LENEXA, Kan. — A local designer is being recognized for putting the Kansas City area on the world map for bridal fashion.
Martine Harris started her bridal line, Essense of Australia, as a two-person team in Perth, Australia, more than 20 years ago.
She co-founded the company with her husband, Wayne Harris, after she fell in love with the craft of designing and making wedding gowns.
“It is the most important piece of clothing that so many women are going to wear, and that picture of them in that dress is going to be on the wall for generations to come,” Martine Harris said. “Nothing changes that really special moment when a bride is standing there, wearing that dress, and she’s saying, 'Yes,' and she’s imagining that moment, and that dress is something that we’ve worked on.”
She has poured thousands of hours into fostering and growing her passion project.
Essense of Australia now serves more than 1,200 retailers worldwide and employs nearly 300 people from its headquarters in Lenexa.
“It’s been a growth built out of passion and out of seeing opportunities,” Martine Harris said. “A big part of that has been hiring incredible people to join us as we’ve grown."
The Harrises moved their company to the Kansas City area in 2003. All business done in the Northern Hemisphere is based out of Lenexa headquarters.
“Logistically, it’s just perfect, but also it’s about the people," Martine Harris said. "We love Kansas City people and it’s just grown as a place in our hearts. LA, New York — it feels so predictable. Whereas, when you say you have an office in Kansas City, it’s unique, and I love that about our story.”
Martine Harris' passion for the craft led her to pursue her latest endeavor, True Society — a global bridal collective with two locations in the Kansas City area and six other shops in the U.S. and around the world.
Harris will be recognized as the 2023 recipient of the Women in International Business Award, which is given by the International Trade Council of Greater Kansas City to women who have paved the way in the metro area for international business.
“She’s a recognizable name in the global bridal industry, so we’re really proud of that,” Ruiping Ramboldt, vice president of ITC Kansas City, said. “Empower women, because women are such a big part of everything. And in international trade, there’s so many different aspects where a woman plays a key role and Martine has such a great inspirational story.”
According to ITC Kansas City, it has only been 20 to 30 years since women started to take up space in the trade industry.
Harris said her biggest advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs is to keep walking forward while being authentic to the gifts they have.
“It’s not about trying to the be the same as a man,” Martine Harris said. “As we work to be amazing in our career, amazing in our family, amazing in our friendships, they’re all of the pieces that come together and you need to be authentic about who you are and how you’re going to tread your path.”