Gillian Bradley, owner and founder of Harper Ray.
Harper Ray is becoming a household name. The accessories brand found its home in a suburb of Detroit, but has sprouted from roots deep in family, drive and creativity. Black, woman-owned-and-operated, Harper Ray strives to be more than a fashion brand, but a community staple and the catalyst behind empowerment and change. Recently opening its doors, Harper Ray has made strides in the community and has no plans of slowing down.
Gillian Bradley has always had a flare for fashion. From early childhood, the native Detroiter would create pieces laying the groundwork for what would inevitably become a life’s passion.
“I’ve always been an arts and crafts girl. My parents would always make jokes that if they saw one more speck of glitter on their floor, they would pass out,” said Bradley.
She stayed true to this love for creativity, but it wasn’t until high school that the budding designer would have her first opportunity to customize metals and create pieces from her work.
“In high school we had a jewelry class as an elective and we were able to saw and mold metals and things. I used to take that class really seriously. It was really fun to me to design different pieces of jewelry and that is really how this started,” said Bradley.
Soon, traction around her work would begin to pick up. After making custom jewelry pieces for herself, classmates began to take notice and put in custom orders helping to monetize her skill. Choosing a brand identity, Harper Ray gets its name from a source close to the owner’s heart. Continuing the legacy of success within the family, the entrepreneur branded her company after a man who helped break barriers for other Black doctors.
“Harper was my grandfather‘s last name and he was definitely one of the prominent figures in our family. He was the head of our family and he passed when I was six years old. He was one of the first Black anesthesiologists in the state of Michigan,” said Bradley. “As an ode to his success and honor his legacy, I wanted to name this after him.”
Now with a name and buzz around her ability to create jewelry, the owner used her network to go into business for herself. Launched at Michigan State University, Harper Ray began as an e-commerce store, but quickly expanded.
“As we grew, and once I finished college, is when we got our first location. We were inside of an office building — we had a suite. You had to know about us to find us and know where we were,” said Bradley. “As our audience grew, we started expanding the space a little bit more.”
Using personal funds and profits made from sales, the Harper Ray brand is a completely self-funded venture. Finding a space in Southfield created a home for Harper Ray and the opportunity to bring employees on board. Although already in business, moving to a storefront location was a dream for the owner, but the pandemic presented new hurdles due to business closures and stay-home orders.
“This is when I felt like I had to get super creative in terms of how we can reach our customers and how to keep people engaged with the brand,” said Bradley.
The number of Black entrepreneurs has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Particularly among Black women, new businesses are finding life and African American women are finding economic freedom through their passions.
“I think that we are such a large consumer base for so many different people, so many different brands and of course so many different industries. I think it’s a beautiful thing for us to be able to recognize that power and start being the people who are providing some of these products and services,” said Bradley.
Harper Ray is continuing its mission to empower the people it serves. Not only a go-to for fashion forward accessories and merchandise, but a pivotal entity for the community at large. For the holiday season Harper Ray provided an in-store African-American Santa Claus for its customers to visit and take pictures.
“When we moved, we were focused on how do we make our community a little bit better. How do I use the space to foster community as well and it’s those little things that we’re able to do for families and for children to see a Santa that looks like you and me,” said Bradley. “We want to focus on bringing our pile together and multicultural people in general.”
Harper Ray does plan on opening a second location in a new city. For the future, the owner wants to continue investing in the community she calls home.
“We’re here to make an impact. We’re here to make women feel good. That’s what our aim is every day,” said Bradley.