Meet Ora Leather Goods
I've been a long time admirer of Randi, the woman behind Ora Leather Goods. We connected last year over instagram and our conversations have inspired me endlessly. She's someone I look up to who’s created a way of life that’s authentic to her. I’m truly honoured to be sharing her story, insights and advice with you. Read on below to soak in some of her magical wisdom!
PS: we collaborated on a bag together, full of magical, unique details. Grab one for yourself here.
Tell us a bit about what you do.
I am an entrepreneur with two sister businesses, Ora leather Goods and Aro Upholstery. Ora is my line of handmade bags and accessories that I started in 2006. Aro is my custom upholstery niche where I sculpt and stitch one of a kind motorcycle seats.
How did you learn to work with leather?
I learned to work with leather in trade school for automotive uses.
How did Ora start? Why bags?
I started Ora while I was a fashion design student. I made two bags, one for myself and one for my sister, using scrap leather I had from an upholstery job. Everything just snowballed from there - I would walk into shops and get asked by the owner where I bought my bag. The irony is that I was never a purse kind of girl, so thats why I made my own, to make one I would actually wear haha!
You’ve recently started doing limited edition and custom bags. What inspired that? What’s the process someone goes through for a custom bag?
I’ve always done one of a kind and custom work, in fact the first few hundred Ora bags were al made with 100% recycled leather from vintage garments, so every single bag was a one of a kind. I think there is starting to be a shift back towards people seeing the value in reclaimed materials again.
You started a new thing on Instagram - #witchcrushwednesday. Can you tell us a more about that?
I lovvvvve Broad City and came across their intro post for #witchcrushwednesday on January 10th, where they suggested nominating “a powerful woman (or witch, w/e!)” and kicked it off with posting Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement. Ilana and Abbi know whats up!! I really enjoyed their witch references throughout season 4. I had never posted a #wcw before, and this new option really resonated with me more!
You also do work as a volunteer doula! How did that come about? What do you love about it?
I had a very sheltered upbringing in a tiny rural BC mining community, I got out of there as fast as I could after high school, and I had a lot of negative programmed sexual stigma and oppressive sexist views to overcome as a free young woman. When I was 25, a pregnant neighbour shared with me that she was planning to birth at home, and I was floored. My mom had 3 cesareans and I knew I wanted kids and had just assumed I would have cesareans too, as thats what society had taught me was “normal”. That neighbour loaned me her copy of Ina May Gaskin’s first book Spiritual Midwifery. I could not put it down, I stayed up late night after night reading birth stories and insights into the history of gynaecology and the horrific things that women have endured often beyond their consent.
I was equally awed by the powerful stories of women supporting each other and birthing where and how they wanted to/felt most safe, and horrified by the reality of so many women experiencing traumatic birth experiences under the obstetrical model of care. It was a real next level feminist blossoming within my heart, a longing to have a healthy vaginal birth on my own terms one day, and a yearning to share this book/author/knowledge with as many women as I could. I was holding down a job, going to school, and running Ora at the time, so it took me a few years before I could commit to a Doula training course.
Over the years I have collected birth books and have an extensive collection of contemporary publications (multiple copies for loaning and gifting) and also some amazing old and rare publications related to Midwifery and birth. I call it my “Doula Library”. If you asked me if there was any alternate path I could choose for my life, it would be to pursue education and a career as a Midwife. But that seems unrealistic currently with time and finances, so I thoroughly enjoy wearing my Doula hat and sharing books and stories and anything else my pregnant friends might ask of me.
A few years ago I had Ina May’s name tattooed in a heart on my arm, she is my heroine. I thought of her as I went into labour, and my dream came true and I did birth my beautiful son at home supported by a Midwife - I really had a wonderful joyful birth experience, and I believe my extensive reading, research, birth attendance, doula training, and ability to believe that it could be positive/normal experience, really played a role!
How do all these different things play into each other?
I am a maker. I have to work with my hands, I have to manifest my creative dreams into physical reality. I can’t fight it haha! I have a busy mind filled with ideas and I try to bring as many to fruition as possible. I thrive on creating things, useful and beautiful things. Ora and Aro are my sculptural, and also highly functional creative outlets. Food, baking and cooking, is another useful creative outlet. I also love to write and draw and weave and take film photographs…I don’t have as much time to feed these passions, but they force me to give them energy whenever possible!
Being a mom is my ultimate achievement, my son is my most important creation. Women supporting each other through pregnancy, birth, motherhood, loss, career goals, health issues, successes and failures - this is integral to life for me, and I think things like art and music and craft are heavily interwoven into this reciprocal sisterhood.
Your Instagram essentially alternates between your business and nature – why? What do you find with nature? What does it bring to you your life?
Nature Bathing is crucial to my well being! Being outdoors, in this beautiful region is so important to my overall health and well being. But winters in the Pacific North West can be oppressive, depressing, and isolating, so I work extra hard to get outdoors and stay active year round, and I want to raise Hawk to be that way too. I need to be outside as much as possible, and I feel blessed to live in a rural area with a creek and trails right out my back door.
Ora is my brand, but its me, its my own two hands that make every single piece, and I think its important that my audience know my work is not mass produced or cheaply made. So I’m working on sharing more of the story. I get a lot of amazing creative ideas when my mind is clear and I am exhilarated by walking near the ocean or in the woods. Since Hawk was born I’m not sewing every single day like I used to, and I don’t need to pretend I am. I have a full plate and nature is the protein, the fuel, the desert!
