Inspired by People: Jessica Phan from Hathorway

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Girl in Hathorway sustainable jewelry | Photo by Monica Vargas


Hathorway believes everything matters, from the earth to the workers, wearers, and the designs. This ethos led founder, Jessica Phan, to develop the beautiful and minimalistic, sustainable jewelry line we fell in love with a first sight. All of Hathorway's pieces are handcrafted using natural materials like ethically-sourced up-cycled buffalo horns and handwoven rattan. We asked Jessica all about her first year founding Hathorway, responsible material sourcing and what inspired her.


How did the idea and the name of Hathorway come about?

In 2015, I travelled to Vietnam to reconnect with my roots and visit my extended family. It was there that I discovered products made of buffalo horns — from chopsticks and spoons to hair combs and jewelry. I began to fall in love with this 400 year old craftsmanship material and how sustainable it was because it was a byproduct of waste, a chemical-free process, an organic material, and a one-of-a-kind piece. While I loved the horn material, I found all the jewelry styles distasteful. So I bought a few of them to bring back to the States and started to reconstruct them to suit my style. As I wore them, I received several compliments at work and started selling them on Etsy. Over the next several years, this became a hobby that eventually grew into a business in 2018.

The name “Hathorway” comes from the Ancient Egyptian goddess of love and beauty who wore the iconic headdress made of cow horns -- Hathor. The symbolism surrounding the goddess and her ways became the inspiration behind our name.  

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If you could describe Hathorway in a few words, how would you describe it?

This is such a tough question that I’ve been trying to figure out for this brand. However, when I do introduce Hathorway today, I describe it as “a sustainable fashion accessories brand focused on quality, sustainability, and women’s empowerment.”

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What have been some of the biggest things you have learned in the first year of starting Hathorway?

I’ve learned so many things in the first year of starting Hathorway, but one of the most valuable lessons is learning to “Speak up and ask.” The saying “A closed mouth doesn't get fed” is true; if you don't ask for what you want, don’t expect to get it because the world doesn’t know what you want and need.

In the first year, I knew that I needed to get Hathorway out there; I knew I needed to host pop-up shops so that people can see, touch, and feel my sustainable, ethically-sourced horn jewelry and accessories. I had to exercise my courage to reached out to several brands and asked if they could host a Hathorway pop-up shop. By simply asking, I was able to collaborate with amazing brands in 2018 -- brands like West Elm, Therapy, Amour Vert, and Madewell. On top of that, it gave me the opportunity to learn more about my market and gather feedback about my products.

Read my other lessons here: 3 Lessons I’ve Learned in the First Year of Starting a Sustainable Jewelry Brand

Founder of Hathorway, Jessica Phan


How often do you travel back to Vietnam? Could you tell us your favorite places to visit there?

I travel back to Vietnam every year and that’s one of the reasons why I started this business; it gave me a chance to reconnect with my culture through experiencing the traditions, the food, the places, the people and their craftsmanship.

Vietnam has to be one of my favorite places and I still have yet to explore it all. One of the most charming places in Vietnam is an ancient town a few hours away from the capital called Hoi An. It’s known for its unique blend of Japanese and Chinese architecture because it was a trading port that date back from the 15th through the 19th century. It was so charming that it was agreed that this town was to remain untouched during the Vietnam War. 

Jessica visits Hoi An in Vietnam


How would you describe your work and relationships with the artisans who help in the production of Hathorway's jewelry and accessories?

Though I was born in America, I am Vietnamese American. My parents migrated over to America to escape the Vietnam War. Once they moved here, they preserved a lot of their Vietnamese culture as they raised me -- through the food, the language and the traditions. And because of this, every time I go back to Vietnam, I see these artisans as a part of myself and a part of my family. I have that cultural connection, so I feel like I know them and that I am one of them.

Vietnamese artisans making horn jewelry


Sourcing horn sustainably can be tricky, how do you ensure the materials you work with are ethically sourced?

This is such a great question. When I first discovered buffalo horn homeware, I was immediately turned-off; I quickly assumed buffaloes were killed for its horns. But I took the time to learn more about this material and how it was sourced by speaking with various sellers in the market and the artisans at the horn craft village. Like the Native American culture, the buffalo plays an important role in Vietnam, specifically in the economy and throughout history. Throughout Vietnam’s history, the buffalo helps farmers pull plows in the rice fields, helps Vietnamese family carry crops and heavy items, and it also provides meat for the food industry, leather for shoes, belts and more.

