Loralie Designs

Loralie Harris with a faceless dress sketch.

Loralie with a faceless dress sketch.

Loralie Harris is the spirit and creative force behind Loralie Designs. Her “Fun Ladies” machine embroidery designs have fanatic fans all over the world. Every new whimsical fabric collection — Nifty Nurses, Teachers, Sew Girls, now Apron Esque — is infused with in-your-face personality and attitude. Loralie thinks of fabric as the wardrobe, and embroidery as the jewelry.

Although she wears many hats at Loralie Designs, Loralie Harris thinks of herself as an artist and a writer. She says, “I love to do the artwork, and I always imagine the story. I often write a little poetry for some of my characters.” Maybe those unique stories are the secret sauce behind the success of Loralie’s Ladies.  

Like most girls, Loralie always loved fancy dresses. In college she discovered the world of theater and costuming, which provided the perfect launchpad to open her own little boutique. After college, she opened a tiny, one-of-a-kind boutique in Capitola By the Sea and never looked back. It was 60’s California and she was right on trend.  She considered herself a hippie merchant, making long dresses (remember granny dresses?)  hostess gowns, little tops and bathing suits. “It has always been a thrill for me to have a customer purchase something I created. Being an artist/merchant has been a gift in my life.”

Loralie Original, 2003.

Loralie Original, 2003.

After Loralie married her husband Chuck, he took her home to Alaska where they lived together on his boat. He was a contractor, and she opened another little shop in downtown Ketchikan which quickly became the “go to” place for handmade, one-of-a-kind dresses for local weddings and special occasions. Their son, Tim, was born in Alaska, and he was always a part of the business. He used to take his nap under the cutting table in a tub full of fabric scraps.

When Tim was five, the family moved to California and went into the wholesale dress business. They started “Loralie Originals.” Loralie happily became the designer of prom and bridal wear and Chuck engineered and ran the factory. For 20 years, their formal dresses were sold all over the world. Loralie Originals had 300 employees and became a respected major player in the world of women’s formal attire.

But, in 2000, the Chinese came into the formal wear market. That was the beginning of the end. “We had worked hard to build a business we were very proud of — but we just could not compete. We tried everything, but the writing was on the wall. After a long process of downsizing and reinventing ourselves we finally had to call it quits, laying off all employees and selling off hundreds of sewing machines and closing our factory in Northern California. We had to let it all go.”

First Ladies, Doodles on a hotel note pad, circa 1995

First Ladies,
Doodles on a hotel note pad, circa 1995

On one of her last fabric buying trips to New York City for Loralie Originals, Loralie was doodling while talking to Chuck on the phone. Although she had always sketched her dress designs on faceless models — she had the urge to draw faces. She saved those first doodling sketches. Little did she know at the time that these “First Ladies” would be the start of a whole new breed of fun, quirky characters who would populate Loralie’s world for years to come!

Because Loralie Originals had been buying fabric wholesale for many years, they had many contacts in the industry. With the popularity of Loralie’s fun characters growing in embroidery, stepping over to the production/wholesale side of the fabric business seemed like a logical next step for the Harris family.

Loralie’s creative haven.

Loralie’s creative haven.

They went to their first fabric trade show in Kansas City in 2005 with three groups: Nifty Nurses, Cool Cats and Bathing Beauties. “It was a whole new world for us. After 20 years of being a manufacturing business, we became a warehouse operation.” It has been twelve years since that first market and the original three collections are still available and selling and have become classics in the Loralie assortment.

Loralie Designs has always been a family business. Loralie creates the art and Chuck manages production and financials from their home in Arizona. Their son Tim and his wife run the office, website and warehouse from Northern Colorado. Loralie’s design process rotation cycles every quarter, so new collections of fabric and embroidery are always in the oven. They have the fabric produced, warehouse it in Colorado and sell it through the wholesale market to retail shops all over the country. They also sell through international distributors in Japan, Europe, Australia and many other countries. “I marvel and am thankful that the imagery and message is international in its appeal.”

In Colorado they have a few future rocket scientists cutting, folding, making fat quarters, packing and shipping. “We think of ourselves as a colorful, fun business experience for them along the road on their way to the corporate suite or university!”

Loralie Designs - Ooh Lá Lá . . . Personalities that make a smile!

Ooh Lá Lá . . . Personalities that make a smile!

Every collection starts with a “panel” which is the heart of the “story. Loralie thinks of the panel as the star of the play, and the related novelty prints are the character actors, and the coordinates as the chorus in her fun production on cloth. Loralie’s love of theater has always been at the core of her art. She often writes stories to go with her fabric collections — or poems that could easily become songs. A little known fact — Loralie has actually written a musical review — Fun Ladies Follies. If you think one collection is fun, try putting ten together with costumes, music and silly lyrics!
 
Loralie’s designs have a personality all their own. “I always strive for friendly humor in my artwork. It is my pleasure to put a spring in a lady’s step and see her face light up with inspiration for a project when she sees my work. The comment I hear most often is,‘They just make me smile.’I am so blessed to be able to share my work, and support my habit!’’  

Every Loralie design or character has a unique voice and she thinks of her art as a gift from God. “Every designer has a special ilk, inscape, vision which is their own. It is important to turn on your receptors to absorb creative input from all around you. It is a kind of mental wavelength I intentionally exercise.

Then, get into the idea, start the work, and if it is good it will grow. I just let it flow. I don’t know what little buddy will come forth next to make me smile first and then go on to cheer so many others. I may start with a theme in mind but the particular characters are quite spontaneous and a surprise!”

So what does the future hold for Loralie Designs? As the grandchildren now nap in the scraps, it will be the Harris children’s challenge to continue the life of Loralie Designs, a kind of “Strange Inheritance” still in progress. In fabric, embroidery and wherever they may take up residence it is Loralie’s hope that her characters and collections will continue to put a spring in the step and a smile in the heart.”

www.loraliedesigns.com

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