Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week we chat with Briana Brant, the owner of Arden and James. Bri, a trained Industrial Designer, started her Chadds Ford-based workshop and mercantile after learning the value of authentic materials and processes. Now she uses raw materials to hand make one-of-a-kind, modern goods like handbags, table runners, candles, stuffed animals,
Tell us a little about yourself and your career.
I am an Industrial Designer turned Local Food Marketer turned Designer/Maker. I am mom to two little boys. A wise professor in design school taught me to “let the materials be themselves.” These words have led me to transform natural materials into one of a kind pieces with authenticity and character. I also apply this philosophy to raising my boys – to be true to themselves. To do things their own way. In their own time.
What prompted you to start Arden & James?
While working for a little honey company near Boulder, CO, a friend taught me to make beeswax candles. I was instantly hooked on making functional objects from natural materials…objects that add a little something to one’s everyday life. When we returned to PA, I met a full-time local beekeeper and started using beeswax to waterproof leather. From there, I discovered some gorgeous woven linen from Belarus which was “asking” to be a tote. Putting the linen and leather together, I had the first batch of A+J totes!
The Arden + James company has grown with me and our family. My extra energy goes into it, and it grows at the perfect speed. New opportunities seem to come at just the right time. Just what I can handle. As a mom, creating tangible objects with my own hands has offered me needed balance in my life, as most of my energy goes into caring for the boys.
What is your brand’s most successful form of marketing?
Word of mouth is so effective, as well as meaningful. I do my best to make sure each bag is special and will last a lifetime. Customers share their stories with me – mothers will borrow daughters’ A+J bags before getting one of their own. I love that. I stand behind my work and want each customer to love their bag and to use it season after season. In years to come, I can imagine a girl pulling one of my bags out of her grandmother’s attic and giving it a whole new life.
What inspires you and fuels your creativity?
As an artist, materials are my inspiration. I look at a beautiful natural material and think, “what does this want to be?” Sounds funny, but that’s really how it goes. Just like I needed to make something out of that European woven linen, I will combine it with local beeswax coated leather and pure copper rivets to make a bag that will get better with age. I don’t use patterns, so each bag is one of a kind, and that leads to many exciting design improvements happening by accident. I am also really inspired by making a beautiful object that’s functional. Handbags are so personal. We get attached to them and depend on them daily. As a bag maker, it’s my job to recognize that. That’s why all of my bags are washable and will always look better the more they are used and worn.
What advice do you have for those looking to go from employee to entrepreneur?
Do what you feel, and do it your own way. No project is too small. Or too big. Be patient with yourself. If you lose your inspiration, try something different. We are all smart and we are all creative. The more you use your talents, the more you will get out of life.
Just for fun…
Ultimate vacation destination: I would love to take a local long weekend and revisit the Wharton Esherick Museum in Paoli, and then head to the George Nakashima House, in New Hope. Yes I am really a design nerd. I am so inspired by both if these mid-century designers, and we are so lucky to have their homes in our area! Or…to travel New Mexico’s Fiber Arts Trail…fiber weaving and dyeing…that has been on my list for years…and to spend some extra time in Taos.
Date night spot: With two noisy and rowdy little boys in the house, I dream about being able to sit still with my husband on the screen porch – with a beer or cup of tea and be able to talk. About anything. That would be so fun. And more relaxing than any vacation I could imagine. Doesn’t take much to make me happy these days!
Favorite handbag designer: Stella McCartney is amazing. Her work is so timeless and cool. I love a bag that is simple – built from basic geometry – with striking details.