Randi Katherine Obenauer: Ora Bags

Known as the “Heart of the Highland Valley,” Logan Lake is the picturesque postcard of interior British Columbia. This was where designer Randi Katherine Obenauer spent her childhood days riding horses against a rolling hillside backdrop to treasure troving vintage pieces for clothing and art projects. Flash-forward to today and Obenauer is the wildflower blooming in the big city with her successful leather bags line, Ora. Read our interview here, along with behind-the-scene studio images.  

Carmen Lam: You have quite an educational roster. Can you tell us a bit about your studies and how it led to Ora Bags?

RKO: I wanted to pursue my interests in design, illustration and sculpture, so I began my post secondary education with a Fine Arts Diploma as the starting point to work towards a career in fashion. At age 21 I took a one-year trade certificate program in Automotive Upholstery and Industrial Sewing, to further expand my skill set. I then carefully selected Helen Lefeaux School of Fashion Design to obtain a Fashion Design Diploma; a school where I felt I could focus strongly on my design and pattern making pursuits – the old-fashioned hands on process is very important to me. I later went on to complete an Advanced Textile Arts Certificate at Capilano University. While I was still a fashion student I made my first two leather bags for my sister and myself, and we were quickly overwhelmed by the responses we got. Before I knew it, I had my creations in a few shops and in FASHION magazine. It all just snowballed from there.

CL: How and where do you source your leathers?

RKO: I do use some reclaimed leather by obtaining vintage leather garments from non-profit thrift stores. I also source new high quality leathers from the US – most leathers worldwide are produced in Italy, Mexico and China. I hand select unique high quality hides and introduce limited edition colours whenever I can.

CL: Can you talk a bit about Dynamo Arts Association (an artist-run studio located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside)?

RKO: Unfortunately, this summer Dynamo was forced to relocate due to renovations by a new landlord. It took Dynamo a few months to find a new location and I was unable to put my business on hold. So I opted to find a new studio space, which I now share with Stephanie Olivier of Hendrik.Lou knitwear. She and I have similar aesthetics and we both strive to create handmade items of the highest quality; I am hugely inspired by her and her work.

CL: Love the crystal pouch necklaces. What inspired you to design them?

RKO: My mom definitely influenced my fashion sense in so many ways. She often wears small leather medicine pouches and she and I always have crystals in our homes. The Ora pouches are a way of offering a little piece of Ora, and I always include one of my favorite types of crystals inside.

CL: And you made a limited edition Stevie, a draw-string sack made from wool and leather, how many editions are there. And will we see more limited edition goods?

RKO: Each of my recycled leather styles is a one of a kind; I really enjoy the process of creating a limited edition product each time within that collection. For the new leather styles within the line I always offer limited edition colours; I come across so many beautiful hides. The wool/leather Stevie bags were a fun addition to the fall line; I might do similar wool/leather options next Fall 2013.

CL: What are you inspirations?

RKO: I am very inspired by leather hides. I love the medium. When I find a gorgeous hide I often dream up the perfect bag and I go with the impulse. I’m also inspired by classic vintage pieces; I’m a huge fan of handmade items. More than anything I am very self indulgent in my design process, I make bags that I want and need.

CL: Current musings?

RKO: I spent a considerable amount of time this summer in Madison Valley, Montana, and returned to my roots doing a lot of horseback riding. My Spring 2013 collection will have some equestrian influences and new styles utilizing heavy weight leathers.

CL: Favourite song of the moment?

RKO: “Boxcar” by Shovels & Rope; the live version that’s recorded in a distillery in Nashville.

CL: What’s next for Ora bags?

RKO: I’m a few bags away from hand-making my 500th bag; pretty sure I should have a party to celebrate!

Ora Bags Fall 2012 from Ora Bags on Vimeo.


Interview: Carmen Lam. Images and video courtesy of Randi Katherine Obenauer.