How one Australian woman accidentally started a fashion label
IMAGES VIA KARMME
WORDS BY JASMINE WALLIS
We’re feeling Karmme.
Imby Langenbach didn’t mean to start a fashion brand. The founder of Karmme, an Australian accessories label, she doesn’t actually have any formal training in the industry.
Despite not possessing a degree in fashion or undertaking a fancy apprenticeship at a luxury Parisian design house, Imby has been sewing for over three decades and channelled it all into creating beautifully made small-run leather goods.
Originally called Therapy after the soothing effect making the bags had on her, it was through designing her sister’s birthday gift one year that Imby snowballed into launching a brand.
“I’d just moved to Sydney from Perth and I was wandering around a fabric store and I saw a piece of leather and thought ‘Oh I’ve never worked with leather before I might just make her a little clutch bag’,” Imby tells me over the phone. “I didn’t think too much about it and then she and her friends loved it.”
After women in her circle asked her to design more, and a neck surgery meant Imby couldn’t carry her own heavy, uncentered tote bag, Karmme was born.
Launching six years ago – around the same time Instagram began to morph into the social media giant it is today – Imby started sharing her creative projects with the world.
“I started this little account where I put photos of things I was making just so my mum and my sister could see in Perth and it started to get a following. It was right at the beginning when Instagram became a platform for creatives and a platform for people to sell things,” she explains.
Being a small business owner, Imby was wearing all of the hats as the sales picked up.
“It just organically rolled out and I ended up having a business that I couldn’t believe. I was making all of the bags for two or three years, hand dyeing all the lining and then I got to the point where I wanted to be a brand rather than being a mum who makes bags.”
The bags in question are timeless leather goods with an indigo-dyed lining. Ranging from card pouches (or as they’re known on Karmme, CCK: Cash, Cards, Keys) to metallic going out bags, each one is designed and produced locally in New South Wales.
Wanting to create a personal connection to the customer, Imby also doesn’t wholesale the accessories to third-party stores. You can only purchase a piece online or by visiting the South Coogee studio.
Considering the initial and unexpected success of Karmme, why is Imby focusing on small, locally-made runs?
“I think because I never went into the business to sell stuff. I just want to make things that I love. I never really think ‘Oh this would be good to sell’, it’s not a great business strategy but I always think if I want to use it then I’ll make it,” Imby says.
“That’s very much how the designs come about. I don’t want to put stuff on sale or clear seasonal things. I want to make just enough that I can sell.”
This mindset of making only what the brand needs also filters through in the design of the bags. You won’t see any trending patterns or bright colours that can only be worn with a fluro yellow jacket on one particular summer’s day.
Instead, Imby creates designs in neutral colours so the pieces will remain classic and timeless, making Karmme a great choice for people curating a capsule wardrobe of well-made pieces.
“I’ve never been a trend person. That’s why I want the colours to work with anyone’s wardrobe. I don’t want it to be a trend, I don’t want someone to buy a piece of my work and then in five years time say ‘What was I thinking buying that bag? I’ll never wear that again’.”
The matter-of-fact way that Imby talks about her brand and its mission of creating enduring designs reminds me of the leatherworkers and cobblers of a bygone era.
She’s not interested in the faff of fashion or creating a bag for every sub-culture and micro-trend that appears on our shores. Karmme is a respite from the loudness of the competitive fashion industry. With that in mind, what is the brand’s ultimate mission in the accessory space?
“I want the feeling of receiving a piece of Karmme to feel special, whether you’ve had to save or it’s been gifted to you,” Imby says passionately.
“All of these designs come about because if I’m going to have to carry a bag I want it to feel beautiful against my skin, I want it to be practical… I want it to look timeless.”
To explore Karmme’s range, head here.