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A History of Passion and Enduring Design Philosophy in Leather Handbags

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The handbags design industry is always up to something unique. Hobo is a 26-year-old family-owned leather handbag brand. Their iconic Lauren clutch sold over a million pieces since launching 12 years ago (around $110 million in retail) and the brand overall has done over $20 million in wholesale. The current CEO and owner Koren took over the business from her mother and is an incredible entrepreneur. We had a chance to Interview Koren and asked about her story, how she keeps her business going and the future of Hobo.


Tell us your story. Why did you start your business?

We started HOBO in 1991, right here in Annapolis, with nothing more than my mom, Toni Ray’s, life savings and her passion for authentic, quality leather goods. Her knowledge of leather craft came from her years owning an iconic leather shop in Washington DC- Georgetown Leather. Grounded in the belief that our possessions should reflect our journey and deserve to be created with beauty, soul and purpose, she designed a small line of handbags on her dining room table and took her first collection of leather handbags on the road in a beat-up van, and HOBO was born.

How did you come up with your business name?

Hobo is steeped in heritage and folklore with a foundation of guiding principles and a code that feels kindred to our vision for our brand and products- for over 20 years it has been our lens and we hope to be here 20 years from now as well.

Tell us about your products and services. How do you help clients?

As HOBO thrives as a second-generation, privately owned and family operated brand, David and I still focus on creating beautiful, authentic leather goods that are made to last. We stay true to our passion and enduring design philosophy with handpicked leathers, timeless designs and a nostalgic tribute to the methods and soul of the ’70’s, creating bags that only get better with age.

What makes you unique? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?

Hobo is about a style of living.  It is for those of us that embrace a casual undercurrent to our style, who believe our well-loved jeans & perfectly worn-in boots are better than brand new.  There is a rock n roll energy, a tinge of boho and a respect for vintage finds in our customer’s mix.  Hobo women share an underlying belief in quality over quantity,  personal style over chasing trends, and an interest in discovering more niche, intimate brands that have actual people behind them over huge mega-brands that once dominated the market.    

Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?

In spring of 2017, we recognized that it was time to invest in the brand, to more clearly define our point of view in order to position HOBO for the next generation of growth. Building on our longstanding culture of quality product and our authentic origin story, we revised our logo with a new Journey Symbol, to represent the wanderlust spirit of the brand and went to work updating our imagery and overall brand look. The result has been a natural, organic evolution; one that aligns HOBO with the momentum of culture, a propensity for heritage brands, authentic products, quality over quantity and individualism.

Any advice you would give to entrepreneurs and business owners?

I would advise anyone starting a passion project to be true to your roots- only you can bring your point of view to the world, so do that with everything that you have and without fear. We are all made individuals for a reason with our own unique lens- by staying true to that, it clears the path of distraction and allows you to focus on what you do and do it well.

What is your favorite business quote and why?

My mother, and forever my best mentor, once said to me, when I was letting work get the better of me, “Honey, they’re only handbags”. I remember this quote always. It reminds me of the importance of keeping things in perspective.

Anything else additional you want to tell our readers?

Ever since I was very young, I’ve watched my mother, Toni Ray, as she faced the challenges of running a business, as a woman and as a single mother. When I was little I spent a lot of weekends at her leather retail store, watching as she ran her business with passion and conviction and treated those who worked for her with respect, honesty, humility and humor. I believe strongly in the culture that my mother created in the early years of HOBO. She lead by example, demonstrating that she wasn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and take risks, even when we were a small company with everything to lose. Today, my husband, David Brewer, and I run the business with the same principles. We encourage our staff to take risks and challenge the expected. Our confidence in their efforts breeds a collective passion that is great for the brand. After years of admiring my mother’s leadership, I can only hope to follow with the same integrity, grace and grit.

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