Hayley Hanson, 37, is the seventh generation to farm the family’s land in the Brecon Beacons. Today the farm is also the hub of Hayley’s award-winning business, which transforms hides and leather from her own cattle into luxury leather goods.
The idea for the business came in 2011 when Hayley married fellow cattle farmer Mike, 33. True to her farming roots, Hayley wore a full-length wedding dress atop white wellies and arrived at the church on a tractor. Their wedding portraits were taken with Hayley’s beloved herd of British Blue cattle and guests sat down to a slap-up meal including roast beef.
Hayley explains: ’For our wedding we had one of our own heifers for the wedding breakfast. She was so pretty with a mottled red and white hide, we thought we can’t just let that go.”
Seven years later Hayley’s leather business is thriving with a £100,000 annual turnover. Last year Hayley won the Farm Enterprise category in the Countryside Alliance Awards, nicknamed the Rural Oscars, receiving her award from the Environment Secretary at a Westminster reception and praise for her ‘energetic one-woman enterprise’ in a category ‘dominated by feisty farming women’. This year she has been shortlisted in the 2018 Rural Business Awards with finalists to be announced in October.
Hayley’s unique business is borne from her passions for the lush Welsh landscape, the farming community and ethical sustainability. “From the field to your arm via the same farm, that’s our ethos” says Hayley proudly. “It’s lovely that people get what we’re trying to do - that the whole point is you know where the leather’s come from and you know the cattle had a really nice life. To survive as a farmer you’ve either got to go massive or go good, so we’re going good.”
Hayley Hanson’s growing range include hide rugs and stools, bags, aprons and even cufflinks. Every piece of leather is used, with offcuts bagged up and sold to crafters and even, extraordinarily, the teeny hairs from hides given to a fly-fishing charity to use in tying flies.
The proud mother of three young children, Ellie, five, Connie, three, and James two, Hayley says, “They’re farm kids so they’re happy just pottering around with me. ”They love being in the workshop, helping me sort leathers by colours or size or shape. They have a little drawer each for the treasures they find. I think it’s good for them to see Mummy working, especially the girls. I think having children just means you work quicker - if you’ve got two hours to do something, you’ll do it in two hours. If you’ve got the luxury of eight hours, that’s what it’ll take to do the same thing.”
But Hayley says without her parents’ help, she could never have managed to grow the business. “Mum is chief. I couldn’t do it without her. She’s got the children today and she’s definitely got her hands full.”
Hayley’s voice is full of emotion as she reveals her hard work and determination, which in the past had been referred dismissively by others as ‘her little business’, has enabled her to build a new home for her inspirational parents, Sue and Dai Morgan.
“My mum and dad have taken care of me their whole lives and now I’m really lucky I’m in a position to do the same. “
She has a number of celebrity customers (but to her evident frustration can’t reveal names) and she also supplies leather products to commercial companies, including traditional paint makers Farrow & Ball, online quirky gift store Rockett St George and Border Oak, which build traditional and sustainable oak framed houses. Hayley Hanson supplied leather bookmarks to the neighbouring Hay Festival and was the festival sponsor for Emma Gannon, author of The Multi-Hyphen Method. “A lot of women, not just farmers’ wives, are doing more than one job, so it seemed like a good fit,” says Hayley.
She has sourced and built a network of British companies to help process the hides from her cattle. The ‘farm to arm’ trail, starts with a local traditional father and son abbatoir in Wales, to Hull where hides are cleaned to oak tanning drums in Somerset. This process alone can take six months before the leather comes back to Hayley’s workshop where she trims and dyes it by hand three times for a perfect deep colour. All the designs and samples are handmade by Hayley.
“We bought a laser cutter last year, so we can be really precise down to the last millimetre and can do names and logos,” she says excitedly. “It’s lovely to have that combination of brand new modern technology, alongside dyeing by hand.”
The business’s success has sped up dramatically since Hayley was accepted onto NatWest’s Entrepreneur Accelerator Programme, with access to business leaders, support and advice.
“The support is just incredible,” says Hayley. “In addition, Gemma Collins, my local Business Growth Accelerator, is amazing. I’ll ask her if she knows anybody who does x or y, and she’s calling me back two hours later saying ‘this person’s going to give you a ring’ or she’ll email immediately saying ‘this is Hayley, she needs such and such, thought you could help’. ”
Other businesses on the Accelerator Programme at the Cardiff hub (there are 12 hubs nationwide) include an architects’ practice, a textile designer, an innovative highchair bib designer and a company making drinks from wonky fruit and veg. Support is also available to those not on the Accelerator program via NatWest’s Business Growth Enablers team.
“It’s great to get new perspectives from people who don’t know anything about farming and think British Blue is a breed of cat - it is, but…,” says Hayley, who visits fortnightly, although some businesses use the free hub space as their HQs for 18 months.
“I had a five-year plan, benchmarking where I wanted to be and what I needed to get there,” says Hayley. “But the Accelerator Programme has also helped me be more resilient and changed my mindset. If someone didn’t like my products I used to take it really personally, but they’ve taught me to realise that if people don’t like it, they’re not your customers and that’s fine.
“Besides having a plan, my other advice would be to just get on with it, because it’s the implementation that matters. You can have really good ideas, but unless you pull your finger out and find a way to do it, you haven’t got anything.
“I also always listen to advice but I’ve learnt that at the end of the day it’s my decision because it’s my business. If you know what you want, stick to it. For example, I was advised to take the bull off the logo but, after thinking about it, I decided it’s the essence of what we are. We are proud cattle farmers and we put a lot of effort and time and money and dedication into our stock and I think that’s reflected in the quality of the products.”
In July Hayley was interviewed by Kate Humble, Countryfile presenter and a fellow Welsh female farmer, at home and at the Hayley Hanson stand at the Royal Welsh Show as part of the BBC’s coverage - and interest and orders have increased dramatically. “She’s a complete whirlwind, a ball of energy, I liked her a lot,” says Hayley. It was mutual: Kate tweeted “A truly inspiring woman this. Makes bloody nice handbags too!” We agree.
To discover more about how Natwest could support you in your business goals, visit www.natwest.com/boost
If you’d like to register for the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator programme, visit www.natwest.com/accelerator
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