Bow&Arrow's Leslie O’Kelley On Collaboration And Tradition

PHOTOS BY BRIDGET BADORE FOR THE ASSEMBLIST

PHOTOS BY BRIDGET BADORE FOR THE ASSEMBLIST

For Leslie O'Kelley, collaboration is key when it comes to her brand Bow&Arrow. Inspired by Native American culture and artisan practice, those who purchase Leslie's pieces are receiving much more than just a beautiful piece of jewelry.

"Being able to carry on a tradition through the Native Artists we work with is very important to the brand — and it stands as a foundation to all of the pieces that are made," Leslie explained, "These traditions are so deeply rooted in their culture and it is important to us that they are maintained." Leslie's steadfast commitment to preserving these celebrated practices add rich layers to the process behind each Bow&Arrow piece. Still, Leslie has found herself faced with the future, as even more new opportunities have come into the picture as the brand continues to grow. 

With craftsmanship being a core aspect of Bow&Arrow's ethos, we wanted to learn more from Leslie and how she has, and plans to, ensure quality control in each collection moving forward. We met with the thriving designer at her home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where she showed us what she's currently working on. You'll find our chat with Leslie below, where she touches on the brand's origins, life as a designer in New York City, and more. Be sure to also check out the second part of this interview on The Style Line for more from our visit.

Please introduce yourself!

My name is Leslie O’Kelley I grew up in Texas and have lived in NYC off and on for the past 13 years, but I still consider myself a Texan. I live in Williamsburg now with my boyfriend and a lot of plants, we are obsessed. I enjoy traveling without an itinerary, cooking dinner for friends, and foot massages!

Walk us through the origins of the brand’s name. Would you say the mission of Bow&Arrow has changed as the brand has grown?

It was inspired by the people we work with. In Native American culture the meaning of an arrow symbol is commonly interpreted as the symbol for protection, although this meaning can alter from tribe to tribe. Two crossed arrows symbolize friendship, and it kind of just stuck.

Collaboration seems to be at the core of Bow&Arrow’s success. As an emerging designer, talk to us about the process of working with your artists, while still balancing your own point of view as a maker. What has been the most rewarding aspect of achieving this balance?

Being able to carry on a tradition through the Native Artists we work with is very important to the brand — and it stands as a foundation to all of the pieces that are made. These traditions are so deeply rooted in their culture and it is important to us that they are maintained. Finding artists who align with these values is how the artists are selected. A lot of our artists are from multi-generational silversmith families. There are a lot of designers currently out there who mimic Native Designs, this can be the most challenging part we run into. But being able to be part of maintaining an art form that has been around for generations is the most rewarding.

With the idea of collaboration in mind, are there any contemporary or emerging apparel brands that inspire you as a designer or the Bow&Arrow customer? Do designer collaborations interest you?

For sure, I recently met a woman behind the brand August and they do amazing work in their community by donating a backpack to students in need for every bag sold. I am working on building a similar social effort through Bow&Arrow in the Native American community.

Bow&Arrow collectively is made up of a few core collections: Raw, The Renegades, The Revival, and Revel In The Dark. What inspired each of these and what elements make them all cohesive?

Each collection is inspired with strong fearless women in mind, who aren’t afraid to be bold. The Raw collection was largely inspired by this woman but also by the natural elements of the earth—which is considered sacred in most Native American cultures.

As a designer who has a built a brand with Southwestern influence, what has it been like to work in a city like New York? How has The Brand Assembly Square helped you further your goals as a designer? 

NYC is an incredible place creatively to be in, there are so many walks of life here. I find people watching on the subway to be where most of my good ideas come from. I think when building a brand you need that sort of lively influence. My idea of where Bow&Arrow is heading in a business sense has never been more clear since being at Brand Assembly, it’s very helpful being in an environment where a lot of people are working towards similar goals as you.

What do you assemble daily?

Myself. I feel like we live in an era now where we are constantly having to define ourselves via social media and if we don’t we kind of just drift away into social ambiguity. As I approach 30, I would like to think that I am assembling myself every day to leave a positive and colorful imprint on people!