AT Offline: Katherine & Susan of Hable Construction

AT Offline: Katherine & Susan of Hable Construction

Maxwell Ryan
Mar 6, 2009

Wow, what a crowd we had at the beautiful Knoll showroom in MePa. Wednesday night we kicked off our 21st design Meetup with special guests Katherine Hable Sweeney and Susan Hable Smith of Hable Construction. Full recap with a lot of their product pics above and Meetup pics below...

Susan & Katherine

>> Hable Construction
>> AT Offline: The NY Design Meetup

Wednesday night we had a sell out crowd of nearly 100 design enthusiasts, and a wide ranging discussion that covered everything from what it's like to work with your sister to how to deal with the current economy. It was a perfect way to greet the spring, and I loved Katherine's response when asked if they ever would like to get a "stimulus package" check from the government to bridge the difficult economy:

"Of course there are times when we look at one another and would love someone to just write us a big check, but that's not really our way. The way I see it, we are our own stimulus package. When we started we had no money, and we created something with our ideas and hard work. That's the best stimulus package I know of."

Katherine & Susan & myself

Here are a few highlights:

On working with your sister and starting out: Katherine came from a business background and Susan is the pure artist, so that their relationship works in a very complimentary way. In the late '90's Susan said to Katherine, who was working with companies like Kate Spade and Ralph Lauren, "Let's do something together." and Katherine replied, "Well, give me something to sell." Susan went to work and her first designs involved silk scarves. These first products were frilly and, as they said, "not them," so Susan went back to work and came up with the first designs that had the distinctive Hable look: bright colors, simple pattern and durable materials.

This set the course but it took only six months for their working relationship to take shape, as they adjusted to the "business" of doing business as partners. They quickly learned how to be professional about their work. While there can still be tense conversations and the navigation of sensitivities, both sisters are straightforward about their business goals and straightforward with one another. In the end, if it doesn't make business sense or they can't afford it, they don't do it.

On working in NYC: Susan responded to this by saying that her ideas don't have a relationship to New York (or Texas, where they are both from), and come from a global design sense and her own intuition. But the energy of New York definitely drives her to create. When she lands in New York and feels the energy of the city, it pulls on her competitive nature, and she feels she's got to get into her studio and start working. New York is good for that.

On working with Garnet Hill: They've had a really good relationship with this big retailer over the past six years, and it has grown from just Christmas items to bedding. While all the Hable canvas line items are made in the USA (printing in Rhode Island and manufacturing in Maryland), and their felt items in Hungary, they've worked closely with Garnet Hill's overseas production and totally trust their manufacturing and standards to be as close to their own as they could hope for. While Hable believes in making the bulk of their line items in the US to both ensure quality standards and to support US business, they trust their bigger partner to do a good job overseas. Garnet has strict standards.

On the economy: Katherine and Susan have seen the slowdown affect their business as strongly as anyone else since October, but they've remembered their father's words to "Hold it in the road," meaning to keep driving and not run off course. While they've had to shut their West Village store, they've kept creating and moving forward, introducing new line this spring at The Gift Fair and continuing their working relationship with Garnet Hill. They've had a little more time on their hands as well to do research and work on projects that had been neglected before.

Susan was particularly eloquent in her belief that her design is about optimism and that is now more important than ever. We couldn't agree more.

It was an absolute pleasure to host Hable Construction and look forward to seeing them grow into this new year. See you all next month!

>> Hable Construction
>> AT Offline: The NY Design Meetup

Susan & a guest

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