Edgar and Theresa Hyman made two vows on their wedding day in late September 1923. The first, as you’d expect, involved the exchange of rings. The second involved building a business together. Inspired by the vibrancy of their home of New York, the couple set out to bring people beautifully crafted scarves that embodied timeless elegance. The brand name, derived from Edgar’s initials, was Echo.
It says a lot about the company – and the ideas of its pioneering founders – that it has continued to grow its success. Today, almost 100 years later, the integrity and craftsmanship built into Echo’s DNA remains, exemplified in its evolving lines of fashion accessories, home textiles, beachwear and bags.
The family legacy also perseveres. Steven Roberts, grandson of Edgar and Theresa, is the CEO and Chief Product Officer at Echo Design, and his wife, Meg, is Senior Design Director. “I learned about Echo at the dinner table, on weekends, during summer and school breaks,” Steven recalls, admitting that while his childhood dream was to be a National Geographic photographer, he always had a “secret drawer” filled with Echo scarves.
During his senior year at college his father, the President of Echo who married into the family business, passed away, and Steven decided to join his mother, Dorothy, and other family members in the business. Steven says that his grandparents have inspired him in many ways.
“My grandparents were very impressive. My grandmother Theresa graduated college in the early 1920s. My grandfather never went to college. They started the business together and they owned the business equally. That alone is pretty remarkable,” he says. “Edgar and Theresa were wonderful role models who passed all of that through their only child, Dorothy – my mother, and Paul, their son-in-law and my father.
“After my father’s death, Dorothy courageously and fully grabbed the ring and ran with it. She became an industry icon and a true leader and mentor for all of us at Echo and so many others in the industry. She worked full-time until she passed away at 91. Her mark continues to be powerfully felt.”
Since its inception, Echo has been a pioneer in textile design. During WWII, the label crafted special instructional scarves with messages on how to react in an air raid. In the 1970s, Echo created a commemorative World’s Fair scarf for the Smithsonian Institution, propelling the company forward into the space of custom designs for the likes of Coach, Brooks Brothers and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 1992, Echo introduced a whole new home division, consisting of wallcoverings, fabrics and bedding. “Accessorising your outfit is not dissimilar to accessorising your home,” says Steven. “We have always been committed to designing a coordinated collection of patterns, thinking about the hand of the artist, the balance of colour, the texture of the base fabric, the execution of the details. Underlying it all are the patterns and prints that tell a story, set a mood, create a feeling.”
Echo’s Retreat collection, launching in New Zealand at Atelier Textiles, was born to bring joy and comfort into the home in the wake of the pandemic. “Retreat is designed to capture a happy and relaxed spirit – the collection embraces the positive energy we get from our travels and outside experiences, and brings it home,” says Meg.
Comprising energetic citrus and florals, calming ocean blues and restorative beachy neutrals, the sophisticated yet casual collection is thoughtfully designed so that each fabric can both stand alone and work together.
“There is something distinctive about Echo’s designs and colours that goes beyond a narrow range of patterns or a single design hand – it has to do with a spirit and philosophy that runs through all that we do,” says Meg. “Our fabrics and the way they mix together should be easy; our designs are never fussy. We want you to really live with them, not treat them too preciously, not take it all too seriously. But we never relax our standards on the quality of the design.”
A distinctly New York identity is imbued into Echo’s collections, from eye-catching psychedelic patterns of the 1960s to modern art creations of today. “New York, to us, has an amazing sense of optimism, is full of culture, fashion and style. There is always so much energy on the streets,” says Steven. “We try to inject some of that energy and spirit into every Echo product.”
With their studio in the heart of New York, Echo’s in-house and collaborative designers have the unique opportunity to pull ideas from its near 100-year-old archive. “We have thousands of design references for the designers to be inspired by, or truly reuse. Often we see a scarf we made in the 1930s or ’80s (pick any time) and we say, ‘Wow! That looks so fresh right now.”
This year is momentous for Echo, as the company celebrates its centenary. With his children, the fourth generation, involved in the business, Steven says they will continue to celebrate the joy creativity can bring in big and small ways.
“If we can help people feel a little more confident, a little more attractive, a little more true to themselves, we have done our part… if our fabrics or colours of patterns bring a smile, or that easy breath or spark of energy and comfort, then we are happy.”