Six years ago, Emily Border went searching for a modern handmade leather tote that would go the distance. This was before the mass-marketing of simple, high-quality leather bags from Madewell, ABLE and Cuyana. What Bordner found was a market full of loud, logo-emblazoned purses that weren’t the style or the quality she wanted.
So the 2005 graduate of Lee’s Summit High School set out to make her own. When she enrolled in a class at Tandy Leather in Independence, she became immersed in a creative process that she could get lost in for hours, and that appealed to her because her creations would stand the test of time.
She made herself the bag she wanted, and then she started making them for other people, too.
“I love the idea that leather is a medium that can outlive someone,” Bordner says. “You puncture a hole in it and it’s going to be there forever -- it’s not like you can rip out a seam.”
Bordner describes herself as a creative with a little bit of an imposter syndrome before she hit on her current business, EB. She wasn’t a painter or an illustrator. At the age of 14, her bags made of tea towels unraveled at the seams. In her early 20’s she started a donut business and perfume business. It turned out that donuts were too perishable and perfume too messy.
Bordner delved into leatherwork as she finished up her MBA, and she was able to immediately put her knowledge into practice, launching EB Leatherworks in the fall of 2012.
She started out hand-sewing all her own pieces and selling them online and at local popups like Boulevardia and Strawberry Swing, but the demand became too great. Now, she designs all the pieces locally, sourcing hides for her one-of-a-kind pieces in Kansas City or LA. She works with one local Kansas City seamstress who produces all the pieces on an industrial leather sewing machine.
EB’s bestselling pieces – a crossbody, a short mini clutch and a bracelet bag – can now be found at her flagship location in the Made in KC Marketplace on the Plaza and online. Twelve boutiques in the KC-metro area carry EB pieces as well as boutiques in Austin, Texas and Longmont, Colorado.
As she’s experienced success, Bordner is intentional to collaborate with and coach other creatives, not coming to them with her idea of what she wants to do, but asking what they could create together.
She has partnered with local maker, Alyssa J, to offer the hand-letterer’s work in a colorway only found at Made in KC Marketplace, and she has upcoming projects in the works with local jewelers, ceramicists and illustrators.
EB’s collaboration with Kansas City style blogger Annie Austin helps potential customers envision how a particular piece may look in use, through Austin’s styled photographs and in person at popups throughout Kansas City. Over coffee, Austin and Bordner discuss design and what’s next in fashion.
Austin suggested having one of the earrings soldered in another place, changing the way the earring lays on the ear. This took the EB 3-piece jewelry collection to a 7-piece collection, which has turned out to be a customer favorite, Bordner says.
“She took the bones of what I did, moved stuff around, and made it a lot stronger,” she says. “This whole collection wouldn’t exist without Annie.”
Overall, Bordner says the growth of her business has been like a crock pot – a slow-cook process where she introduces pieces, finds out what people like best, and produces favorites in a larger quantity. The growth has been gratifying.
“To see someone love your product enough to buy it is so exciting,” Bordner says. “They spend their hard-earned money on it, and I try to really value that.”
Now, Bordner finds herself balancing the tension that comes with the leap from being a small, local business to having her work more mass-produced to keep up with demand. Continuing to design leather and original jewelry in KC and have it manufactured in LA is something she’s considering.
“I want to hold on to these little moments and keep things small as long as I possibly can,” she says.