What’s your “why”? What’s the driving factor behind all your different pursuits?
Motherhood. I had a strong yearning to be a mother for as long as I can remember, and in my late 20s it really made me stand up and say, ok what do I need to do to be ready to be a mom. That was the start of me really taking my health very seriously and educating myself about nutrition and how my nervous system and endocrine system are heavily affected by stress and lifestyle choices. I also really started pushing my creative pursuits hard and growing both branches of my business, and finally took the leap into being a full time self employed artist.
A handful of years later I met my amazing partner Sean, we worked on our shared dreams, bought our beautiful home, and welcomed our son in a peaceful joyful home birth. Now everything resonates from our family and home, they are my why. And self care is really integral to that, I need to take care of me to take care of business/family/home/pets/my partnership, and they motivate me and that fuels my creativity. It is a beautiful reciprocity. It isn’t always easy of course, but it is the why that grounds me.
How has being a business owner changed you?
I cannot imagine ever, ever working for or with a toxic boss ever again. I did my fair share of that and it was so hard on me to give my energy in places where I didn’t feel respected or valued. And to then leave a negative work environment and try to have the energy to pursue my creative goals after hours. My dear friend Andrea Rokosz really helped me see the potential for success in pursuing my creative dreams full time, and I am so grateful to her. Now I stay motivated to do what I love and to work hard to grow the life I have built. I still have a lot of learning to do, especially on when to say no, and how to take positive risks. Its made me more confident and braver, thats for sure!
Last year you went through a big rebrand on your site – what prompted that?
The beautiful film photograph series by Portland based photographer Amanda Leigh Smith, was for a me a long overdue return to the aesthetic roots of what Ora is. I’ve worked with so many talented photographers, stylists, models, so many power women have helped me along my path. At times I think my branding started to stray from my own aesthetics and the women I imagined enjoying my creations. Amanda is an incredibly talented woman, and I love how she portrays women. Her eye and the feeling she creates with her imagery, it just feels so right and familiar to me. I also love the integration of Ora and Aro into the same imagery, with my custom motorcycle seat featured in the images as well. I love that so many of my upholstery clients are women!! Women supporting women, I can’t say enough how much that means to me.
It can be super vulnerable and scary putting how you are as a person out into your business – sharing your story, your inspiration, your dreams. How do you find the strength to do that? Any tips?
I’m trying really hard to learn about this. On the one hand I hesitate so much about sharing images of myself, and I also refrain from sharing any images of my son - he can do that later if he wants to. On the other hand, I really love to see the face behind the brands that I love, I love feeling connected to other female entrepreneurs and I appreciate their honesty and love to see their adventures and pets and homes and their processes.
I think I need to accept that Ora is not some sterile entity, it is my baby, its me, its the fruition of my hard work. I am the story haha! Somewhere down the line I was convinced that I needed my branding to show that my products were high end and specialty. I’ve shifted to hoping that people can see and read between the lines that my work is not from a factory, that each piece matters, that I love what I do, that a lot of care goes into everything that I make.
What tips have you learned about prioritizing tasks?
I literally have zero notifications turned on for all social media, I have to manually log in to see anything. I get zero emails from facebook, I don’t have notifications pop up on my phone. I probably miss out on some things because of this, but its worth it. I work on balancing my life and try not to spend too much time looking at my phone or a computer screen. The reality is though that I don’t give myself enough screen work time, so I always feel behind on emails. Also coming back to learning to say no…I’m trying hard to only say yes to things that make me excited creatively. When I step into my workshop I look at my list and reflect on the crucial stuff I Have To Do, and the other stuff I Want To Do. I try to exercise discipline by starting out doing something I Have To, then when I feel satisfied OR I need to switch up my focus, I transfer over to something I really Want to work on. Its made workshop time way more fun!!
What advice do you have for those starting their own endeavours?
Pay yourself!! No really, do it. Look up formulas for pricing your work, your creations, your services. You must cover your supply costs, pay yourself for your labour/time, AND make a profit - people often overlook this aspect. Unless you are independently wealthy and just want a hobby, do not create a business structure for yourself that traps you in a labour of love cycle.
How do you define success?
This is a heavy question for me, as my biggest fear is failure. So I strive for success daily and often feel failure when I don’t think I have worked hard enough. My way of getting around this, is setting unrealistic goals for myself, then almost achieving them, ha! I have no choice but to feel satisfied with that right? haha!
What do you feel is the most important thing in life?
Compassionate reciprocity, connection with and respect for all living things.
How are you trying to make a difference in our world?
Sean and I are committed to living lean. We are NOT minimalists - we love our records, our books, our western boots, our denim jacket collection haha! But when it really boils down, we live an extremely low carbon footprint lifestyle. We recycle like champs. I repair every damn thing I possibly can. We are avid thrift store addicts and always shop there for our clothing and household needs if possible. We also buy used via other channels as well. We grow as much food as we can. We brew beer and wine and mead at home. We exclusively cloth diaper and we started that when Hawk was 3 weeks old. We predominantly cook at home and shop local and organic as much as possible. We are so excited to be raising Hawk with these values, Sean is particularly excited to involve Hawk more and more in our garden. Children are the future, and nurturing Hawk while living gently on Mother Earth is so important to us.
Randi Katherine Obenauer
Designer//Maker, Ora Leather Goods