Hernan Diaz, jewellery designer and founder of Diaz London, talks us through starting a company, finding a reliable manufacturer and why optimism is always the best policy.
When I meet Hernan Diaz in the bar of Leicester Square’s Radisson Blu hotel, I’m quietly surprised by what I see. Over the past year that we’ve been friends, I’ve grown accustomed to his fondness for luxury labels and elegant suiting. But today, dressed in dark faded jeans and a hoodie, he cuts a rather more casual figure; still tall and lean with a gravity-defying swoop of espresso hair and dark eyes to match, but decidedly off the clock. This is a rare occurrence.
At the young age of 28, Diaz is not only an accomplished businessman but a budding entrepreneur, jewellery and accessories designer, and a Central Saint Martins student to boot.
Despite knowing him for the better part of 12 months, the details of exactly what he does and how he does it continue to elude me. I soon learn, it is because he essentially does everything – this is the plight of the entrepreneur. Constantly on the move, he readily admits that the path he’s picked for himself isn’t an easy one. “Being a young entrepreneur is a very lonely journey. You have to go through so much and really start from nothing, go through every contact you have and try your luck. You are in charge of every single aspect of the business, not just the creative branding but the accounting and the marketing as well. It’s very challenging.”
Considering his heritage though, it’s hard to believe this wasn’t something he was cosmically aligned to do. Born in Colombia, Hernan grew up surrounded by luxury, developing a keen eye for quality from a young age. His father travelled all around the globe with the company he established in 1952, Diaz Jewellers, dealing in luxury watches and precious stones. Despite over 50 years of successful trading, the company was marred by burglaries, the most recent of which proved to be too much – Hernan’s father was forced to shutter the business.
But in 2014, Hernan decided to carry on his father’s legacy. Alongside his business partner Andres Barrera, he launched Diaz London. The venture presented the opportunity to combine his love of design with his aptitude for business, not only carrying on where his father left off, but also by building a signature brand, developing products to his exacting standards. “Creating something original that has a legacy and values imbued into it, not just selling someone else’s jewellery, but being able to design and put a signature on something, that’s why Diaz London was started.”
Dropping the ‘Jewellery’ from the company and adding ‘London” was a significant change in itself. ‘My father has always loved this city and now it’s become my home, so it was important for me to have London in the name”.
But the affiliation with London runs far deeper than sentimentality. Every Diaz London piece is produced wholly in the UK, a very deliberate decision made by Diaz and Barrera that has proved to be tumultuous, to say the least.
But was it worth it? For Hernan, who has recently become a British citizen, the answer is a resounding yes. “London is one of the fashion capitals of the world, so I love being able to push the brand as proudly British. It’s much cheaper to manufacture somewhere like Hong Kong or even the rest of Europe, but we wanted everything to be very British from the roots.”
Finding reliable manufacturers in the UK proved to be difficult, so difficult in fact, that it almost put them out of business. “We went to one of the most highly regarded silversmiths in the country, but their reputation wasn’t a reflection of their work. After eight weeks we decided to leave them and we lost a lot of time and money, so we went to another very reputable place. We trusted them very much, and they turned out to be even worse.”
After numerous legal processes, they managed to recoup some of their lost finances, but the episode still dealt a harsh blow. “We couldn’t get back that time, so everything was delayed. That could have bankrupted us before we really began but we slowly pushed until we managed to have the collection ready.”
The first collection launched successfully, and since then things have been looking up. That is until recently however, when in a rather sadistic twist of fate, Hernan’s office was burgled – much like his father before him. Among the items taken were antique Rolex watches and personal computers; although he wouldn’t tell me the exact extent of the damage, it’s clear to be in the tens of thousands, and police have no leads. If it’s affecting his mood at all, then he hides it well. Whilst most would be devastated by the theft, Hernan seems to be taking it in his stride.
Perhaps it is simply down to his overwhelming optimism, something he’s made sure has been essential to the design of his jewellery. “My partner and I design the centrepieces ourselves, which are the skull and buddha bracelets. People confuse the skull as meaning death, but internationally the skull can represent new beginnings, and the buddha is about finding your path. Our designs are very spiritual, they’re about good energy.”
I can only imagine that it is this good energy keeping Hernan going, always doing five things at once and never missing a beat. He’s quietly optimistic about the company’s future. Several projects in the pipeline give him reason to be; a campaign starring an iconic British male model (a favourite of Marks & Spencer’s) is in the works, as well as a partnership with a British luxury supercar brand. Plus he has big ideas for brand expansion – a Diaz London handbag range is set to launch in 2017.
Via text the day after our interview, he tells me things are back to business as usual – “meetings all day long!” It occurs to me that what little time off Hernan had, he spent with me talking about his business. The term ‘workaholic’ is an apt description, but this drive to always be better is undoubtedly one of the keys to his success. Young entrepreneurs everywhere, sit up and take note – this is how you get it done.
– Thomas Marrington