“Born from creative desire” is how Imby Langenbach describes the beginning of her two year-old business, KARMME.
Pronounced “calm”, the Sydney-based brand makes leather clutches and totes. Imby’s signature products are shibori-patterned leather bags in indigo blue and monochrome black and white. The patterns are hand-dyed by Pepa Martin and Karen Davis at Shibori textile agency, who I met in Sydney two years ago – just as Imby was finding the inspiration to start stitching up leather clutches and begin KARMME.
I am a creative person who never really knew how important creating was to me until I started KARMME. I design and make leather clutches in my studio in Sydney, Australia focusing on small batch production and collaborating with other creatives. I hope to provide my customers with an experience rather than just a purchase when they choose KARMME. I am also a mother to three daughters who embrace the creative chaos that surrounds them.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by the feeling of having something useful that is also beautiful. I needed something functional to carry things in, but I was inspired to offer something beautiful to fulfill that need. As I design more in collaboration with the Shibori girls I’m more and more inspired by the colors I see around me and by my travels. I’m inspired by artisan work that has been passed down generation to generation, and the work of other creative people – particularly ceramicists.
I am challenged to improve by my husband and mum who – aside from me – set the standards very high. Sometimes I challenge their criticism, but in the end, I know their criticism pushes me to produce the best work I can.
Why did you start your business?
My sister has always wanted me to make her a birthday gift, so each year I give her a handmade gift in her annual parcel. A few years ago – with her birthday looming – I was in a fabric store and I decided to make a clutch bag out of a piece of soft red leather that I found. I popped it into the post and hoped she would like it. In the months to follow, I had neck surgery with a disc removed and replaced. I want didn’t a big ‘mum bag’ dragging my shoulder down anymore, so I made up another leather clutch that I could pop my keys, phone, wallet, and lip balm into when I raced to do the school pick-up.
Just out of the indigo vat. Oxygen will turn the green parts blue.
Rinsing the dye off…
Rinsing the dye off…
Untying the fabric reveals the pattern!
Between my sister’s friends seeing the bag that I made her, and my friends seeing mine – and the Instagram account I had started – there was this explosion of interest in my work. I was lucky enough to have Luisa Brimble in my life, a beautiful friend and photographer, who helped me put a website together. I really couldn’t believe that people wanted to buy something I had created, but they did. I was at a point in my life when all my children were at school, we had just finished building a house, and was wondering what kind of work I was going to do after many years of mothering. I sourced some leather and thought “Why not?!”
What does KARMME mean?
KARMME means ‘calm’. When I was naming the business I was thinking: “What does this business do to me, how does it make me feel?” and I kept coming back to quiet, peaceful, free, and calm. So KARMME is a play on words – a verb to “calm me” and an adjective to make me calm. I pronounce it “calm”.
Tell us about your day-to-day studio routine.
Each day starts with a coffee, music, emails, Instagram, and news at my computer. I try to get the computer bit out of my day early. I then get to making orders or wrapping packages. I often have prepped zips or cut sections of leather ready to go, but sometimes I need to cut a heap of linings, or sew tags onto linings, or prep zips. I am trying to get more organized as the volume of orders is increasing.
Most days involve stitching, which I crave if I’ve missed it for a day or two. I meet with my makers – a husband and wife team who have been sewing leather for 40 years – or the Shibori girls about once week. Most of the time, I’m in the studio with my puppy and sometimes local customers come by to pick up an order. I go to the post office most days to send orders out. Shift three of my day begins when my girls get home and after-school activities and ‘mum stuff’ starts!
Imby preparing the leather.
Imby at work.
Ready to ship!
How did you meet Karen and Pepa from Shibori?
I was given a shibori dyeing kit for my 40th birthday and I looked at it and thought: “I better book into a class to learn how to do this properly!” As soon as I learned the shibori technique, I knew that I had found the lining I wanted to use for the clutches. Karen and Pepa ran the shibori class I attended and they were so warm and encouraging with me. Later, I went back to their studio for another lesson and saw some leather that Karen had been refining with the shibori technique. I asked if I could play with it – and the first shibori clutch was born! We have gone on to develop designs together just for KARMME. It feels great to give their art a functional form, and they are really beautiful people to work with.
What is special about the materials you use?
The leather we use for the shibori range is imported from Italy. Karen and I have worked together to refine the weight that works best for the clutches. We use a weight that has body, but also enough tenderness to yield to the hand and feel beautiful to hold.
Ironically, I don’t eat red meat so I try to honor the animal’s skin as a by-product to be appreciated and used thoughtfully. The 100% cotton linings are dyed using indigo. I am a small batch producer so my material waste is limited. An important part of my business model is to to tread as lightly as possible.
What’s your favorite part about running KARMME?
I get to make beautiful pieces every day. It’s like a dream. I still can’t believe I get to call this my job. I love my creative space and what it does for my mind. I love a vehicle for my creativity and sharing what I think is beautiful with others who seem to agree.
I want my customers to know that I appreciate every order. That it’s important that my touch is on each piece that leaves the studio. I genuinely hope my customers enjoy their KARMME clutch. My designs transcend age, stage of life, and even gender. I aim for my work to transcend seasons and trends. I am not into trends – I hate the thought of buying something for one season and replacing it for the next. I also want my customers to know that I don’t see success as supplying a heap of shops and selling in massive quantities. I see success as clients returning to buy another KARMME clutch. To me speaks volumes, and makes me incredibly happy.
The KARMME capsule collection:
The first group of the KARMME capsule collection for THE KINDCRAFT includes the Smoke tote, the Strength clutch, and the Dream mini clutch. Smoke is a full-sized tote bag crafted from hand-dyed leather using a watercolor technique. The Strength clutch is my first design I created with Karen at Shibori exclusively for KARMME – this clutch was made using a wax resist technique to create crackled lines and dyed black. The pattern design is determined by the strength of wax and her willingness to let the dye in. The Dream mini clutch also uses a watercolor technique, and she is perfect to pop lipstick, phone, cash and keys into. This collection is designed so that the mini clutch fits inside the clutch, and the clutch fits inside the tote.
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The indigo group is made up of the Burnt Caramel tote, the Azure clutch, and the Glacial mini clutch. The Burnt Caramel tote is the combination of my shibori lining and the rich tan leather – a match made in heaven. Internal pockets and her slouchy feel make her perfect for travel or weekend market wanders. Azure was the very first shibori design released as a clutch – I see shattered glass or shards of ice in her unique pattern design. The Glacial mini clutch has stunning lines that take me back to standing on a glacier in Switzerland years ago. She is designed to compliment either the Azure clutch or the Burnt Caramel tote.
No two clutches or bags could be the same, even if we tried. Each KARMME clutch is a piece of original art given functionality.