The Hai Effect – Home of Hai by Tessa Vermeulen

April Wan

If your wandering eyes have caught sight of colourful silk handbags accompanied by silk ballerina slippers on the streets of London, chances are you’ve been struck by the Hai effect. Tessa Vermeulen, the founder and creative director of Home of Hai, has mastered the effortless ethereal chic style with her brand. Home of Hai’s ethos lies within creating pieces that feel like childhood memories, whether through clothing, accessories or shoes. This loving, inclusive energy can be felt if you’ve attended any of the brand’s events or pop-up shops. With a multicultural background, born in Hong Kong, raised in the Netherlands and a university experience in Shanghai – she can take challenges of distributing the brand in the East and West. Vermeulens’ drive and discipline are what all young creatives should take notes from. She shares with us her goals which are “constantly in movement”, depending on the ups and downs her journey takes her, and how she finally bit the bullet and created Home of Hai after feeling unmotivated in the music industry. With a newly launched bridal campaign and the third edition of Requins x Hai ballet flats launching in autumn – Home of Hai has us on our tippy toes for what’s to come next. In an industry where it can sometimes feel like there’s no space to breathe, Tessa Vermeulen reminds us there is never shame in asking for help.

April Wan: Playing dress up as a child has brought you to where you are now with Hai. Was there a certain point when you thought – fashion was something I would pursue
Tessa Vermeulen:
At certain points in my life I was very sure of creating something in the fashion industry and other times in my life less so. After moving to London the motivation of wanting to try and set up something became stronger. 
AW: Thousands of Chinese students leave their homes yearly to attend art & design schools in London. You did quite the opposite – by attending Donghua University in Shanghai. What made you pick Donghua?
TV: I was born in Hong Kong but moved back to the Netherlands when I was very young. Since my parents lived in Hong Kong for nearly a decade, we would go back sometimes and we’d also visit Shanghai – I loved it. In my final year of school in The Netherlands, I did apply for an undergraduate course at London College of Fashion. However, when my parents were planning the move to Shanghai I decided to move with them, with the idea of staying only a year and then I’d see, but I fell in love with the city and decided to stay and start my undergraduate studies. My years in Shanghai were incredibly formative to me and it’s where I really came into myself. 
AW: We spoke of our shared love of Shanghai at your pop-up in London last month. If you could go back and shoot a campaign there – which area would you like it to take place in?
TV: Probably at Yongjia Elite, which is a beautiful old house with a garden around it. It’s also just around the corner of where I used to live. There is no place like Shanghai in spring when the streets turn into green tunnels, it’s magical. 
AW: Silk is an essential factor in your creations – with a fabric that’s considered luxury. How do you balance the cost and quality for your customers?
TV: It’s tricky, especially as I always wanted to keep Hai at an approachable price – silk is a premium fabric and this comes with a costly price per meter. Our bags and smaller silk accessories are a great entry price into the brand. 
AW: Hai’s DNA is rooted in ethereal loveliness with silks that effortlessly flow over the body. Since the brands’ launch in 2018, you’ve incorporated velvet, lace and pearls that have added playful sentiments without going off theme. Have you ever had trial and error with a new material?
TV: Yes, definitely – I think every time we start working with new materials there are trials and errors! 
AW: Initially, you started working with manufacturers from China while visiting family there. You’ve spoken about starting in the fashion industry with zero contacts in London – but proceeded to knock on some doors of stores that you admired. Turn to the present day; your brand has stock in numerous locations worldwide and specifically in Selfridges, London’s most iconic department store. What would you say to yourself in 2018 now? Any words of encouragement you’d like to share?
TV: Ah, so many things! There have been countless ups and downs in the years since I started Hai and my goals, aims and fears are constantly in movement. When I just started my main business objective was to get to a point where I could leave my full time job and fully focus on Hai, when this happened it felt like a huge achievement but soon after new fears and struggles set in. Running an independent creative business is a constant eb and flow of highs and lows, both the highs and lows are what keep me motivated to continue going forward. When you work hard and believe in what you do and are hungry for it, you can make it happen. Always ask for advice, we all need guidance at times and there is no shame in asking for it. 
AW: You were working in music before embarking on Hai. What advice can you give to young creatives who are thinking about switching careers?
TV: I always had a love for both clothes & style and music and I know from first hand experience how hard it can be to enter a new industry. At 26 I felt like I was stuck in an industry that I didn’t wasn’t really motivated to be in anymore and that it would be impossible to change, which is obviously untrue! At this point I really had to change my attitude, nothing gets handed to you and you really need to create your own opportunities. When you work hard and are passionate about what you do, this tends to rub off on people.
AW: From the Hai events that PUSS PUSS has attended – we’ve always sensed a strong bond of female companionship. The loving energy your team has clearly reflects on the brand’s identity of creating pieces that feel like memories from childhood. The brand consistently collaborates with other female artists through different mediums – the beautiful floral arrangements at your dinner party and ceramics on display on your most recent pop-up. Can you share your creative process of choosing women collaborators to work with?
TV: I love collaborating, something magical can happen. There is something so exciting about sitting down with people and bouncing ideas back and forth. Most of our collaborators have become great personal friends as well, everyone brings their own ideas to the table and together it creates the world of hai. 
AW: The Hai x Reqins Ballerina is unquestionably the shoe of the summer. Can you share your process for creating shoes and how it differed from the other accessories? 
TV: From the beginning I always knew I wanted to make shoes as well, we initially launched our Opa shoes in 2021. Then two years ago I connected with Reqins through a mutual partner and we started playing around with the idea of updating some of their classic designs with a Hai touch. We will launch our fourth collaboration together this autumn and hopefully we will keep this going for many years to come. 
AW: If you can put together the perfect Hai summer outfit from head to toe – which items would it entail?
TV: During the day my “uniform” consists of our Hai x Reqins ballerinas, white Duppion Lara shorts (these will be released next summer) and our Floris shirt. Then at night I will change into either our Rosa dress or our Sofia skirt with our Dolly Top.