Biz Ladies Profile: Harper Poe of Proud Mary

Harper Poe, Proud Mary
Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from textile designer Harper Poe of Proud Mary.  Harper’s entrance into the textile industry came upon her return from a volunteer trip with Habitat for Humanity in South America. Inspired by all that she saw and experienced during her travels, Harper decided to parlay that passion into her full time career. Proud Mary now works with artisans from the around the world in creating sustainable and ‘ethnic-modern’ decor and personal accessories.  Today, Harper shares more about her creative journey to becoming a business owner.  Thanks for giving us this glimpse into your career path! –Stephanie

Read the full interview after the jump…

Harper Poe, Proud Mary

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I wanted to be able to realize my own creative dreams, not someone else’s. I also have an insatiable love for travel and knew that I wouldn’t be happy unless I could incorporate that into my life in a major way.

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?

I knew that I wanted Proud Mary to be a design business produced with fair trade principles and with traditional methods of production but from the beginning I wanted my goods to be able to compete with modern/western designed products. I didn’t ever want my products to HAVE TO rest on their fair trade laurels.

Harper Poe, Proud Mary

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

This is specific to my industry but one of my mentors in the handcraft/artisan made industry told me to treat my relationships with my artisan partners as a business-to-business relationship. I think about this everyday as it’s really the only way to instill sustainable growth for the both of us. I have to demand quality goods, made on time in exchange for a fair wage and access to greater markets. There are a lot of bleeding heart types out there that want to support these poor women in little villages all over the world. Pride not pity, that’s my philosophy.

Harper Poe, Proud Mary

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Everything, I had no idea what I was doing and greatly underestimated how long and how much work it takes to reach your desired audience.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

Keep doing it.

Harper Poe, Proud Mary

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?

I first started solely as a retail business. My plan initially was to sell solely online. I produced a fair amount of pillows and bags expecting them to fly off the shelves (which at that time were a corner of my bedroom). That didn’t happen and I still have a stack of first generation Proud Mary products to prove it.

Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

I think my greatest success is being able to currently provide consistent work for my artisans in Mali. They have been greatly affected by a war and insurgency in the North of their country. Bamako used to be a bustling city with chic visitors from all over the world. Tourism is all but dead and their only source of income are their exported goods. I will continue to do everything in my small power to support them as best I can!

Harper Poe, Proud Mary

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

Design*Sponge Biz Ladies posts have been a great resource. I have referenced the PR posts a million times. Thanks ladies! I also love It is chock-full of amazing information for entrepreneurs.

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

Do they want to work all the time (because you have to)?

Have passion, it gives you drive to keep going.

Are you OK with cutting back financially? (starting a business is expensive!)


Nicole @

Kudos for turning your dreams into a successful venture! I’m curious about your initial business plan though. How did you develop contacts/sources for the artisans you work with? How did you initially fund your enterprise and expand? Thanks for the inspiration!

Sarah York

Great interview! I love her comment about wanting her products to stand on their own, not just on the basis of being fair trade. So inspiring!! And gorgeous products!

Emily @ Clementine

What beautiful products and a great story! I love that she says she had no idea what she was doing at first. I’ve found so many great resources *after* starting my business that I often wish I’d read before I started. Knowing that so many other women started like I did – with a lot of passion and far more to learn – is heartening.

Steve Philips

Great! Great attitude! So great.
Wish I’d had that high goal when I started on my own 45 years ago.
The evolution of people’s directions IS getting better.
Go Harper! Go!


fran Liscio

Congratulations to Proud Mary and to the many artisans she works with world wide. This post is both inspiring and truly helpful. I also appreciate the honesty of the interview. It has inspired me! Lots of good advice here–thank you very much for this great post.

Tia S.

Congrats! You have beautiful stuff; thanks for sharing your inspiration with all of us.