Luxe Leather: Saben's Roanne Jacobson

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Practical without compromising on aesthetic and design, New Zealand luxury accessories label Saben is a favourite among the fashion set, with styles that surpass time and trends. Zara Overton caught up with founder, Roanne Jacobson to learn more about the Saben story and the brand’s arrival to Newmarket.

NEWMARKET. Can you tell us about your background and how Saben came to be?

ROANNE. It all started when I was living in New York. It was the shopping capital of the world and I couldn’t find a handbag that was beautiful and functioned well. When I arrived back in New Zealand, I started making my own in my parents’ garage. Twenty years later, Saben is stocked across 80 retailers in New Zealand and Australia and our third bricks and mortar boutique on Teed Street opened after last year’s long lockdown.

N . What made you decide to open a store in Newmarket?

R . I’ve always loved Teed Street as a shopping destination - it has a great vibe with so many lovely independent New Zealand boutiques. I knew I wanted Saben to move in. It might seem like a crazy thing to open another bricks and mortar boutique in a Covid world but our customers love coming in to try on bags, experience them and see how they function and how they would work to control the chaos of their crazy lives.

N. Opening during this time must have come with its challenges. How have you adapted your business to manage through COVID?

R . Has it ever! The Teed Street boutique was supposed to open its doors in August 2021 but we all know what happened then. I had to remind myself that it was all out of my control, just roll with it and be prepared for when the country opened up again. As soon as we moved into Level 3, we hit go and the boutique opened its doors in mid-November, 2021.

N . Saben’s Autumn Winter 22 collection introduces more trans- seasonal colour palettes, utilitarian aesthetics and architectural silhouettes. What was the inspiration behind ‘The Great Outdoors'?

R . The collection is designed with ‘the essentials’ in mind – the collection is refined and sophisticated, anchored by earthy yet regal tones like Tussock, Berry, Navy & Tan, alongside intriguing python prints and mineral elements exemplified by chunky gold chains. There’s also a nod to nostalgia with some vintage inspired silhouettes, Bea and Chelsea.

N. More recently Saben has branched into footwear with a selection of sneakers and slides, taking fashion and functionality a step further. Why this move?

R . Saben is synonymous for classic bags and we felt the natural next step was to move into other classic accessories – what’s more classic than a white sneaker? After a successful first season, you’re likely to see more footwear from us later this year. Watch this space.

N. Where do you get your inspiration from?

R . I’m inspired by places I’ve visited, people I know, street style, art, books. It might seem cliché but I get my inspiration from everywhere.

N. What are some defining characteristics of a Saben accessory/bag?

R. Saben is a brand where timeless style and functionality intersect. Every detail in a Saben bag is deliberate and created with intent. The strategically placed internal pockets, the internal clip for your keys, removable and adjustable straps that allows the wearer to personalise how they style it. It’s all been obsessively tested. Our bags need to work as hard as you do while still being worthy of being shown off.

N. Supporting women is a big part of Saben’s story. Can you explain more about the initiatives and ways in which you do this?

R. When I started Saben, finding women who would talk to me and guide me through starting a fashion business was near impossible. It took one very generous character to finally give me some insights and guidance. I love giving women a leg up and a voice. We have built a community of likeminded women so I feel it’s my purpose to champion them through our Women In Business series – we celebrate women doing amazing things in their fields.

N. How do you juggle the demands of motherhood with running a business?

R . The juggle is real! Especially over the last 3 months of 2021 working from home, homeschooling and opening a new retail space, all while trying to stay sane. Forcing myself to step away from it all has been the secret, taking time out during the day to take the dog for a walk gives me time to reset and refocus on the 1001 things on my to-do list.

. If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before starting your career, what would it be?

R . Don’t wait until you have everything perfect. Hire your weaknesses. Your customers are your greatest ambassadors. I was instore the other day and was helping a client, although really the client’s friend was doing the helping. She loved her bag and was convincing her friend to buy one.

N . You must own quite the collection of bags!? How many?

R . Eeek... I stopped counting and instead started cataloguing them for the archive.

N . What is on your summer reading list?

R. Shuggie Bain – a friend recommended it to me and I’ve finally got my hands on a copy. When I’m done with that, I’ll pick up and re-read Zadie Smith. Everything she writes is amazing.

N. Can you tell us the story behind your best-selling piece?

R . Our bags always start with a vision of what I want to wear, and they get modified until they are not only the perfect silhouette but they also answer every requirement I have. I designed Frankie as I wanted a relaxed bag that looked dignified for the workday while still looking casual for the weekend. Designing with intent means everything has a purpose, the flap over zip pocket works to keep items locked and lovely while also functioning as the bag closure. The Fifi was developed as a smaller version with all the features just a little more petite.

N. The intersection of bricks and mortar and technology has only become more crucial over the last 10 years. How has the world of digital shaped your business?

. It’s hard to remember a time when the business didn’t have digital technology. After 20 years we’ve seen it all come and go – in the last decade we’ve seen digital marketing tools like Instagram bridge the gap between marketing and community to connect with customers and fans in a meaningful way. It’s exciting to think how that will continue to evolve in another 10 years.

N. Top five handbag essentials?

R. Dermalogica high protection SPF moisturiser (seriously the best SPF moisturiser ever, it’s not greasy or sticky, perfect for those hot NZ summer days). Curionoir diaphanous pocket size perfume Saben Grace keyring as the long webbing tail allows me to find my keys easily
when I’m too lazy to use the purpose- built keyring dogclip inside my bag Notebook – My Papier HQ Master Plan. I love cataloguing my thoughts, notes and inspirations with pen and paper. My Sam wallet – it might sound weird but I love the click sound the magnets make when they close.

N. What steps is Saben taking to become a more mindful business, socially and environmentally?

R. It’s been a continuous journey for us, as a business, it’s not something you can ignore. There’s a lot of jargon and green-washing out there and it’s something we try to stay away from. Before being an environmentally or socially conscious business was at the forefront of people’s minds, Saben was operating with that mindset. We’ve always produced our bags in limited runs, there’s never been over-production, and we use top quality materials as our pieces are designed to last a lifetime. Lots of our customers buy themselves a Saben to celebrate the moments in life and is special to them – it’s very special knowing Saben is part of their journey.

N. What’s next for Saben?

R. Our 20th birthday this year! Some people have a birthday month, we’re having a birthday YEAR! Stay tuned for year-long celebrations...