We have long admired the work of Harper Poe, the woman behind global textiles line
. So when we recently
and unique approach to business (not to mention her gorgeous products) by our friends at
, we knew we had to meet the woman ourselves - luckily they were gracious enough to make an introduction! Today Harper shares the story of her unconventional career path, the benefits of shopping with intention and how we can all contribute to a cultural shift in the retail market.
Your story is remarkable! Can you tell us about your professional journey: what inspired you to start Proud Mary? How did your previous experience (both professional and personal) assist with the beginnings and evolution of the company?
I studied Construction Management in school wanting to build houses for a living...so very different than what I currently do. My affinity for textiles began while working for an interior designer in L.A. in my mid-20's; I was much more interested in the materials than the overall project. I moved to New York and began working for furniture companies and a general contractor where I finally put my degree into practice, and that experience reaffirmed that this was not what I wanted to do professionally. I started taking some courses in global affairs at NYU that sparked my interest in international development. Shortly after I quit my job, I traveled to South America (I hadn't been out of the country in years so I was itching for an adventure) to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, discovered traditional craft, specifically handwoven textiles, and returned to New York with a head full of ideas and inspiration for a design business that incorporated economic development, design, and craft preservation. It was a slow process but Proud Mary evolved out of that trip and experience.
You state that your approach to working with disadvantaged communities and indigenous talent is one of "pride, not pity", why do you think this important and how does it best serve the crafters and their work?
I think "pride, not pity" is important because it sets the tone for our business and how we see this industry. I believe there is a fine line between telling a story and exploiting the artisans that are creating a product for sales. Our artisan partners are our business partners. We are on the same level and hold an equal amount of responsibility in creating and maintaining a successful business. I don't see our partners as below us in any way regardless of their economic standing...they are amazing artists and creators and we're honored to collaborate with them!
Can you tell us about the different areas you work with, the products they produce and why you chose these specific locations and communities?
Textiles are my first love in regard to traditional craft. I think they tell the story of a culture better than any other medium. My goal for Proud Mary is to be a global exploration of textiles, meaning I choose locations based on whether they have strong textiles traditions. Different countries or regions have use different methods of production and materials, so I think it's important for Proud Mary's mission to spread out and incorporate those different elements. We're currently working in
with hopes to start working somewhere in South East Asia in the next year. We are working with wool in Peru, Mexico and Lesotho, cotton in Guatemala, Mali and Mexico, and natural fibers in Lesotho and Morocco. We have started to add in some leather goods to accompany the textiles.
How have retailers like Accompany helped your business and supported your mission? Do you see a cultural shift in the way consumers are shopping?
has a strong and unique point of view. They keep the conversation positive and really focus on design which is the best way to sell goods and support the artisan movement. I definitely see a cultural shift in the way consumers are shopping. I think there is still a way to go in terms of educating the general consumer as to what these products are, their original design intention, and how sustainable impact is created and maintained but the interest is there...consumers are craving handmade and authentic goods, which is wonderful.
For individuals who may be accustomed to "fast fashion", will you share some of the benefits to supporting global artisans and purchasing with intention versus impulsively buying the latest trends?
I think this shift is difficult mostly because of cost. A lot of handmade goods, produced by global artisans are a lot more expensive than fast fashion pieces. I don't necessarily think this should always be the case and that artisan made goods should always be coined as "luxury" items but it will ALWAYS cost more to purchase a handmade caftan from Mali as opposed to one at a discount, trendy retailer. There is the fair wage labor, transportation costs, and product development costs that go into these products that will always have to be worked in a margin. The benefit of supporting global artisans is that you support paying a fair wage for quality work, healthy work environments (versus the horrible factory-like environments in places like Bangaldesh), and you're helping carry on centuries old craft techniques.
Can you share a few of your favorite items from this season's collection and tell us what you love about each one?
I love the
from Mali. Mali is my most favorite country I've visited. The energy, music, culture, colors, and textiles blow my mind. And the
, handwoven shoes from Morocco, are my Summer go to's!
You have been in this business for 7 + years, what are a few of the greatest work/life lessons you have gleaned?
The "key" to staying in business is to keep at it. Ask for help. And, specifically with my industry (especially now that it's growing tremendously) is for my particular mission to be as clear as possible, and be as transparent as possible!
Clementine Daily’s mission is to create a space for women to live their hectic and sometimes frenzied lives while still taking account of the simpler pleasures in life. What are some everyday moments you consciously embrace?
Morning bike rides to get coffee, being stuck in an airport with no wifi forced to write in my notebook, afternoon bike rides or walks around the Charleston battery to clear my head, and ocean swims whenever possible!