We Meet The Woman Behind KARMME, Making Clutches That Will Transform Your Bag Wardrobe

We Meet The Woman Behind KARMME, Making Clutches That Will Transform Your Bag Wardrobe

As modern mothers, we're guilty of carrying enough in our handbags to survive the apocalypse. Is it any wonder we're constantly complaining about back pain?

GRACE Collective Business Member Imby Langenbach knew this feeling all too well, and after suffering a serious neck injury, realised that she might need to create another option. Combining this need with her love of creation and an obvious eye for style, KARMME was born. Creating collections that are as beautiful as they are functional, we’re already lining up for one of her leather clutches that are set to replace every oversized bag in our arsenal. We can feel the shoulder pain lifting already. We caught up with Imby to find out about KARMME, and found that her story and her ethos – which impacts every part of her life – is as inspiring as her collection. Shop KARMME here.

Like many mothers suffering from the pain that comes with too-large-too-heavy bags, you were inspired to create Karmme as the perfect sized clutch. Can you tell us a little more about the inspiration behind the brand? 

KARMME was born through the desire to create, combined with a gift to my sister and a health issue that left me not wanting to carry bags on my shoulders any more. I have always created, through many mediums – sewing, cooking, baking, embroidery, quilting, interior design, house design – it’s kind of part of who I am and have always been. I never realised how important creating was to me until I reflected upon it whilst writing my bio for the website. For 35 years it’s been what I’ve done; my escape when life got too busy, the thing that made me quiet and still in my mind but kept me busy with my hands. It makes me feel calm, hence my business name, KARMME. My sister lives in Perth and I live in Sydney. She always wanted me to make her a birthday gift. So one year after looking around my new neighbourhood in Sydney, having just recently moved, I found a piece of leather and decided to make her a clutch for her gift. I sent it off without much more thought. After a while she told me she loved using it and her friends had asked where she got it from. Meanwhile I was suffering from excruciating neck/shoulder pain and was unable to carry bags at all and I ended up having surgery to replace a ruptured disc in my neck. I really didn’t want to strain my neck further from carrying any bags, light or heavy on my shoulder. I found myself up at school pick ups or the shops with my keys dangling on my little finger, wallet under my arm and phone in my pocket. I decided to make myself something to put it all in. I didn’t realise a ‘clutch’ was a ‘thing’, not being particularly into fashion, to me it was a way to not lose my bits and pieces, hold my young children’s hand on the walk home from school and not have straps pulling on my shoulders any more. Paring back to a clutch made me realise how many unnecessary things I used to carry around. It was such a light feeling to just have a clutch with phone, keys, lippy and purse inside.

Tell us a little about the colours and fabrics you’ve selected to create the ultimate clutch for the modern woman. 

The KARMME range includes classics, metallics, shibori and the new embossed DESERT TALES range. The classic range is made up of Italian cabretta leather which is so exquisitely soft and plump to touch in eight colours. Four tan shades, exclusively developed in Italy for KARMME, from the smooth nude of Ms India-Rose, to chocolate brown Ms Audrey, with Ms Sophia and Ms Bo providing easy going tans in the middle. Classic Ms Liv is black, Ms Bella is a beautiful elegant navy, Ms Anastasia is a mysterious grey/slate with hues of khaki depending upon what she’s paired with and Ms Scarlett is the fanciest red, for when you need to walk into a room and own it. The metallic range was chosen for more of an evening range, although I do know many KARMME lovers have their shimmery ladies out and about daily too. Ms Brooke is charcoal/navy, Ms Stella and Ms Kylie are the never fail silver and gold in the range, Ms Storm is a pewter and ‘swoon’ is the rose gold of your dreams.  They also are Italian Cabretta, a soft yet full bodied leather that sits and falls so beautifully. The shibori range is a collaboration between KARMME and boutique textile agency, Shibori Textiles in Sydney’s inner west. Owners Karen & Pepa have developed the art of shibori, which is the folding and binding of fabric then dyeing to produce unique patterns, for leather. The result is leather that can not be replicated in design, no two clutches can ever be the same as the leather is hand dyed. There are two blue & white designs, AZURE & GLACIAL, both signature designs for KARMME and Shibori Textiles. DESERT TALES is the latest collection and was inspired by travels in North Western Australia in the middle of the year. The colours of the outback were mesmerising and I wanted to encapsulate them in a clutch collection. The leather is from Japan and the open bloom embossing is an exclusive print for KARMME. It provides and interesting, feminine texture to the clutches but is not too overt that it speaks too loudly. DESERT SKY represents the night sky, so dark yet so bright with stars, DESERT SAGE pays homage to the greenery unexpected in the desert, DESERT BLUSH is the beauty of the sky each morning and each evening and DESERT BARK represent the wonderous trees that grow with strength amidst the harshest of conditions. All the clutches are lined in hand dyed shibori 100% cotton. I couldn’t find the fabric I wanted so I learned how to make it myself. The process now is a complete labour of love given the volumes I dye, but I know that each clutch is unique as no two pieces of lining can ever be the same given the nature of the dyeing process.

What’s your process for coming up with new ranges? What does your creative process look like?

