by Elizabeth Coady
There’s something about Ana Thorne’s life and art that click.
There’s her retro ‘oldie’ bags, with metal clasps at the top, that look like your grandmother’s dainty change purse. The bag is just one of several products, including baby jumpers and Philly-centric gifts, that she makes in whimsical patterns and sells at AnaThorne.com
Then there’s the way life has happily unfolded for the 30-year-old Mexican emigrant and her successful sewing startup. Listen to the Elkins Park resident’s story, and you’ll get a sense that everything she touches turns sunny.
For instance, she practically sold out her entire booth of handmade wares the very first time she took them to an art fair, the Manayunk Arts Festival, in 2016. In addition to $2,000, she left with the idea that “Okay, I’m doing the right thing; I’m on the right path.’’
The next year, she sold her purses, baby jumpers, scarves and pillows at the Jenkintown Festival of the Arts, where she won first place for craft and mixed media. One year later, she returned to the same festival and scored the “Best in Show” award. Then in 2018, she came in second place in the ‘emerging artists’ category at the Manayunk Arts Festival.
But nothing prepared her for the explosion of sales and subsequent orders as did her appearance at the Christmas Village market at Philadelphia’s City Hall last December. The popularity of her items, particularly her new “Gritty” change purses and her “Wishes From Philadelphia’’ pillow depicting favorite touchstones like City Hall and soft pretzels, the Eagle and Rocky statues, resulted in her getting little sleep during December.
Items were selling so fast that there were times when a friend had to watch the booth while she raced home to sew more products. “It was unbelievable,’’ said Thorne. “I could not keep up with anything. It was mind-blowing … I guess I wasn’t aware of the number of people who go to those events.”
Thorne hand-draws the designs for her fabrics, depicting such imagery as sweet birds and cats in scarves and dogs wearing spectacles and old-fashioned bicycles. There’s a youthfulness to the drawings that depict Thorne’s upbeat spirit, while her Philly-themed purses and pillows hint at affection for her adopted hometown. The drawings are then uploaded online and sent to SpoonFlower.com, a custom fabric-making printer.
The pop-up holiday art fair exposure introduced many shop owners to Thorne’s items including Jennifer Provost, 43, co-owner of the gift shop Philadelphia Independents at 35 N. 3rd St. in Old City. Wholesale orders began pouring in. “We actually had to order it a few times – very quickly,’’ said Provost. “ … People just love it because it’s Gritty and Philly-centric.’’
Thorne’s “Gritty” items have sold out at Mango at 8442 Germantown Ave., said manager Melissa Coleman, 38. “She’s relatively new for us as a vendor, so we’re excited,’’ said Coleman. “Everything is hand-illustrated so that’s nice. It’s kind of cute and fun and whimsical.”
Thorne, who grew up in Mexico City and graduated from Universidad de Valle de México, began taking sewing classes while working as an au pair for a Wynnewood family for two years beginning in 2013. With a degree in design under her belt, she wanted to design her own fabrics and fashions. But she didn’t have a lot of money, so she bought a sewing machine and began working at a fold-up table in her tiny one-bedroom apartment that she shares with her husband of four years, Cory Harrill. The two met in 2011 while working at a summer camp in Maine. They married two years later. “I’m a lucky girl,’’ she said.
The couple support each other’s endeavors. For example, at the holiday fair, while she frantically sewed pillows and purses, “he helped me cut the fabric,’’ Thorne said. “Without him I would not be able to survive the Christmas Village.’’ Her website was also designed by Cory, a web designer. The couple are saving to buy a house. Ana is considering the idea of hiring area sewers to help make her products, as well as expanding her line to include other geographic-centric items. But whatever happens, Thorne will stay focused on the positive. She says the underlying theme of her brand is “happiness.’’
“I hate people who complain about life,’’ she said. “Just making someone smile makes me smile.’’
For more information, visit anathorne.com