In 2008 Harper Poe got bored of interior design and construction, so she did what anyone would do—she quit her job and went to work for Habitat for Humanity in South America. She was hoping to find clarity on her trip, but what she found was a fierce passion for textiles and traditional techniques. She had an idea, and it wasn’t long before the idea became Proud Mary, an international textile company that designs and distributes textiles made by native artisans.
Today Harper travels all over the world sourcing textiles, talking with artisans, and developing designs and products. On any given day, Harper may be jetting off solo to Mali, wandering a Moroccan souk for inspiration, or meeting with artisans in Guatemala. Or she may be just hanging out in her new retail space in Elliotborough with her adorable 5-month-old son, Ever. “Charleston is such a great place to start a business," she says. "Here we just assume everyone is an entrepreneur."
Proud Mary textiles can be found all over the country in stores such as Anthropologie, Madewell, and Urban Outfitters. Harper says that people have discovered the beauty of authentic, handmade textiles, and big brands want to meet consumer demand. This is good news for her artisans, many of whom depend on Proud Mary as a sales outlet. However, Harper is clear that her relationship with artisans is about pride, not pity. “My relationship is business-to-business. It’s about preserving indigenous techniques and helping create economic development.”
As dedicated as she is to preserving centuries-old techniques, she says it’s gratifying to see artisans evolve their crafts as they work with Proud Mary. “Some people would say you should never change anything about tradition. And sometimes that’s okay. But you have to let things evolve. It’s like living in Charleston. You have to find the sweet spot between growth and being stuck in the past.”
Words by Robin Howard
Photo by Melissa Toms