And unlike rhino horns and elephant tusks, the buffalo horns are byproducts of waste through the food industry and dead stock through the agricultural industry. It’s a 400 year old craft where as a sign of respect for the animals, nothing of the animal is wasted. Originally, the horn were used to make cups, plates, chopsticks and even hair combs.

Just by visiting the horn craft village, asking various sellers in the market, and understanding the Vietnamese culture, I know that the buffalo is a symbol that sustains life for the for the people in Vietnam. Because of that, I am able to understand that they would never kill the buffalo just for the horns.

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We love Hathorway's ethos to consider the wearers, the designs, the makers, and the earth. At times it can be so difficult to understand the whole system of our products. How do you keep this perspective in play in all the decisions and operations of Hathorway?

Our ethos was inspired by Dieter Ram’s 10 Principles of Good Design that I learned about back in design school. It’s been embedded in my mind and principles for over 10 years as I constantly use it to defend my decisions and give feedback to others throughout my previous careers. Because of that, it’s something I carry throughout all the decisions and operations of Hathorway. Principles are like traditions, the more you practice it , exercise it, and teach it, the more it will embed in you.


What do you believe is the most important thing for Hathorway's customers to understand about the brand?

This is such a great question. If there is only one thing I like for our customers to understand about our brand, it will have to be that Hathorway is a mindful brand that believes everything matters. I won’t go into detail about this, but we covered it in our ethos.


What has been one of your best memories running Hathorway so far?

My best memory of running Hathorway so far was receiving an order from SFMOMA a few months ago. As a brand, this is a milestone, but as an artist and a designer, it’s completely a dream come true to have my brand and designs featured in this well-known institution.

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Could you tell us a little about the work you do in partnership with the Karat School Project?

As a sustainable brand focused on women’s empowerment through giving back, 10% of all profit is donated to organizations and initiatives that empower women whether through justice, science, education and other opportunities. One of the organizations that we partnered with last year was The Karat School Project, an organization that strives to provide quality education to underprivileged girls in the Ivory Coast of Africa. In the past, we’ve dedicated a collection, where 10% was donated to the Karat School Project. As well, we’ve participated in several fundraising events to help them meet their fundraising goals to build a school in the Ivory Coast.

Today, we are looking for the next organization and initiative that aligns with our values on women empower to donate our 10% to, so if you know of one, don’t hesitate to reach out at


What inspires your design process?

One thing that constantly inspires my design process is spending a bit of time to appreciate nature, specifically various plants. I love observing how plants blossoms, blooms, and unfolds, or how their patterns branches out so intricately and so beautifully. While my designs are quite simple, they are abstract versions of what I see in nature.


How do you describe Hathorway's style? And what is the best occasion to wear the jewelry?

Usually I start off designing every Hathorway item for myself, and the style I like is very minimalistic and geometrical, but will have a subtle statement. And the reason I lean towards this is not only because of my background in graphic design, but because I like my accessories to be versatile that I could wear it for any occasion, for any time of the day, the week, and any time of the season, and even throughout the years. I believe when we design for timelessness and versatility, it supports our mission on sustainability because it’s not just a trend that is thrown away once the season is over.


Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry?

My all time favorite Hathorway jewelry is the Saigon Geo Buffalo Horn Dangle Earrings in cream color. It’s my everyday go to earrings because it’s not only sophisticated, it’s also whimsical due to its cascading moon shapes. Every time I wear it out, I receive so many compliments on them.

Hathorway Saigon Geo Buffalo Horn Dangle Earrings


What is your favorite book? Or what book about sustainable businesses has inspired you most?

One of my favorite books is “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. As I was starting my business, this book really brought me comfort and encouragement to trade in my comfy and cushy career in tech to pursue my heart’s craving of running Hathorway. While it’s not about building a sustainable business, it’s filled with many stories and folktales that taught me to embrace my powerful nature and instincts as a woman. I highly encourage every woman to read it as it’s filled with empowering lessons for the soul.


This article was originally posted on Ocelot Market on September 24, 2019

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