If you haven’t already heard me rave and rave about this talented young woman before, please allow me to introduce you to Miss America 2002 and entrepreneur, Katie Harman Ebner. Katie is the designer and founder of Harman Ebner Finery, which is a distinctive line of handmade, leather handbags. Having been educated in leather works by an experienced, and highly revered leather-smith in her rural community, Katie set her sights on crafting unique, and on-trend leather handbags from her small studio in Southern Oregon, using sustainable practices and local materials. Harman Ebner Finery is sold online, as well as at exclusive boutiques throughout the United States.
I sat down with the beautiful and brilliant designer to chat (reminisce really), about how Harman Ebner Finery all came to fruition. Her story begins not too long ago….
I feel like I’ve been on this journey with you since its conception, and am excited to finally share it, in detail, here on our blog! So, tell us how HEF all began?
You have indeed been on this journey with me since the very beginning… in fact YOU were one of the major reasons Harman Ebner Finery was launched! After dabbling in design through projects that I made and sold on Etsy from 2009-2011, I developed a fascination with handbag construction. I wanted to create a leather handbag that was useful for almost every outfit and situation, while also encompassing a classic, chic aesthetic. I had been experimenting with a specific design, but it wasn’t until a chance meeting with a local leather-smith in our small community that I took the leap into perfecting my design. He had been handcrafting amazing boots for years, and had a breadth of understanding in regard to working with leather that was unparalleled. I originally met with him to repair the soles of a beloved pair of boots, and upon looking around his workshop in awe, I struck up a conversation about constructing leather handbags. It was like opening an encyclopedia! Everything I could think to ask, he had an answer and a resource to point me to. It was the perfect shove in the right direction, and I’m immensely grateful. A short time later, you, Carrie J, commissioned me to make a custom clutch to hold your iPad and essentials for meetings in LA, and the “Carrie” clutch – which is the center point to all my designs – was born. It was amazing when you showed the bag to Carrie Morgan, and she then commissioned me to make one for her… and the response grew. I was shocked!! Harman Ebner Finery was thus officially formed in 2012 when I launched a Spring/Summer Collection featuring six styles of the “Carrie” clutch. Thank you for serving as the inspiration!
What were some of your biggest, initial challenges in getting started?
It is extremely important to me that all of my materials and manufacturing come from US-based companies. Initially, it was quite a challenge seeking out companies that offered exactly what I needed – from the little magnetic snaps that hold my bags closed, to the very specific printing process of the exterior stripes. I’ve felt a bit like a hunter-gatherer the past two years, searching every nook and cranny for just the right materials. I feel very lucky to have found amazing companies to work with for supplies, and now manufacturing. Developing positive relationships with your suppliers is very, very important. I’m loyal to people and companies that are honest, forthright, and creative… and I am thrilled with the team behind my designs.
What is your vision for Harman Ebner Finery?
My vision is to continue creating innovative, but classically simple designs that women will enjoy carrying. I want the customer to LOVE her clutch, and feel that it is an extension of her personal style – an enhancement of what she loves most about herself, in a way. I also want to grow the company and its presence in the accessories world, but I want that growth to be organic. It’s more important to me to perfect the designs, and create a truly quality product that someone will love and use for years. My products are handcrafted, and I want to retain that aesthetic. It takes time and patience to hone a respected, quality product. I want my designs to be instantly recognizable for just that.
Your 2013 Fall/Holiday Collection launches TODAY! Congrats!! What was your favorite part about designing this particular collection?
Thank you! And thank you for your tremendous work in styling our models for the collection’s photo shoot!! I loved immersing myself in the colors of the season. When I design a collection, I start there – with a palette. It’s such a kick to experiment with various leather and stripe combinations, and to now also design the printed twill that is used on the “Taylor” clutches. I work with an extremely talented and dear friend, Kelly Armijo – whom also does all the beautiful photography for Harman Ebner Finery – to design the prints. Together, we’re like kids in a candy store, grabbing at shapes and colors, and creating whimsical prints that bring us joy. I’m so, so grateful for her partnership and friendship! We love collaborating, and I am forever in her debt for the amazing things she does for Harman Ebner Finery! For this particular collection, I was inspired to infuse pops of bright color with stalwart neutrals. Saddle brown, grey, tan and metallics are staples in our wardrobes, especially during fall and holiday time, but sometimes we need a little dose of brights to help us appreciate how amazing and versatile those staples can be. Truly, that is a reflection of my personal style, too. I’m a classics girl, but always with a pop of bright color, or a statement piece to top-off an outfit. I call it, “classics with a twist.”
(Mmkay. Dyyyying over this new collection!!!)
Lastly, if you could give advice to women wanting to design and launch their own lines, what advice would you give to them?
First of all, develop a team of trusted people to work with you. While a unique idea can develop from the mind/imagination of one person, a company cannot rest solely on the shoulders of that one person. You must constantly remember that you are not an island. I feel so blessed to be able to rely on my team to keep me focused on the big picture, but also to stay true to what makes Harman Ebner Finery unique. I’m tremendously lucky to have my friend, Taylor Colson Horton, as my Brand Manager. She has a tremendous fashion resume, and has worked with Louis Vuitton, among other fashion giants. Her understanding of the fashion world is incredible, but more importantly, she is a remarkably kind, compassionate, whip-smart and savvy woman – just exactly who I want by my side running this company. The same goes for the businesses that I rely on for materials and manufacturing. I consider us a team, and without them, there would be no way to implement my designs.
Second, be patient with the development process. Building a brand and a company takes time and solid, unwavering commitment. It can be incredibly frustrating to know exactly how you want to implement your ideas, and to see in your mind’s eye what the end result should look like, but not know exactly how to get from point A to point B. You must keep marching forward in the process, though. You may have to take one step back in order to take two steps forward, but that is the reality of launching your own line. Like an explorer, once you set forth in the direction of your dream, you’ll be mapping out your own unique path full of twists and turns – but it will be YOUR path – and you’ll reach your destination more informed, enriched, and fulfilled. I feel like I’m constantly learning something new as a designer and business owner, and it’s a truly humbling experience.
Thank you so much, Katie! As you know, we are huuuuge HEF fans over here, and are absolutely smitten with the newest collection!! Shop the brand-new site for the spankin-new 2013 Fall/Holiday Collection here: www.harmanebner.com!