Proud Mary Global Textiles and founder/designer Harper Poe popped up on our radar quite often this past year. From being one of the sustainable brands featured on the Accompany website, to Adrienne at State recommending we reach out to Harper, we knew it was time to touch base.
The brand's dedication to preserving traditional artisan craft paired with their ability to apply those crafts to modern silhouettes is quite admirable for us here at Thread Caravan. We caught up with Harper to learn more about the artisans she works with, the obstacles and rewards of running an artisan business and which of her travels inspire her the most.
1. What inspired you to start Proud Mary?
I was taking classes at NYU in global affairs when I went to South America to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. I fell in love with the people and textiles in South America and returned to NY with an itch to combine my passions into a sustainable design business equally sharing beautiful handcrafts and tackling larger issues of poverty reduction it the developing world.
2. What do you think makes Proud Mary stand apart from other brands?
Our use of color and pattern is very simple and clean...not too ethnic or bohemian. Our products are never entirely obvious where they originate from although we always go direct to the origin of traditional textiles. For example, mud cloth originates from Mali so we go to Mali to produce mud cloth textiles.
3. Tell us a little bit about the artisans you work with - where do they live, what skills do they practice?
We're currently working in Peru, Syria, Mexico, DR, Mali, Morocco, and Lesotho. In Peru we work with traditional weavers working with alpaca and wool, in Mexico we work with woven cotton textiles, embroiderers, and wool weaving groups, in DR we work with a woman's coop producing crochet bags out of recycled plastic bags, in Mali we work with a jeweler making cowry shell necklaces, a mud cloth textiles cooperative, and a woman's coop working with indigo. We produce our raffia shoes in Morocco, and in Lesotho work with 2 ladies that make our shearling slippers.
Our newest project is in Syria. I knew that I wanted to work with refugees in some capacity and found a woman who started a group in Damascus working with women internally displaced by the Syrian War. They make really simple but very cool crochet bags.
4. How do you decide which artisans to work with?
It starts with either a textile technique or a geographic area that I really want to work with and then I start the process of identifying producers.
5. Are you experienced with any crafts -- what is your favorite creative medium?
I can't make anything with my two hands. Nothing, nada... BUT I understand traditional textile techniques. My favorite traditional textiles are kuba cloth, sabra, and pojagi.
6. What gives you inspiration?
Travel, traditional indigenous clothing, vintage clothing and accessories, and music.
7. Where is the most inspiring place you've traveled and what makes it inspiring?
Mali for sure. The music, textiles, and people are the best in the world.
8. Where do you plan to travel next?
I started working with a group in the DR last year. They make amazing crocheted bags using recycled plastic trash bags. The bags are super chic and cool and I can't wait to meet with them and help them develop their business. Their first export orders were last year with Proud Mary so they are just starting out but have SO much potential!
9. What are some of the obstacles you face having a creative business?
In this particular creative business managing to create within the parameters of a 100% handmade, ethical made production environment. My ideas and designs have certain constraints based on technique, available materials, and capacity issues. These constraints make it harder but also easier because you're forced to focus.
10. What keeps you motivated throughout the workday?
Communicating with our artisan partners, seeing impact, and planning my next trip!
11. How do you envision Proud Mary growing in the future?
My goal this year is to work on building our direct to consumer sales so we can have more control over the message and balance out production schedules for our artisans so they are not to stressed at any given time because of either too much or too little work.
12. If you could achieve one thing with Proud Mary in the next 5 years, what would it be?
I want to start an incubator program where each 6 mo. or year we use the funds from sales with our established artisan producers to train and develop new artisan producers. I've found that the artisan sector is growing tremendously but brands are for the most part all producing with the same producers because they are safe, experienced, and have high enough capacity. There is tremendous talent that just needs to be mentored to become export ready.
See more at the Proud Mary website.