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Designer Chat: Chicago native Anne Harper.
Before becoming founder and head designer of OMG Accessories, Chicago native Anne Harper worked at an upscale barbeque restaurant while studying fashion design at Columbia College Chicago. During her day job, she often chatted with the regulars—casual connections that would one day change her life.
Here’s how the story goes: After earning her degree in 2002, Harper started out as an apprentice with Fashion Express, where she honed her talents as an accessories designer. She had a knack for spotting the latest trends, and the company’s sales subsequently took off. “That’s when I became curious about what it would be like to go off on my own,” she says, noting the encouragement from restaurant regulars, several who were experienced entrepreneurs who gave her the confidence and financial backing to launch her own company in 2009. “I raised $100,000 in startup capital from the restaurant’s customers,” she says. “Everyone was so supportive that I’d found my niche in the accessories world.”
The young designer quickly outgrew her apartment office/warehouse as she landed accounts from Nordstrom, Macy’s and Von Maur, as well as leading specialty boutiques like Francesca’s Collection and Charlotte Russe. Sales took off, and Harper had to make sure OMG could keep pace. “I ultimately found another business partner, Jerry Putnam, who helped me take it to the next level with more financial backing,” she says.
OMG Accessories is now found in more than 100 retailers nationwide, offering fashion-forward accessories from glittery wallets and colorful cosmetic bags to friendly-faced fanny packs and studded mini backpacks. (Suggested retail prices range from $15 coin purses to $38 mini backpacks.) The brand’s target customer is a contemporary, savvy girl/woman from age 7 to 22. “She’s young yet understands trends and is drawn to items that are unique, kitschy, fun and exciting,” Harper says. —Emily Beckman
How often do you come out with new collections? It’s a constant development process. We have weekly meetings where we recap what’s happening at retail and then discuss new prints, colors and fabrics to work on. I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to the customer because preferences can change from week to week. That’s why I don’t like to buy too deep. We always want to be ready with something different and special. It gives people a reason to keep buying.
Where do you look for design inspiration? I try to not focus too much on what other people are doing. It’s more about analyzing what’s working in our own collection. When you look at too much stuff, you start to mimic it.
What are some hot accessories right now? Mini backpacks were big last year, and I expect that they will continue to grow in popularity this year. Everyone has their phone in their hand, so no one has time to hold a bag anymore. Our mini backpack designs with glitter pockets or anything fun and sparkly have performed well. In general, we make our accessories look different from the rest to give the consumer a reason to buy. Our whimsical and unique personality has been beneficial. When retail is bad, everyone goes back to basics, which makes OMG Accessories that much more eye-catching. We never want to be the plain black, cross-body backpack every tween owns. From glittery unicorns to holographic materials, we’re constantly evolving our product with more personality and creativity.
Otherwise it’s just a backpack, right? Yes. We recently introduced a mini backpack for dogs inspired by my French bulldog, Louie. Now he carries his own poop bags in style! At the end of the day, success comes from being innovative.
Who are some designers you admire? Gucci has certainly made a terrific comeback. Same with Fendi. It’s amazing how all it takes is one big transition to go from a sophisticated, non-attainable brand to a rejuvenated, interactive experience.
What’s the greatest challenge facing your business? Not knowing when a trend shift is happening and offering what people don’t want anymore. Figuring out how to infuse change without tarnishing the overall brand aesthetic is also a challenge. Lastly, it’s an ongoing challenge to maximize everything we do to further growth. My goal is to gain more financial backing, so we can introduce new categories down the road. I want to make OMG’s fun style at affordable prices known throughout the market.