Happy Friday! I’m happy to share a new DREAM JOB interview today. Enjoy!
I recently discovered Proud Mary Textiles and was amazed by the quality and story. “Proud Mary was started in 2008 when owner, Harper Poe returned from volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in South America. After falling deeply in love with the indigenous peoples and brightly colored textiles she decided to combine her passions into a sustainable design business promoting social change. By providing a global exploration of textiles, Proud Mary, supports and empowers global artisans and their families while celebrating their beautiful work!” (from Proud Mary’s website) …Isn’t that inspiring?
What is your background and what led you to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in South America? Where are you located now?
My background is kind of all over the place. I studied Construction Management in school (wanted to build houses) but then got into interior design while living in L.A. about 9 years ago. When I lived in NY I worked for a furniture company and contractor before putting in my notice and going down to South America for a little stint volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. I fell in love with the indigenous and people of South America. This planted the seed for Proud Mary. I returned to NY inspired and slowly began planning Proud Mary. I moved down to Charleston, SC in late 2008.
When you decided to start your business, what things did you have to teach yourself in order to make it happen? What did you learn from the process?
I taught myself everything. I started Proud Mary with a friend of mine in NY in 2008. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing but vowed to each other that we would keep at it and that we did. We took business plan writing classes by the Small Business Administration, read a lot about how other small businesses we admired got started, and most importantly we just kept on. Starting a business is exhausting and scary but not impossible. It just takes effort. When you think you’ve learned all you can learn and done all you can do do 10 x more.
Proud Mary’s textiles are produced in collaboration with artisans in Mali, West Africa and Guatemala. How does Proud Mary establish healthy relationships with artisans in developing nations? How often do you travel to those places?
We connect with our artisan partners through non-profits and ngo’s. We connected with our Guatemalan artisans through the non-profit Nest. At the time (their model has recently changed) they were predominately a micro-finance organization. Their loans went to women in developing countries for their craft based businesses. We contacted them in the beginning, sent them over some preliminary designs and in a month or so we were traveling with Nest down to Guatemala to work on our first collection. I’ve been down to Guatemala once every year since we launched our first collection in 2008. We connected with our artisans in Mali through the West African Trade Hub. The Trade Hub is a U.S. AID funded project raising awareness and encouraging business relationships in West Africa. I travelled to Mali in December 2011 for a month to work on our new collection. I hope to return as I absolutely fell in love with Mali; it’s textiles and it’s people but with the current political situation (they had a coup in march and are undergoing a strong insurgency in the North of the country) I don’t particularly feel comfortable going back anytime soon. Luckily, because I spent a long period of time there I set up strong relationships with artisans and exporters so that I can continue to place orders and develop product.
Is there anything that helps you maintain work/life balance as a business owner?
Lately I feel like I work all the time. My shipment came in late from Mali so I have been packing and shipping like crazy over the past month as well as traveling to Guatemala to work on new product. The shipping and design phase should not overlap like it is but with the situation in Mali it was unavoidable. I love doing Yoga. That helps with balance. I created Proud Mary because I love to travel, love meeting new people, and love textiles. My work is very much my life which is wonderful but also intense.
How long has it taken for your style to evolve and become consistent? What does your design process look like?
I feel like my style is always evolving but I’m definitely starting to see a common thread with Proud Mary. Color is very important. I look to fashion trends for color inspiration and that paired with traditional methods of textile production makes for exciting combinations.
Do you have any hobbies and interests outside of your business?
Coffee, Yoga, travel, photography, biking, snowboarding, and being outdoors in general. The best part of living in Charleston is the ocean…I love the ocean.
Are there any resources, tools, or advice that you’d recommend for hopeful business owners?
Ask questions. Most small business owners are happy to share some insight with you. Press doesn’t equal sales (I think hiring a PR company is a waste of money for a new small business). Design Sponge’s ‘Biz Ladies’ series has a TON of awesome information for small business owners. It’s was one of my favorite resources when I was starting Proud Mary and still is!
Anything else you’d like to share with Inspired to Share readers?
Do what you love. I know it’s a cliche but so true!
Thank you so much, Harper! xoxo
Check out her beautiful shop!