Ma & Pembum of Vermont Make Leather Bags with a Selfless Mission | Cultural | Seven days


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  • Matthieu thorsen
  • Phebe Mott

Four years ago, Phebe Mott had a nightmare: “My children were taken, and I didn’t know where,” she says. Sitting in a sunny cubicle at the Bristol Bakery & Café in Hinesburg, she remembers the dream and the chills. “It was like a movie,” she continues quietly. “Somehow I found out that they were in this hospital doing science experiments on people. And a woman and a man in a lab coat were looking for my children.”

It was just a dream, but it changed Mott’s life. “I literally couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “What stuck with me was the fact that there are parents that happen to this. And they really don’t know where their children are.”

Ma & Pembum was Mott’s answer. She started the leather bags and accessories business in 2013 with a model that some might call crazy – or just plain crazy with generosity. Mott donates 50 percent of his profits from each sale to anti-human trafficking organizations. Yes, half. She chooses a different organization to donate to each year.

The list of recipients so far includes A21, End It Movement and Amirah. 2017 has been its busiest year yet. In fact, Mott has so much business right now that she can barely keep up. Each leather item is made to order.

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Phebe Mott in his home studio - MATTHEW THORSEN

  • Matthieu thorsen
  • Phebe Mott in his home studio

Mott, 42, wears chunky earrings and lots of colorful leather accessories. Of course, she made them all herself. A red Triple Wrap bracelet adorns her wrist; a large coral-colored bag nicknamed the Biggie sits on the table next to her; and a long mint green leather keyring hangs from it.

That curious company name? “Ma” and “Pembum” were Mott’s names for her maternal grandparents, she explains. But rather than naming her bags after people, as many well-known companies do – “The Emma! The Juanita!” she jokes – Mott labels his products descriptively so that customers can imagine them.

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From tote bag to shoulder bag to bracelet, Mott currently makes 12 styles of bags, priced from $ 65 to $ 299.25. “There’s a list in my head of about 100 that I want to do, but I don’t have time,” says the mother of two. “And that’s a good problem!

All soft leather bags come in Mott’s signature colorful hues and a clean, definitive style. And they each suggest a playful attitude – aside from talking about the dream that inspired his business, Mott doesn’t take himself too seriously. Ma & Pembum designs are for the woman who is “bold, confident and elegant,” she says, but who needs a bag that she can “throw like a sack of potatoes on the floor and carry on. the day “.

Mott also offers custom options for the bags: different color combinations, straps or details. Her popular leather jewelry, priced at $ 40 to $ 42, includes tasseled earrings and wrap-around bracelets in a plethora of colors.

Mott began his creative career as an art major at the University of Vermont and went on to become a painter. Right before she started experimenting with leather, she made and sold jewelry – mostly earrings and necklaces – using vintage found items such as watch faces.

At the end of 2013, Mott came across pink leather scraps from a college art project. “I was thinking, I could sew with it,“she said.” So I experimented, and found it wasn’t that hard. ”

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Horse bits in colored leather - MATTHEW THORSEN

  • Matthieu thorsen
  • Colored leather bits

With this first piece of leather, Mott made a zippered bag that she still uses today. Then she started making more and more leather bags, wondering, Who needs so many bags, anyway?

“Meanwhile, I had this idea in my head about the dream,” Mott said. At first she didn’t put the two together, but, she said, “I couldn’t help but think about it. And I felt like God was telling me something.”

Mott says that praying about it brought this message: Keep making the bags because you like it. And sell them and give half of them to organizations that fight against human trafficking. So that’s exactly what she did.

In September 2016, Mott’s mother threw a bag party for her. “People, like, actually bought stuff!” Mott said, still incredulous. “And then I threw myself in.”

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Ma & Pembum have started to take off. Mott’s friends, then friends of friends, threw bag parties at their homes. Requests have poured in.

“I’m getting busier and busier,” says Mott. “I wasn’t prepared for the volume of orders, and everyone, of course, wanted them for Christmas. I thought it would slow down after the holidays, but it was still very stable, which was a shock to me. . ”

This year has brought more of the same. Orders now come from Ma & Pembum subscribers on Facebook and Instagram. Mott’s bestseller this year is the Shopper Mini, a bag priced at $ 210 to $ 220. Its leather goods are also available in some local stores.

Mott used to collect leather from vintage and second-hand clothing stores, but now orders it in the colors she wants from a Massachusetts leather distributor. She still runs the business from her home in Hinesburg, sewing everything on a large Necchi machine. Mott hired two “part-time” employees, both friends. Next year, she plans to buy two or three industrial sewing machines.

“The goal, of course, is to have a sales area and a workspace in one. Ideally, in the city, ”she explains. “I have to sell a few more bags first!” ”

Mott drinks the last of his coffee and picks up his shiny leather bag. It’s time to get back to work.


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