Where fashion meets coffee. Meet Luke Harwood. New Zealand born and raised, he recently returned home after a decade long stint in New York City where he helped spearhead his two ingenius yet completely different businesses. Stolen Girlfriends Club, a cult high fashion/street label hailing from NZ that he co-founded with friends Marc Moore and Dan Gosling and Happy Bones NYC co-founded with artist Jason Woodside, a coffee spot located on Broome Street, New York, often frequented by the likes of Terry Richardson amongst other influential locals.
Luke is also a friend of ours. Hayden first met him back in 2010 at Stolen Girlfriends Club debut show at Australian Fashion Week in Sydney, following a few back and forth conversations about working on a surfboard collaboration together. The project later launched in 2012 titled ‘Look Out For Counterfeits’ and is still one of our favourites to date.
Not only is Luke a talented creative in business, another thing you should know is that he surfs – really well. He's passionate about surfboards, is extremely articulate about what he rides and from time to time he and Hayden will work on design ideas together.
Recently we caught up with him to talk about everything from the fashion business to surfboards and what it takes to create and build cool brands in today’s world.
Job title and description…
CEO of Stolen Girlfriends Club. Stolen Girlfriends Club is a mid-high end fashion label. Denim, knitwear, leather and jewellery are the core pillars of the brand under a women’s and menswear offering.
Happy Bones NYC is a robust hole in the wall style coffee business. We focus on serving great coffee take-out style, twisted with a raw NYC street aesthetic.
I like building brands and business and have learnt the understanding of how they work together. You can’t have a great business without a great brand and they need to rise together. Art and Commerce and all details of that interest me a lot.
Stolen Girlfriends Club 2015, New Zealand Fashion Week.
What landed you in the business of fashion and then coffee?
Originally when we launched Stolen Girlfriends Club, the general landscape wasn’t like how it is now where fashion/street/surf/skate and price-points crossed over or could collide existing in one room. It was really segregated and you either wore fashion, surf or skate clothes depending on what tribe you were from.
Coming from surf it felt boring to me after being in it for so long. There was no thought in the detail and fabrication, mostly because the price-point and what actually went to market didn’t allow for it.
Fashion was in a real minimal aesthetic at that time. Marc and I liked the way fashion was presented, but felt it took itself too seriously. We liked the idea of merging our youth culture of music and art as a way to form the basis of the brand giving it feeling and atmosphere.
Taking inspiration from art, grunge and the street and re-interpreting and presenting it in a polished aesthetic, was what interested me mostly at the time and still so today.
We positioned and launched the brand exclusively through fashion boutique’s and stayed clear of surf and street so we could clearly define a brand positioning and price within the fashion landscape.
When I moved up to NYC I met Jason and we both had the need for speed … a health addiction to coffee! Living there, I found it really hard to find antipodean style coffee and I got a sense that this would be something that would become more and more popular with time in the US. At first it was just a hobby to get a good coffee each day and print art on the take-out cups, but we soon turned Happy Bones NYC it into something really special and unique.
Stolen Girlfriends Club 2015, New Zealand Fashion Week.
Inside Happy Bones NYC.
In both of your businesses there are partners involved. Is it true it can somewhat be like a marriage?
Yep. Since the beginning of time good rock n roll bands have been breaking apart due to ego’s, greed, creative differences and selfish endeavors - business partnerships are no different. With this in mind, I’m respectful of my partners views and ideas equal and we understand its a team effort. On a practical level you really want partners that bring different character and attributes to the table and can pick up the batten in different areas of the business.
What gives a brand an edge and how do you incorporate this with your approach?
Point of difference within the chosen industry is key - offer a unique brand proposition and experience. Juxtaposition has always been an important part of our brand, along with a healthy sense of humour and a twist of dark wit. We always make sure our brand DNA is invested into the design process and finished piece. In a world where almost everything has been done, its important to make sure you have your own spin on it and approach it with fresh eyes.
Everyone thinks fashion is beautiful, but it’s a mean old ugly business.
Stolen Girlfriends Club flagship store, Auckland.
Tell us about growing up and surfing in New Zealand?
I grew up in a place called Whangamata, a small surfing town on the Coromandel Peninsula on the East Coast of New Zealand. It was pretty awesome growing up there. It has a beautiful left hand sand bar that comes out of a harbour river mouth, almost mechanical. I’m a goofy footer so it was a playground grow up there as a kid.
