November 13, 2019
College friendships are not always as fruitful or long-lasting as the one Hinesburg residents Phebe Mott and Elisabeth Garvey share.
In a span of 14 years, the pair went from chatting on a University of Vermont soccer field to pondering their latest business dreams inside a sun-soaked retail space in Hinesburg Center, the new home of their custom leather and jewelry boutique Ma & Pembum.
“Our partnership is great. We keep it light and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. If you go to our Instagram, you will definitely see that,” said Garvey during a visit to the new store.
The venture has come a long way since its quirky foundation at Mott’s Hinesburg residence in 2013.
One day that year, Mott stumbled upon an old art project of hers where she had transmogrified a leather dress from Burlington’s Battery Street Jeans into a shield. Studying it, Mott wondered if she could salvage the leather and sew it together with scraps from a pink leather dress, then — ta-da — her first leather bag was born.
“After the bag was made, friends started asking me if they could get one in blue, green, etc. So one thing led to another and I began streamlining four or five different styles of bags,” Mott stated.
Word of Mott’s bags spread like wildfire through her social circle. Friends would host dinner parties where she could showcase her latest bags and swatches while guests ate, drank, chatted — and placed their custom orders.
“Pretty quickly I didn’t even have to look for the parties anymore, they were happening so frequently,” she said.
To keep up with customer demand, Mott founded her company, Ma & Pembum, deciding to name it after her grandparents’ nicknames and release her products into the worldwide web through Facebook, Instagram, and their website.
In 2018, Mott teamed up with Garvey to help handle the business side of her flourishing word-of-mouth company and by this year the pair decided it was time to relocate production from Mott’s overflowing home operation.
Opening a shop in Hinesburg, was a no-brainer, Garvey said.
“Our families are in Hinesburg. Our children are at school in Hinesburg. And it is such a great and supportive community that it made sense,” she said.
In June, 2019 their dream came true: Ma & Pembum moved into the retail space next to the Blue Cottage at Hinesburg Center.
Mott’s five initial styles have since multiplied into a colorful wall of postcard-sized schematics, representing dozens of personalized leather bags, jewelry and other goods on the company’s production docket.
Orders from across the country flood in online, but those that want the full Ma & Pembum experience flock to its inviting storefront.
“When people come in, we want to make it a personal, inviting experience, where they feel like they are getting treated as though [the process] is a huge deal,” said Mott. “It adds to the special feeling that we made this bag just for you, and that I am the face behind the bag.
Another trademark of the business is the atmosphere Mott and Garvey craft to visit with individual customers. Inside there shop is a comfortable home-like setting with a set of white leather couches and a coffee table. Visitors can sit and discuss their visions, while sipping water, coffee or tea.
“My favorite aspect of Ma & Pembum is that they bring people together through their work,” said a long-time friend of Mott and devoted Ma & Pembum customer, Melissa Lamarche, “the pieces start conversation and invite curiosity.”
Their creative process is out in the open, too.
Behind the store’s main counter, to the left of the colorful wall of customer dreams, sits the company’s entire operation: two tables, a few sewing machines, a desk, and computer marked with a sign that says“Boss Lady.” Hanging from racks or tucked in burlap sacks are scores of colorful leather products at various stages of completion.
The duo and a couple of other part-time employees have been working sporadic hours as they grow accustomed to their new storefront and tackle their ever-expanding list of orders, but that does not stop them from setting eyes on big and small ideas for the future.
Scattered around the store are leather scraps and snippets that have yet to be reincarnated by Mott’s artistic powers. The company was founded on scraps like these, and they are still intertwined with its vision.
“We don’t want any of our extra leather go to waste, so we try and think of ways to reuse and sell,” Garvey explained. “Coming soon: glass ornaments filled with little confetti.”
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.