Wednesday, 25 March 2015


“I am a straight person, and like to do the right thing,” says Penny Hanan, the founder of 1803 Artisan Deer Design. “As soon as I stumbled upon the idea of 1803 it made complete emotional and intellectual sense to me.” It was during a trip to New York when she saw a leathergoods business connected to a family farm that Penny first thought about establishing a business that could use the natural by-products of her family’s deer farm in Orange, NSW, Mandagery Creek Venison. She wanted to do it in such a way that it would involve employing Australian artisans. Penny uses a traditional tanner in Port Elliot, South Australia to turn the raw hides into leather. This is then sent to a leather worker in the Yarra Ranges in Victoria, who creates cushions, handbags, purses and mouse pads. For the knives, Penny uses a bladesmith in Tasmania. Penny has deliberately chosen Australian artisans and kept production small scale so the business can stay on-shore. “Every aspect of what we do, what we make, where we make it, our transparency, our sustainability focus ticks all the boxes for professional happiness in my mind,” she says.

Which five words best describe you? Enthusiastic, honest, generous, loud, happy.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? I studied agricultural economics at Sydney University - as a country girl from Orange it offered a great mix of practical and business skills. My career started as a graduate with Macquarie Bank - thankfully for both of us it was a positive that it didn’t really last long. I then fell into recruitment as I had ridiculously applied for another banking job and was actually offered a position within the recruitment firm. It was good for me - very people-orientated, it was fast, busy and as I evolved professionally over my 13-year career, I worked with some great people and great institutions. Children changed my outlook and flexibility though, and so taking advantage of the temporary collapse of Australian financial markets during GFC, I resigned, and while feeling home-bound, lost and bewildered at what my next step would be I returned to university to study a Masters of Education (Ed Psych). It became apparent during my part-time studies that education was not going to be the end destination, the process of intensive learning in a new field was uplifting - emotionally and intellectually. I loved it, the gift was a renewed sense of self-confidence, a spring in my step and a desire to start a new chapter, which took time to work out what it would be.

I travelled to NY with my husband and saw a brand of leathergoods which focussed on promoting a family beef business. It really connected with me and so I returned home with a business proposition for my brother and father. If it was to work, I needed their support as dad was the deer farmer, Tim wears two hats - deer farmer and the venison processor/marketer - and my potential role involved developing an artisan Australian collection using the byproducts of our commercial family’s deer operation in Orange. They liked the concept as it was sustainable, it was Australian and it was a new angle for educating Australian consumers about venison.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Trust your gut - with people, with products. What draws you to someone or something is often a great guide. Less is more - keep it simple in life, in business and in design. 

What’s your proudest career achievement? The journey with 1803 has been full of firsts, all fantastic. That is because it is all so new for me personally, but also because the path has such decency and real soul. The artisans with whom I have forged very strong good friendships - we work well together, they are all masters of their crafts and they all enjoy this collaboration for what it is creating: a transparent and sustainable artisan-based business operating across four states which can be traced from the farm gate. So, in a world which is so busy and so complicated, as I reflect I guess it is the 1803 journey that is my greatest achievement so far. 

What’s been your best decision? To resist the temptation to expand the collection and the business to meet the demands of others - our plan is based on considered organic growth that will enhance and support the lives of all the artisans with whom we work, and my family. There is no need to rush - this is not a sprint.

Who inspires you? I don’t think it is a “who”, but rather, “what”. I don’t want to sound boring, but when I think about inspiration, I think about my brother’s beautiful farm and the graceful, elegant deer that he breeds. The natural beauty of deer needs little embellishment to stand out from the crowd. Our leathers are soft and supple and our antler has an authentic and rugged texture that is unlike any other material. We design products in an understated and elemental way to celebrate the natural beauty of deer. Deer are the inspiration for all we make.

What are you passionate about? Oh goodness, as a woman in her mid-forties, there are so many things to be passionate about - to embrace with enormous energy and expectation! My family is my core - I want to lead and teach and nurture my girls to become strong, kind and considerate human beings capable of making a difference in whatever field they choose. I am inspired and so proud of my husband - yes, he is definitely a passion. I am passionate about making beautiful objects with great integrity and authenticity. I am passionate about Australia and Australian agriculture - we are so lucky to live here and we need to celebrate our freedoms and the quality of our food, our air and our water which we have been gifted. I am passionate about small artisan businesses and keeping old skills alive in future generations. I am passionate about supporting local.

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? My natural father, John Taylor who died at 28 from a heart attack - I would love to meet him as an adult and have a glass of wine together.

What dream do you still want to fulfil? I have many I still want to fulfil, and I hope there are some I have not even thought of! Right now, I would really like to spend three months travelling with my family through Scandinavia and then see the Northern lights. I would also like to one day live by the sea.

What are you reading? I have just started We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.

images courtesy of 1803 and belle magazine; image 2 natalie walton/daily imprint

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