In Conversation With Randi Obenauer
What made you decide to start Ora?
I started Ora while I was about halfway through my Fashion Design Diploma program. I made two bags initially, one for myself and one for my sister, and we got so many compliments on them and shops started asking to place orders. It snowballed from there!
Does Ora have a message?
My approach to design for Ora is equal parts aesthetic and function - beauty and durability. I personally make each bag by hand, and each design is a reflection of what I need and want in the ideal bag for all of my life circumstances. Get out there and live, and enjoy your Ora products, they are built to last and they get better with age.
What or who are your influences (inside and outside of fashion/retail)?
I have so much admiration for the strong female figures in my design community. Andrea of Army of Rokosz is a vision of positivity and creative magic. Stephanie of Hendrik.Lou Knitwear exemplifies hard work and attention to detail. Ora is also heavily influenced by my skill set and techniques used in my other business, Aro Upholstery.
What's the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started Ora?
It is important for female entrepreneurs to support each other! I've had so many amazing women support me along the way, and I believe it is important to keep that support flowing.
What advice/warnings would you give someone looking to start their own brand?
If I could offer any advice to other independent designers it would be that in business, when you are the designer and the maker, you need to meet three criteria: pay for your supplies, pay for your labour, and make a profit. This isn't something they teach you in fashion school or art school. As a creative entrepreneur, you need to pay yourself in order to call it a business, otherwise it is a labour of love. I truly believe art can be made for art's sake, and its ok to let it pay the mortgage too.
How would you say the fashion/retail climate has changed since you started your brand? Is the change for the better or worse?
Initially, I exclusively used reclaimed leather, from vintage leather garments, and produced one of a kind bags. People were so supportive of sustainable fashion, eco friendly design ten years ago. Those trends seemed to lose steam after a few years. I had to learn that my labour intensive designs needed to be priced appropriately to reflect the wholesale/retail model and pay me adequately for my time. I took a lot of criticism for my prices, which realistically were modest at best, as people seemed to disregard the labour and creativity and focus on the “used”element of each piece. I slowly evolved my brand to where the majority of pieces are now made from leather hides that are a biproduct of the American dairy industry…a fact I am proud of, but no one really seems interested to know. I also recycle diligently in my work and am proud to produce a very small amount of true waste each year. I still do one of a kind custom pieces and I love working with gorgeous vintage leather garments as the starting point. I think there is still a lot of emphasis and support towards small independent designers, I personally hope to see more of a shift towards biodegradable materials and sustainably produced products.
What motivates you?
I thrive on creativity, on making things, I love to work with my hands. When I’m not in the studio I love baking. I love the sense of achievement that comes from completing things, and doing them well.
If you could live the life of any other designer for a day, who would you choose
It would be fascinating to walk in Elsa Schiaparelli’s shoes for a day, to see the world through her eyes, rub shoulders with Salvador Dali, and dream up ways to be daring with zippers!
What’s the most recent book you read?
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula k. LeGuin.
Did it feed into your creative process?
Ursula is my favourite author, her writing is imbued with wisdom and philosophy that causes me to pause and reflect on my own life, my culture, and humanity as a whole. I think this trickles back down to remind me that I do what I do first and foremost because I love to make things with my hands and hone my craft skills, and reminds me to give when I can too - I make charitable donations to causes I believe in whenever I can.
What goals do you have as a designer?
December 2016 is the 10th Anniversary of Ora Leather Goods. I am very proud of this, and also eager to move towards finding time to work on my other large goal of producing a clothing line.
What's the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is setting my own hours, working in my studio next to my house on my own property.
What's the worst part of your job?
The worst part, is learning how to turn off my phone, my computer, my sewing machine, and take days off…it can be tough when you are your own pay cheque!
What is your life motto?
"Mañana" is often my life motto, reminding me to live in the moment, be present and enjoy and connect.