Danielle Karmo, an artist and photographer, began designing handbags simply for her personal use. Now, she’s taken those skills and combined them with her experience in New York’s fashion industry to develop a business of her own.
Karmo received a bachelor’s of fine arts degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She recently moved back to Michigan from New York City where she lived for more than six years working for small luxury brands. She worked directly with directors, pattern makers and sewers, as well as freelancing as a designer, illustrator and textile designer. She also worked under several different designers in the industry including Zac Posen, Tuleh, Chado Ralph Rucci, Erin Fetherston and Thakoon, all of whom inspired her to take her talent to the next level.
But the support doesn’t stop there.
“I gained so much knowledge from all the talented people I worked under in NYC. I’m very thankful for that experience and everything I’ve learned along the way, but if I didn’t have my mom’s creative hand and my dad’s business mind, I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to take something like this on,” she said.
As Karmo works on getting her latest handbag line off the ground, she sells her hand-designed purses online at mondokarmo.com and at small trade shows. She plans to see her bags at more online stores and currently has deals pending in both New York and Japan.
Her products are made with fine leather and range from $250 for smaller items to $650 for larger items. She designs leather totes, backpacks and other small leather goods that express a simple and clean classic look with vintage depth.
“I usually start designing by sketching loosely. Then I work on making canvas prototypes to get the dimensions where I want them to be. From there I begin working with a leathersmith who develops the final pattern after we go back and forth a bit, tweaking the style,” she said.
Her most recent collection is sourced and tanned by Horween, one of the oldest tanneries in the country and reputable for its traditional methods of tanning that are not harmful to the environment.
“Working with companies that are conscious of their effect on the environment is really important to me,” said Karmo.
Equally important is a commitment to help stimulate the domestic economy by having everything made in the United States.
Karmo’s attention to detail under the many different hats she wears sets her apart from her corporate competitors, who are often departmentalized into teams of designers and developers.
“Unlike corporate designers who appeal to buyers in a heavy way, thus stifling the design process, my experience in developing each style is an intimate one because I am able to take my time with each step of the way,” Karmo said. “My time is more invested in selling a great, well-designed, timeless product rather than a logo-crazed handbag that screams my name.”
Of course, there are drawbacks to being a young entrepreneur in the industry.
“A large industry designer can buy their material in bulk to keep costs down, which is something I am not able to do as a small designer,” Karmo said. “It unlevels the playing field for people like me, especially now that I have less access to factories, trim shops and fabric shops than I did while living in NYC.”
The limitations don’t hold her back, she said -- instead, they push her to channel her creativity in every detail.
Karmo gives the inside scoop on the latest handbag trends for 2013. “Celine, Jil Sander and Marni are a few designers I look to who seem to be the most forward thinking,” she said, “and I’ve noticed there is a certain ‘less is more’ approach to fashion accessories lately.”
Karmo’s latest collection will be complete by late June and hit stores in August. Visit daniellekarmo.com or browse her e-commerce handbag shop at mondokarmo.com.