I don’t really put myself under any kind of pressure to release new ranges. I try to make KARMME transcend season, fashion trends and age. The creative process is often driven by meeting with my supplier to see the leathers he has sourced or talking to the girls at Shibori about techniques they have developed, and then weaving in a story from travel, life or memories into these ranges. Travel is also a huge factor for my creativity, I have lived overseas on and off for seven years and left Perth when I was 20 to adventure around the world. With three children now, travel is still our number one priority. The DESERT TALES range truly captures how a travel experience translates to a KARMME collection. I also design out of the desire to have something useful but beautiful. I developed the tote bag range because despite not wanting to have a bag on my shoulder, there were times when I need to carry more than a clutch, particularity when I travelled. The bag had to sit low enough for me to be able to access it easily, big enough to fit a couple of clutches in, plus tie a scarf around the handles and be soft so that when I didn’t have it full it sat quietly next to my body. Similarly, the sunglasses pouch came about after I kept breaking glasses by chucking them in my clutch. I needed something beautiful to protect my sunnies. GYPSY travel was designed when I was frustrated at being at an airport, responsible for 5 passports, boarding cards, etc and trying to slot them into tight areas of ‘passport holders’. I needed to be able to just throw them in, slide the boarding passes in quickly and retrieve just as quickly. So decisions about zip length and depth of pouch were all made around ease of access and the terror of being flustered going through airport security with three children!

What will we always find in your KARMME clutch?

I like to section the clutch using minis. I have a mini for my cash and cards, mini for my lip glosses (too many) and any other small items, a KARMME sunglasses pouch for sunnies so I don’t kill another pair, and then my phone slides in next to them all and keys sit on top. That way I can just transfer the minis into another clutch and transfer clutches in and out of totes when I use them. It’s all about ease and not too many decisions.

What do you feel are the must-haves for mothers to include in their clutches? (That is, once they’re out of the nappies-wipes-changes-of-outfits-phase?)

I think its about having whatever you have at very easy access. As a mum of three, particularly when my daughters were little, I needed to be able to get things quickly. So in a clutch I’d say you just need to know where things are. I used to dump everything in the bottom, I don’t think that’s efficient for mums, so that’s why I use the mins to organise my clutch a bit more. The Babushka effect I like to call it. Some kind of lip balm, nude lip gloss, tissues, Doterra peppermint droplets, keys, phone, cash and cards. That’s it.

Can you tell us a bit about your home?

We built out home in Sydney about five years ago. We had built in Perth previously and my husband comes from a building family so we loved the process. The house is built using rammed earth in parts which creates 400 mmm thick walls that are made up of a mix of locally sourced earth and concrete. Walls are formed by ‘ramming’ earth into formwork and then taking the boards away to leave these somewhat organically made walls. The thermal properties are amazing, cool in summer, warm in winter. The colour of the walls depends where the earth is sourced. In far north West Australia where the technique is used a lot due to high temperatures the walls are red due to the high iron ore content in the soil. Ours are more yellow as the earth was sourced in NSW. We used recycled Jarrah timber flooring from WA, as we are from Perth and the Jarrah just reminds us so much of WA, it’s nice to have a bit of that in Sydney. We have large glass walls at the back of the house to capture winter sun, the puppy and kids can be seen lying in the rays steaming through mid winter. Downstairs is open with no walls but three distinct zones; kitchen, tv and study areas. It allows everyone to be in the same space but doing their own thing. My husband and I run another business from home so we can work in the study whilst the girls do homework or watch TV and not feel isolated from each other. Four bedrooms are upstairs with a separate living area for when we need a bit of quiet time! The block we built on has an extraordinary 30 metre frontage, quite unique in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney but it is not deep. It allows my KARMME studio, which is built next door, to have its own street frontage. The studio is connected to our back yard by the original circular concrete steps kept after we demolished the cottage that was on site. It allows me to work from what seems like home but is removed enough so I can delineate work and home life more than if I was inside the main house. It works well for being around for my daughters when they get home from school.

Raw materials, natural colours and textures feature in your home and your range. What appeals to you about this approach? 

I think I’ve always had a fascination with how things are made and artisan skills that go into the making. I had an uncle who was a wood worker, he would take me into his shed and we would make stuff. I knew how to sew so I took woodwork classes in high school. I wish I’d done metal work too but back in the eighties it was a bit out there! I think this is why I am drawn to natural colours and textures as it reminds me of ‘hand made’ rather than manufactured. I don’t tend to focus and aspire to be ‘on trend’ so the house is filled with materials and textures that reflect what we wanted in the home. It to be warm and inviting with clean lines, practical versatile spaces that can accommodate a growing, changing family and the materials used to stand the test of time and use. The kitchen benches I chose are stainless steel as I knew they needed to go from the girls doing their homework, to me baking and doing sugar work and then be wiped down to serve a meal on. The staircase, rather than be just a means to getting upstairs we made a feature with solid timber treads from recycled Jarrah with raw steel balustrading and raw steel stringers up the sides. A stone bath in our bedroom against the rammed earth wall means I feel like I’m in a hotel room each day (not much time to soak but I can dream). Each feature of the house was very well thought through to achieve what feels like a really nice space to spend time in. We now run a building company in Perth and I am responsible primarily for design and I apply the same principals of practicality, aesthetically pleasing. Taking time to address attention to detail is so important.