The endless struggle of fashion versus practicality is whether or not it's worth suffering with ineffective materials just to show off what you've got. --- It's a fun question many pose to themselves when looking over the latest dress, hat, piece of jewelry or even handbag. But one local designer seems to have figured that last one out.
Amber Dunford simplified the hassle of a flimsy handbag by adding a metal ring in the corner, allowing the owner to throw it on their arm and continue to carry it about like it were a bracelet. The idea sparked her own business mOde, caught the attention of local retailers, and even scored her spots at craft fairs around the valley. Today we chat with Amber about her handbags, the rise of mOde and her success so far, thoughts on local art and a few other topics.
Gavin: Hey Amber. First thing, tell us a bit about yourself.
Amber: Oh man, this question always gives me anxiety. I’m never sure how to talk about myself and not sound awkward. Well, I obviously like to sew. I hoard obscene amounts of fabric and will squirrel away trinkets, old curtains, fabric scraps and so on, with intentions of turning them into something fabulous one day. I’m probably the opposite of an “old soul.” I was born on Christmas and sent home in a stocking, I love traveling, I carry all bugs outside and if you spend more than an hour with me, I will likely subject you to a tarot-card reading and/or my best gypsy impersonation. In my non-crafting hours, I teach and develop a design psychology course for design students at Salt Lake Community College. I also do window displays and styling for a retail fashion company.
Gavin: When did you first take an interest in crafting, and what was it like for you learning?
Amber: My momma is very creative and is actually the one who helped to refine my sewing skills when I finally decided to take it serious. My grandpa was also an amazing artist and encouraged me to use my imagination when I was young. He helped me retain the belief that anything is possible and daydreaming is worthwhile. I suppose crafting and creativity are somewhat in my blood. By no means am I done learning, however, and I still consider myself a novice.
Gavin: How did the idea come about for the giant-ringed bag?
Amber: I used to oversee a fabric line for a local furniture store, and the samples were bound together by a large metal ring. When fabric lines were discontinued, my pack-rat instincts kicked in and I couldn't bear the idea of tossing them. In short, I began hauling the fabrics to my house with no specific plan for using them. After some experimenting, the mOde clutch was born and I decided to incorporate the metal ring used on the original samples.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in making one, from design to final product?
Amber: I usually start with choosing prints I want to work with, then find complementary fabrics to use on the opposing side and lining. If I like a specific image on a fabric, I will occasionally cut it out and embroider it onto the clutch. I also started experimenting with screen printing last year, although this adds another step in the already lengthy sewing process. I try to do an assembly-line style for sewing; however, since I am the only one in the line, it can take some time. My dog and VP of mOde is also involved in the process, as he’s generally on my lap while I sew or asleep on a pile of fabrics.
Gavin: According to your description, the designs are made from repurposed and salvaged fabrics. Was this done by design or simply done due to expenses?
Amber: A little of both. Finding purpose and beauty in discarded items is something that has been part of me since I was a kid. Repurposing fabric is obviously a more cost-effective way to do business, but it also forces me to think out of the box and I feel good about giving something a second life.
Gavin: What made you decide to start up your own business with them, and where did the name mOde come from?
Amber: I was renting an art space with some friends and I put a few early edition clutches on display during a stroll. My darling friends all showed support and purchased clutches (I am embarrassed now at how raw the design was). It was exciting to hear feedback and see friends wearing my creations, so I started refining the design and entered a few craft shows later that year.
Gavin: Was it pretty easy or difficult getting set up and creating an inventory to start out with?
Amber: In another life, I will be an accomplished seamstress. However, since this is one of many projects I have going, I tend to do marathon sewing sessions before an event or when I set up inventory for a new boutique. When I am inspired by a print on an old shirt, tablecloth or dress remnant, I usually end up devoting several days to cutting and sewing and end up with a new line of clutches. This is a bit of a mad scientist approach and not the most organized, but it seems to work for now.
Gavin: Last year you took part in Craft Lake City and got a lot of local exposure on local media because of it. First off, how was the event for you in general that year?
Amber: Craft Lake City is fantastic and everyone at SLUG has been so great to me over the years. I had so much on my plate this year and didn't sign up, which I am really sad about because it’s such an amazing event and it brings a great crowd. Craft Lake City is hands down the most successful event I have participated in.
Gavin: What did you think of all the new found exposure and press you got afterward, and how did it impact your business as a whole?
Amber: I am always so grateful for any exposure in my direction and have been blessed to get attention for doing something I really love. Over the past few years, I have shipped out online orders across the country, been commissioned for clutches and bike pads, and have been fortunate enough to take part in some really fun events. My business is honestly so humble and consists of just me sewing away and listening to music, often with an adult beverage and a small Italian Greyhound on my lap. I still blush and do mini jumps when I see someone wearing my clutch or riding around with one of my bike pads.
Gavin: Your bags have now become a staple in Blonde Grizzly. How is it for you to see your products in a local shop?
Amber: Caleb and Hilary at Blonde Grizzly and amazing. I love what they are bringing to Salt Lake and they are so fun to work with. It’s really exciting to have a home for my clutches and I’m lucky to have a spot alongside incredibly talented artists.
Gavin: As you mentioned before, you've also started making bike pads from your designs. What influenced you to start doing those, and where can people find them?
Amber: The bike pads were actually quite random. My friend Andy suggested that I start making them, so I went home and gave it a shot. I think I ended up making him one with wolves on it, which has since been retired after a series of events involving a cat and a broken collar bone. The bike pads are mainly by request, as I know how particular people are about their bike accessories. If anyone is interested in a bike pad, they can email me some color suggestions and dimensions.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand into other areas, or will you be sticking with what you're doing for now?
Amber: I started creating larger styles last year and I think I will add some of those designs eventually. As for now, I am really inspired by interesting vintage prints and most things circa the '70s. I am always on the hunt for fabrics that catch my eye.
Gavin: Going a bit local, what's your take on our craft scene, both good and bad?
Amber: Our craft scene is actually quite impressive. We have so many talented artists here and I think the community has been great at rallying around local crafters. The trick is to not be oversaturated with the same product—it takes constant work to stay fresh and unique in the craft world.
Gavin: What's your take on events like Craft Sabbath, Beehive Bazaar and Craft Lake City, and what they do for the local craft community?
Amber: These events are great for bringing together diverse groups of people and exposing crafts to the masses that might otherwise never stumble upon them. They also help local crafters to create a community amongst one another, which always feels inspiring for me.
Gavin: What can we expect from yourself and mOde over the rest of the year?
Amber: I will likely focus on putting out some new styles for Blonde Grizzly and hopefully work with some of my artistic friends to collaborate on some screen prints. There are some new boutiques on the horizon that might carry mOde, which is exciting and should breed new creations.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Amber: Absolutely! My lovely friend Sarah Pace is the creator of Noble Town Vintage jewelry, also found at Blonde Grizzly and on her etsy shop. She never fails to impress me with her creations and creativity. Also, please check out my friend Jess Sluder, who is donating all proceeds from his merchandise towards the Red Cross and Worldwide Disaster Relief to assist those in Japan.
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