working with a sibling whom you trust implicitly and only want the best for. We support each other unequivocally and always have each other’s back. The Harding-Lane brand was always inherent to us in that we were the brand: siblings from Massachusetts who love the Cape and the mountains, and fishing, and sports.”
In fact, since its advent in May 2009, Harding-Lane has doubled its revenue every year and expanded its product line. Along with their myriad of baseball cap designs, Harding-Lane manufactures wool ski hats, t-shirts, needlepoint belts, and key fobs.
Beginning in just 20 stores, Harding-Lane is now sold in roughly 400 stores, including Orvis, Nordstrom, and the luxury Canadian department store, Holt Renfrew. In addition to their website’s popularity, Harding-Lane has a huge following in South Korea, Hong Kong, the UK, Scandinavia, and France. The global recognition of their brand is evidence of the “work hard, play hard” attitude of the Giffords, a philosophy instilled in them by their parents.
“We’re not sure where the entrepreneurial spirit came from! Our parents aren’t entrepreneurs, but they certainly were supportive about us pursuing this idea and were emphatic that if we worked hard and put our mind to something, we would succeed. We really believe that engrained in our entrepreneurial spirit is a drive and determination to keep going when things are tough, and our parents always instilled that in us.”
There’s no doubting that Harding-Lane is rooted in the Giffords deep love for their brand, but most importantly, with one another.
“We want Harding-Lane to still be a brand that people want to wear in 10, 20 years. And beyond. We have some exciting partnerships coming up and more great products to release, and we’re really excited about it all.”
While we anxiously wait for their new products, we give a big “hats off” to Sarah and Steve’s unabated dedication to Harding-Lane that is sure to keep them in the forefront of the fashion world for years to come.