Ora Bags designer Randi Obenauer crafts chic, artisan leather goods
“The Beast”—that’s what Ora Bags designer Randi Obenauer calls her old-school heavy-duty sewing machine. And together, they pump out some of the prettiest leather purses in the city. They also custom-build bitchin’ biker seats. But regardless of how soft or how hardcore the designs are, they treat every creation with the same stringent quality control. So whether it’s a petal-pink tote or a honkin’ King and Queen ass pad, Obenauer products are built to last.
“I take a lot of pride in my craftsmanship, and the Beast is no little girlie sewing machine,” says the genuinely sweet and classically feminine designer, who recently sat down with the Straight at her West Hastings workshop. “It’s definitely an industrial tool, which has been an advantage to me. I mean, it’s my best friend, so we get along pretty good.”
While Obenauer does carry a line of premium bags made from new hides, half of her collection is made from upcycled leather jackets.
“I always try to get them from nonprofit sources,” says Obenauer, who sells her bags through several local boutiques, including Nouvelle Nouvelle (209 Abbott Street), El Kartel (1007 Granville Street), and Sitka Vancouver (1864 West 4th Avenue).
From those materials, Obenauer creates, among other things, an impressive array of gorgeous, one-of-a-kind artisan Billy and Bobbi backpacks ($365 to $380). The former comes with hand-braided adjustable straps for a more bohemian look, while the latter has a nautical drawstring closure and a more South-of-France-jaunty look.) One of her top sellers this season is the Sadie, a cinch-top bucket backpack that comes in a variety of new leather colours, like pink, coral, and burgundy ($250).
“It’s a smaller piece, but in the last six months it’s just been blowing up,” says Obenauer. “I see them all over the city all of the time and it’s the bag I use most often.”
But despite the growing demand for Ora Bags, Obenauer doesn’t see a time when she’ll succumb to the financial lure of mass production.
“The hands-on process is really important to me,” says Obenauer. “I mean, I absolutely want to see it [her label] grow, but I don’t ever want to see it becoming a brand that’s mass-produced in China….l’d like to stay on a smaller, more exclusive level than that.
“People often ask me, ‘What designers do I aspire to be with?’ ” she continues. “But honestly that’s just not me. Like, I’m really inspired by vintage pieces, and to be perfectly honest—this may sound really self-indulgent—I make bags that I want.”
Some of her modern designs include her tube-shaped handlebar bike bags ($110), which come in black, chocolate brown, and rich brown. These bad boys are made from a sturdy new water-resistant leather. So they may not have the same kind of previously loved historical vibe to them that her recycled leather goods do, but give them time.
“Maybe 20 years from now—seeing one of my pieces in a vintage setting?” says Obenauer. “That would be pretty rewarding for me.”