Keep Calm with Karmme: The Leather Clutch Brand with a Feel-good Story
Imby Langenbach talks business, and how creating beautiful, bespoke bags keeps her calm in a crazy-busy life.
Here at Sitchu, we love a local business whose success is backed by a feel-good story, and we can’t get enough of KARMME – a bespoke leather clutch brand.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s true of KARMME. Its founder, Imby Langenbach, has always had a creative spirit, but it wasn’t until she had neck surgery that she realised she needed to toss out her huge, heavy shoulder bags.
She used her sewing skills to make a leather clutch to stash her phone, wallet and keys. The design was genius in its simplicity, and people started asking questions. Imby started working on a range of clutches – all with the same soft leather and signature clean, minimalist aesthetic.
Fast-forward to now, and the exclusively online business is thriving. The range includes tan, metallic and shibori clutches, along with totes. Imby calls her products her ‘ladies’, and they really are lovely.
We caught up with Imby to chat about the booming business, and how creating beautiful bags keeps her calm in a crazy-busy life.
Q&A with Imby Langenbach
What prompted you to start the business?
KARMME was born from the desire to create. I had given a clutch to my sister for her birthday, as I try to make an element of her gift every year. I’d also had neck surgery and didn’t want to carry a heavy bag on my shoulder anymore, so I made a clutch for the school pick-up essentials: phone, wallet and keys. People in Perth (my hometown) and Sydney started asking about the clutches, and social media added to the market, and the business began. It was about making something women needed, but making it beautiful. I think people liked my story and supported locally-designed and made products.
What does KARMME mean?
KARMME means ‘calm’. When I was naming the business, I was thinking about what it does to me, and how it makes me feel – and I kept coming back to ‘quiet’, ‘peaceful’, ‘free’ and ‘calm’. So KARMME is a play on words – it’s a verb, ‘calm me’, and an adjective. Creating is the only thing in my daily life that makes me feel calm. My mind wanders while my hands are busy. It grounds me, and the life stuff floats away.
You’re constantly creating unique pieces. Where do you find inspiration?
It’s more a real need to create. I love learning; I become quite obsessive with working things out and I strive to do everything to a high standard. The perfectionist in me does not get in the way of completing tasks – once I have an idea, I must see it through. I’m driven by practicality balanced with beauty in design. I like to create based on a need, and then I try to make something that is useful, beautiful and has a sense of story behind it. I don’t actively search for inspiration. I rarely follow fashion trends or watch what others are creating. Rather, I like to think about what I would like to hold and how I’d like it to make me feel, and then recreate that for other women.
Why do you think your line has had such an incredible response?
I had incredible support from family and friends at first, then the wider community. This branched out to the creative community, and then that circle grew to include their friends and families. I’ve always maintained that you need to give your customers a reason to buy your product. There are so many products to choose from, so I strive to deliver an easy ordering system, beautiful imagery, a story, exceptional customer service, and a high-quality, unique product with attention to detail right through to the hand-written note and wrapping. I’ve worked hard to build the brand to be one people can rely on, and they seem to keep coming back for more! It’s not an ‘on-trend’ brand; I hope it transcends age, stage of life and even gender.
You’ve said that the products vary to a degree. Why is that?
As leather is a natural product, there will always be variation in texture depending on the section of hide it is cut from. I aim to be as conscious as I can to not waste the leather. The Shibori range of clutches are completely unique – no two can be the same even if we tried. It’s art transformed into a practical piece to be both used and admired.
Where do you source your supplies and materials?
The materials for the new range are all sourced from Italy. I have an exclusive range of tans that have been developed to pair with black, navy, red and pink to form the base range of KARMME ladies for 2017. I also have a team of makers in Sydney who help me with stitching. I’m proud to design and make my line in Australia, and source via an Australian leather supplier who has worked with these tanneries in Italy for over 30 years.
That’s amazing! What does a typical day for you involve?
Most days, I get my three children off to school and then enjoy a coffee over emails, news and social media catch-ups. I then wrap and send any orders that have come through, and make up clutches. Some days are dedicated to dyeing fabric for the linings, and others are all about meeting my suppliers and makers. I’m not very disciplined at finishing at a certain time, but I usually stop between 3-8pm to run around to after school activities and spend time with the children.
What’s your all-time favourite ‘lady’? And which is the most popular?
That’s a hard one. It’s like choosing your favourite child! Ms Sophia is my most popular clutch – I love seeing the classic tan colour paired with the hint of indigo and crisp white in the lining. GLACIAL from the Shibori range never ceases to amaze me, and I love the recent Shibori collaboration that resulted in BLOOM.
Speaking of your collaboration with Shibori, how did it come about?
I was given a shibori dyeing kit for my 40th birthday, and I thought ‘I better book in for a class and learn how to do this properly.’ I’d wanted to line the clutches in an organic indigo and white fabric, but I couldn’t find it and didn’t know about shibori at that stage. As soon as I learned the technique, I knew I’d found my lining – it was just as my mind’s eye had seen it. Karen and Pepa from Shibori were running the course, and were so encouraging. I went back to their studio for another lesson and saw some leather Karen had been refining the shibori technique on. I asked if I could play with it, and the first shibori clutch was born. We’ve since gone on to develop designs for KARMME and it seems we’re the only ones using this leather for handbags. It feels great to give their art a functional form, and they’re really beautiful people to work with.
Can you let us in on what’s coming up next for KARMME?
KARMME’s new range is about to be released. It’s something I never thought would happen, in my wildest dreams. My original leather supply was becoming unsustainable, and I’d always wanted to make my design, supply and production as close to being all Australian as I could. Over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve been able to gauge the colours that are most popular and I realised that being wooed by new colours was not a smart way to run my business. So, I’ve refined the base range of KARMME ladies to eight. There are four tans that have been developed specifically for KARMME – no one else has these colours, anywhere. It’s so exciting! The rest of the line is made up of a black, midnight navy, gorgeously rich red and cerise pink. The leather is plump to touch and beautiful to hold. The tote bag will expand to four, and I’ll continue to work on limited-edition designs with Shibori.
You’re a Coogee local. Where are your favourite places to eat, drink, shop and exercise in the area?
Little Kitchen on Arden Street has the best avocado toast I’ve tried! The Bakehouse on Malabar Road make my favourite coffee. Sugarcane on Carr Street is the place to go for top-notch Asian cuisine and Lion & Buffalo on Malabar Road is a great spot for breakfast, lunch and coffee. Although not in my immediate area, Flour & Stone in Woolloomooloo has the best cakes. Everything is divine.
The Coogee Pavilion is always fun on a warm evening after a day at the beach.
LivedIn Coogee on Arden Street is a carefully curated shop by Vanessa Kidwell. It’s my go-to for gifts.
Iyenager Studio in Maroubra for yoga and Coastal Bodies in South Coogee for (punishing) circuit training.