VANCOUVERITES: Five Minutes With Randi Obenauer, Designer & Creator Of “Ora Bags”

by Jenny Bachynski | Randi Obenauer is the designer and creator behind Vancouver’s own Ora Bags. With an impressive amount of post secondary sewing and arts education, it is no wonder why her handmade creations have been sparking attention everywhere. Using a mixture of new and vintage leather, Ora bags demonstrate a perfect balance between practicality and style (who wouldn’t want a sleek leather bike bag to ride around with on a nice Vancouver evening?). Randi was kind enough to sit down and share some insight into the world of Ora, and what it has been like running her own business.

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Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how Ora started out? As an artist I’ve always been interested in fashion and fabric as a medium, and once I got a taste for working with leather while working on custom car interiors, I was hooked. The irony of my line of bags is that the first ones were born from a desire to actually have a bag I liked – I’m not much of a ‘purse’ kind of girl, so I always had a basic rucksack or messenger bag. I made my first leather bags while I was still in fashion design school, and was overwhelmed by the result, and it’s just snowballed from there.

Is Ora a one-woman show? Do you do all of the designing and creating yourself? I love to collaborate with other artists for my photo editorials, as Vancouver has so many talented photographers, stylists, and clothing and jewelry artists. When it comes to the making process, it is entirely a one woman show. I’m so happy to have a studio in the Dynamo Arts building, it’s really inspiring to work in an environment shared with so many talented individuals.

What is your favorite aspect of working with leather? I love the feeling of cutting and sewing leather, the smell and the hand of the different types. Leather is equally forgiving and unforgiving, so I enjoy the challenge of perfecting things as you often can’t backtrack and resew. With the introduction of some of my most recent styles in entirely new rather than recycled leather, I am really enjoying the ability to design pieces that are really minimal.

If you could collaborate with any Vancouver designer, artist, or business owner, who would it be? I’m currently in the process of discussing a potential collaboration with local brand Sitka. I feel very in alignment with a lot of their initiatives towards sustainability and their West Coast vibe. I’m also currently the Womenswear Designer for local brand Voleurz, perhaps later down the road there could be potential for an Ora-Voleurz collaboration if we expand into accessories.

Read more and check out the 2012 Look Book after the jump…

Your new 2012 look book is coming out March 1st. What was the inspiration behind it? This spring I collaborated with Stylist Araceli Ogrinc and Photographer Shane Oosterhoff for a new photo editorial. The Ora aesthetic very much reflects my personal style, along with a certain feel to the photography that is perhaps a little rough and raw. This season, with the introduction of new styles and the use of new leathers as well as vintage leather from garments, we wanted to marry the classic Ora aesthetic with a more polished high fashion aesthetic, to emphasize both the luxury and the everyday practicality of the bags, and to also emphasize some of the new unisex styles.

What has been the most important lesson you have learned since owning a small business? Valuing my work has been the biggest challenge for me. It can be scary pricing your own work, but at the end of the day you have to value your time, education, and creativity. I think the world is shifting to a better awareness of ethically made goods and supporting local business, however many consumers at the end of the day still want a cheap quick option, and those options don’t last in the long run. I work really hard to construct each piece with care and to make it as durable as possible. I hope my pieces will wear through multi generations.

Your post secondary credentials are pretty extensive. Is there a certain program that stood out to you, or that you would recommend to anyone who is looking to get into the fashion industry? First and foremost I consider myself to be an artist, and fabric is my favorite medium. I had an exceptional Home Economics teacher in high school, and was a dedicated student and acquired extensive construction and pattern manipulation skills early on. I knew all along that I wanted a career in the fashion industry and that the creative and hands-on processes really appealed to me. So I began my college education with a base in the Fine Arts, and from there I acquired additional certificates and diplomas that have lead me to what I call my collective degree of 5 years of post secondary. I’m glad that I didn’t choose a traditional degree route, as I’ve acquired numerous skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to. I love chatting with aspiring students and designers, my best tip is to diversify your education and focus on the parts and processes that appeal to you the most. Seek out mentors and challenge your schools or instructors to give you the most in the areas you want.

Your mini crystal pouches are so great. What was the idea behind them and where do you source the crystals? It took me years to realize it, but my mother truly is one of my fashion icons. In fact I often catch myself leaving my home in the morning, and realizing I’m dressed like my mom. She always had crystals and wore little medicine pouches, and I’ve always shared her love of crystals and often have one in my pocket. Adding the crystal pouches to the line seemed natural, and it’s a way for everyone to have a little piece of Ora whether they are ready to invest in a bag or not. They say with crystals that you must need the ones that you are drawn to, so I source mine from numerous local sources and on my travels.

New or vintage leather – what is your preference? This is a tough question for me. I really love the challenge of deconstructing a beautifully worn vintage garment and then integrating the interesting elements into a one of a kind bag. However, with my recent ventures into making styles out of new leather hides, I’ve really enjoyed the minimalist approach to design and the pleasure of working with really thick, tough and beautiful leathers.

If you had to use three words to describe how you feel when you are in your studio working, what would they be? Peaceful. Driven. Stimulated.

Find out more about Ora Bags at www.orabags.com.

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Jenny Bachynski was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. In her teenage years she packed up her bags and headed to Vancouver to pursue further education in fashion design. In 2009 she started her own small business Jenny Andrews Recycled Leather Goods, as well as her blog Jenny Loves. After starting her blog, Jenny discovered that one of her greatest joys was stumbling upon beautiful and interesting things, and sharing them with anyone who would listen.

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