The smell of a leather bag is euphoric, everlasting, and can be packed with memories. One whiff and you’re suddenly transported back to your grandmother’s closet as she gifts you her prized designer purse. Or, perhaps you’re reminded of the mother-daughter shopping trip that elicited your first quality ‘adult’ purse. The power of family traditions and passing down leather goods through generations is something that HOBO Bags keeps in mind.
HOBO was founded in 1991, after Toni Ray cashed in her life savings to fulfill her lifelong passion for leatherwork, and start her own accessories brand. Her daughter, Koren Ray joined the brand and the pair quickly began crafting and selling their genuine leather bags. (The brand is now run by Koren and her husband David Brewer.)
While animal leather can certainly spark some ethical debates these days, HOBO exclusively uses premium leathers from animals that have already been sourced for food. Genuine leather lasts for generations, with proper upkeep, and maintains a unique character from its ever-developing, aging leather.
The brand really began to take off in 2003, when HOBO released the Lauren Clutch Wallet, a conveniently sized and easy-to-clasp wallet that can be dressed up or down. Nine years later, HOBO opened its first flagship location in Annapolis, MD. You’ve likely seen the iconic red-trim location while visiting the coast. The bags fill the local boutiques and are sold in independent accessories boutiques around the country.
Toward the end of September 2022, the brand opened its newest store on Georgetown’s Wisconsin Avenue. The second location is a cozy and tranquil spot for exploring the brand’s seasonally-rotating styles and catching whiffs of pristine leather handbags.
We sat down with HOBO Bags co-founder and chief visionary officer, Koren Ray, for a Q&A session all about the brand’s venture to Georgetown, how HOBO has evolved and what she recommends to all entrepreneurs.
Why open a store in Georgetown?
Georgetown holds a special place in my heart. My lifelong love of craft was born in my mom’s iconic sandal shop in Georgetown in the 1970s. We are proud to put retail roots down in the heart of the Georgetown community, in a neighboring city to our hometown, Annapolis, Maryland. The space embodies our brand’s ethos, creating an inviting environment alongside the many charming boutiques on the historical streets of the nation’s capital.
What about working with leather inspires you?
When you craft the best leathers, your products only get better with use and wear and can last a lifetime, passed down from generation to generation. It’s rewarding to have worked with small family tanneries in Italy and around the world for years - and it makes the job that much easier when you work with families who understand and appreciate the importance of quality.
How did growing up with a leather artisan parent influence your brand?
In my earliest memories, I am playing with scraps of leather under the craft bench in the '70s leather shop where my mom, Toni Ray, learned her trade. That’s where I learned to love leather for all of its beautiful imperfections and appreciate the unique story that each hand-crafted leather good tells. My mom taught me to live with integrity and design with intention.
Which bag style is your most popular? Which bag is your personal favorite?
Picking a favorite bag is like picking a favorite child…impossible! But I do have a special place in my heart for our Lauren Clutch Wallet. Designed after one too many wallet explosions in the check-out lane, and a need for the perfect wallet to get me from carpool, to work, to dinner out; Lauren is a versatile silhouette that transforms effortlessly from a wallet to a clutch, with compartments for your cash, cards, IDs, and change, and a pocket large enough for your iPhone. And, at a price point under $200, Lauren has changed the lives of over 1.5 million women and become our most collected, coveted style.
How would you like to see your business evolve in the future?
With the opening of HOBO Georgetown, we’re excited to see how our community will expand with the support of a second brick-and-mortar retail location. We hope to keep inspiring women to discover their personal style through self-expression while giving back to communities through our current partnership with Habitat for Humanity. We are committed to raising a minimum of $200,000 for the organization by October 1, 2023.
Any advice for aspiring designers/entrepreneurs?
Quality is worth the work. We believe that everything we create should be designed with beauty, soul and purpose and crafted for a lifetime relationship - and we've been doing it this way for 30 years. When people know you craft with only the best materials and intentions, you build a loyal community that shares a belief that the best things in life are made to last.
HOBO Georgetown is located at 1265 Wisconsin Avenue NW. Shop the full collection at hobobags.com.
Looking for more luxe stops in the city? Check out our picks for Where to Find the Most Beautiful Coffee-Table Books in DC.
Photography by: Courtesy of HOBO Bags