Inside Look: Proud Mary | Tory Burch Foundation

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Inside Look: Proud Mary

Meet Harper Poe, the founder of this ethical fashion and lifestyle brand.

You’ve built a successful and beautiful line of clothing, shoes, accessories and home goods. What was the inspiration behind Proud Mary?

The inspiration is always traditional crafts and the artisans behind them. We travel A LOT because there is so much beauty in the world waiting to be discovered.

Tell us about your selection process when collecting textiles for your next project.

We choose our projects based on our desire to work with a certain material, technique or based on the needs of a certain community. For example, we always work with our Moroccan partners on raffia shoes for our SS collections because they are a spring/summer product. Certain artisan communities may need more work at certain times, so we always try to work them into a collection to keep them employed.   

What have been some unique challenges in building a global textile business?

Understanding cultural differences is hugely important. Learning how a certain culture works, when they work, when they take off, etc. helps keep your expectations in check.

What is the most rewarding aspect of working with textiles and the artisan community?

Working with textiles and with artisans connects me daily to a global network of people that are all working together to achieve success. It’s a daily celebration of human commonality, rather than differences, and I’m beyond grateful for that.

How have you balanced authentic production, high-quality designs, and competitive pricing?

Authenticity is of the utmost importance to us. We will always go direct to the source of a particular craft. For instance, we would only produce mud cloth in Mali because that is where it originates. We decided from the beginning that we did not want to be a luxury brand. Instead, we wanted to be accessible, authentic, and artisan made. Because of this decision, we have kept our margins as tight as possible and are now pivoting to a DTC sales model so we can keep our prices where we want them and still build a profitable business.

As you roam the world, how do you establish impactful relationships with your artisan partners?

We establish relationships with artisan partners in several ways:

  1. We find a specific craft technique or product that we fall in love with, then research where, how and who makes them.
  2. We reach out to NGOs and non-profits building artisan capacity in certain regions of the world. They usually have vetted groups that are export ready.
  3. Artisan groups are becoming savvier, so we get emails often from artisans around the world wishing to expand market access for their goods. 

Tell us about the importance of storytelling to your brand.

Storytelling is hugely important. There are a lot of products in the market but telling the story of each product and the artisans behind them differentiates us from other brands out there. It is so important, though, not to exploit the makers when telling the story or use their plight as a marketing tool. We are very against that as a brand.

What is your best piece of advice for staying creative?

Travel often!

Your blue stripe clutch was included in the 2016 Tory Burch foundation seed box. What did you find to be most valuable in participating?

Being a part of a community of women supporting women.

What are the three lessons you have learned in building a sustainable, artisan-made textile brand?

  1. Find good facilitators on the ground.
  2. Always allow for one month more than you are told to get anything done.
  3. Really understand the techniques involved in traditional handcrafts to make these crafts your own.

In 2008, you left NYC and journeyed to Charleston. What role has Charleston played in building Proud Mary?

Charleston is a very encouraging community for entrepreneurs. There have often been other business owners going through similar growing pains at the same time which is always helpful! 

What is one thing you value most about your lifestyle in Charleston?

The laid-back lifestyle.

If you could run your company from anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I’ve always said I want to live everywhere and nowhere in particular, so I think spending four months in Mexico, four months in Morocco and four months in the States would be the perfect situation. 

How would you advise fellow women entrepreneurs to leave a positive mark on the world by doing what they love?

Be authentic in whatever you are doing. Make it yours and do it with integrity.

What’s next for the Proud Mary brand?

We are focusing on pivoting our sales model from a majority wholesale to a majority direct to consumer sales model. This is a big shift for us and will allow us to build a stronger brand and have better relationships with our artisan partners. 

What does #embraceambition mean to you?

Don’t be afraid of your power.