ONA Designs International was created in 2010 to provide photographers and other creative professionals with fine leather and waxed canvas bags and accessories to carry and safeguard their equipment. Each bag contains a closed-cell foam interior. However, these totes, backpacks, messenger bags, briefcases, and cross-body bags are now the chosen carry-alls of everyday people who desire sophisticated and classic style while on the go. Today, ONA is sold in more than 70 stores within the U.S. and on its e-commerce site. ONA also works with eight international distributors to bring its handcrafted premium bags to retail outlets worldwide.
Garry Thaniel is at the helm of ONA, which is based in New York City, and as such he is fast becoming to ONA what Jenna Lyons is to J.Crew. He oversees every aspect of production — from design to execution — while also letting his team of young creatives express themselves. Thaniel is also instrumental in ensuring that ONA has its finger on the pulse of current trends and what the customer wants and needs in regards to style and protecting their essentials.
I met with Thaniel at New York City’s swanky Gansevoort Park Rooftop to learn more about the new vision and direction of ONA. He also introduced me to the upcoming Black Collection, which features five of the brand’s most popular silhouettes in black leather, including The Leather Clifton ($499), The Leather Prince Street ($389), The Leather Bowery ($249), The Leather Brixton ($439), and my favorite The Leather Kingston ($319). Thaniel also gave me a sneak peek at the limited edition camouflage The Bowery bag ($189), the first and only ONA bag with a patterned exterior.
During our discussion, the Baltimore native also explained how he got started in the retail industry, his goals for ONA, his commitment to giving back to his community. We also discussed the gentleman’s return to dapper dressing, and Thaniel’s travel essentials and the accessories every man should own.
Annika Harris: How did you get your start in retail?
Garry Thaniel: I started off as an intern at Lord & Taylor department stores in 2003. After graduating from Bucknell [University in Lewisburg, PA], I accepted a full-time offer to join the Executive Trainee Program at Lord & Taylor, where I started off as an assistant buyer in women’s ready-to-wear.
AH: What did the experience of working in the women’s retail sector teach you?
GT: It taught me to really know my customer and understand what the customer needs, and what will motivate them to make a purchase. I think people can rely on their personal taste to make product decisions, but when your customer doesn’t look like you and has different needs, you have to study and get to know about their lives and how your product fits into their life.
AH: Why was it important to get your MBA, even though your merchandising career had already taken off?
GT: I always wanted to get an MBA, because I knew the way that it would position me for success in and outside of the retail sector. Even though my career was on a solid trajectory, I knew an MBA would help me more easily transition into another industry, if I ever wanted to make a switch. Once I was accepted into Harvard Business School it was also important to show young people from Baltimore and similar environments what faith and hard work can help you achieve.
AH: How did you make the transition to ONA?
GT: At the time I was working for Macy’s, in a strategy function, and though it was going well, I really wanted a smaller and more entrepreneurial [experience] where I could leave my mark. When the opportunity arose at ONA, it felt like the perfect fit, at the exact moment I was ready for the next challenge.