For such a small community there were four different surfboard factories and shapers in the town - which was a lot. It really introduced me to my love of surfboards and surfboard design at a young age.
For me as a kid, the board factories were like an enchanted scene from a ‘Tim Burton film’. I think of off the local surf characters with their odd-ball knick-names that would hang out at the factories, the smell of resin and wax and artwork on the walls. Also the enchantments of things like drugs and weed and pin up porn poster’s that were off-limits to a 12 year old. Along with that, was a blur of music. A memorable soundtrack for me and a true enlightenment.
Pictured: Luke Harwood
We hear you were once pro?
“A washed up, has been” … to be honest i didn’t equate to much in the world of professional surfing, but i definitely learnt alot within the industry and have so much to be grateful for from the pure gift of surfing.
A very modest answer.
Recently Hayden released a fresh batch feature on surfline with Craig Anderson’s latest quiver. The line up included a design that you and Hayden actually worked on together. Can you tell us a little more about this shape and thought behind it?
I ride mostly performance short boards – “swallow tails til I die.” For that design, I wanted something fun and shorter without being too fat and wide in the tail/pod area restricting how it would perform in the pocket or on rail.
I was thinking of a Curren/Tommy Peterson fireball from the early 90’s fish/short board combo so I guess in my mind I was thinking that style of plain-shape would be cool.
The flyer/wing giving it some width at the tail point then re-directing to a narrower swallow so you can still fit fairly tightly in the pocket or sit in the troth of the wave. I like swallow tails too because you can go shorter, but they still give you the longest rail-line.
The bottom curve is really continuous from tail to nose so there lots of contours through every point of this board from rocker to rail which makes it malleable and easy to re-direct. When it comes to design, I admire Hayden’s skills to mix accuracy and precision with experimental, and articulate a unique view-point in modern surfboard design. He’s really calculated at what he does and the theory behind his ideas even when experimental he has the discipline to make it into a success. That’s a rare skill using the left and right side of the brain!
What waves did you guys have in mind for it?
Where I’m from, has a beautiful cylinder like left-hand sand bar so i wanted to ride something shorter to fit into the pocket and sit in the troth of the wave when it’s breaking mechanical or square off the bottom.
Often shorter hybrids have moments of greatness, but when they hit curvy parts and flat parts of the wave they can just die on the spot. I wanted something to transition really nicely and keep speed. The flyers are fun cause it’s really easy to surf on the rail and re-adjust your lines. But then its got some width when you need it to hovercraft over sections and surf mush-burgers .
Are there any particular creatives from other industries/fields that influence you and what you do?
Jon Jandai. This guy has got it right - Life Is Easy
Neil Young and his rock n roll activism, making a stand for EARTH and challenging the big guys on environmental issues. Inspiring to see you can have that much fun and passion later on in your career and stand for something decent!
Doug Abraham / Friend from NYC for his clever and twisted approach to creative and fashion. Makes a real good meal of it! @bessnyc4
Art( pictured) by BessNYC
What is the best advice that you have received when it comes to business?
Kurt Cobain Journal - Lesson Number 1: “Don’t learn your instrument"
To me there is something spontaneous and innocent about learning as you go rather than studying. You approach the subject in a non-traditional way with a new angle and take on it, mistakes can add an exceptional feeling too.
For me it was fashion being the vehicle, but not the core craft inspiration to what i do.
Some words of advice to your former self…?
“Remember, Be here now.”
A lot of the time I speak with people and they seem to talk around expansion, growth and gentrification for their businesses. I’ve noticed the primary focus to these conversations always lead to a monetary result and larger footprint.
I don’t agree with the mentality to just keep expanding our footprint for the sake of “Keeping up with The Jones's” or to make more financial gain.
Don’t get me wrong … making clothes and selling coffee doesn’t save lives, but I have to think about how could my businesses have a thoughtful impact or at least be innovative with-in their industry.
We really want to offer a unique product and experience to our customers and so it’s about improving what we do, not so much dumbing it down to sell more.
Above: Stolen Girlfriends Club 2015, New Zealand Fashion Week.
Follow @stolengirlfriendsclub | @happybonesnyc
Interview: Danielle Cox