Betty Hemmings was founded by the great lady herself back in 1978. Hemmings wanted to bring quality ladies’ leather goods to the Canadian market from Europe, as nothing of that calibre was available there, even as late as the 1970s. A little later on, her husband joined her in the business and expanded the store to include men’s products. And 39 years later, the store now focuses on high-end travel and business items.
The current president and CEO, Michael Warwick, was a customer before he ran the company. ‘I used to spend many months overseas with work,’ he explains, ‘and my luggage kept breaking, so I visited the store on a recommendation. I still have the piece of luggage I bought that day.’ So impressed was he with the quality of the products that, 12 years later, he bought the business.
Warwick doesn’t like the term ‘accessories’ and prefers to view his products as ‘essentials’. He’s got a point – you wouldn’t leave your house without your wallet.
And what are Warwick’s main concerns when sourcing his products? Quality and craftsmanship, above all else. ‘Workmanship is really important to us,’ he says. ‘You should pay a premium for artisanal quality. We also want our brands to have a rich history, like Ettinger, for example.’ (Warwick himself is a fan of Ettinger’s Bridle series – he uses his petrol blue 12 credit card wallet every day.) And with 450 briefcases in stock, Betty Hemmings customers, who according to Warwick range from businessmen and women to heads of state, have plenty of high-quality leather goods to choose from.
So how would Warwick describe gentlemen’s style in Canada?
‘There’s a bit more of a melting pot of different styles here,’ he says. ‘Italian and traditional suits are very popular, and sports jackets and pants are very typical. But there is also a move towards a more relaxed look. Many of our customers now don’t work in a suit. It’s more likely to be expensive jeans and a T-shirt. We are based in creative and tech centres, so it’s not surprising. These customers might not be looking for a traditional briefcase, but they won't compromise on quality.’
And, fortunately for them, Betty Hemmings stocks only quality items.