Harper Poe opened Proud Mary, an international lifestyle brand, 9 years ago and has made a prominent place for herself in handcrafted textiles. No doubt that’s due to her gorgeous line of shoes, clothing and home accessories. They offer a new yet authentic style she’s dubbed “ethnic-modern”, “a simple, pared down version of ethnic handmade”.
For such a formidable force Harper is surprisingly easy to talk to. She is genuinely passionate about keeping this growing industry authentic while on trend. Read on, we think you’ll appreciate Harper’s point of view, particularly in the manner she pays homage to the artisans.
GWA: We understand you don’t like to use the term “empower women” can you tell us about this?
Harper: The term implies that we have all the power to give. When in reality most of us can’t sew or weave like the artisans can and we wouldn’t be in business without them.
GWA: We appreciate your point of view in this regard and appreciate you for getting it out there. GWA believes there’s more of an equal standing in the artisan/retailer relationship than is sometimes conveyed.
Harper: We have to be careful not to be too overzealous about using another person’s story to sell products. It’s a fine line between telling a story and embellishing. Consumers have gotten used to hearing, “Here’s this poor woman, buy her bag and support her.” I prefer to tell the same story by describing the impact based on quantifiable numbers. The Reformation does a very good job of this. Their data is telling while witty and straight forward.
GWA: We’ve read that you’ve built business relationships with 30 artisan producing groups in over 10 countries and that your passion lies in capacity building. What is capacity building?
Harper: Technically it means working with an artisan group to increase their production capacity in order to service a larger market. It incorporates product development, structural, and procedural development.
GWA: And why are you so passionate about capacity building?
Harper: I like finding talented artisans whose products have not yet reached the export market and help them develop market ready products and systems to get their products to a larger audience. It’s an extremely challenging, rewarding, and creative process. It affords the most interaction with the artisan. It’s the key to making all of this work, finding them and getting them export-ready. It’s a long process but the collaboration is fun!