Featured photo: Dr. Kardie Tobb followed her passion for fashion design after becoming a doctor first. (courtesy photo)
Underneath Dr. Kardie Tobb’s white coat was the burning desire to be more creative with her outfits.
That’s why she founded Tobbstars, a collection of modern, handcrafted handbags where each piece, created with natural, high-quality materials like mud-cloth cotton and leather “marries contemporary design with the rich heritage of African craftsmanship.” Tobb proudly embraces her African heritage and wears her own products, and the bags allow her to express her authentic style.
How do I enjoy my career that I’m so passionate about with my style? she asked herself before starting the line.
Tobb is a cardiologist with Greensboro-based Cone Health, specializing in preventive cardiology, women’s cardiovascular health and cardiovascular imaging. She also raises awareness about healthcare equity.
“I also have grown to advocate for people who come from medically underserved areas who would not have access to equitable care,” she says.
Growing up in Bong Mine, Liberia as a child, she grew infatuated with the bright colors and bold prints found on African clothing. Weekends were spent traveling with her mom to local tailors who custom-made her outfits.
“Most women in my family are big on style and fashion,” Tobb explains.
After helping her mom choose textiles, Tobb would use the remaining scraps to create dresses for her dolls. Despite the enjoyment she found in this, her family values influenced her to pursue a more attainable full-time career.
“The realistic aspect of it, we were encouraged to choose a profession that was perceived as sustainable,” she says. “That’s medicine for me.”
With fashion designing on the back burner, Tobb styled the pieces she wore in school with uniqueness and grace. As she strutted to class as a medical student at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, the striking patterns and eye-catching hues in Tobb’s wardrobe earned second glances, but she never took this in a negative way.
“Think about wearing an African print in a hospital hallway,” she says. “You definitely turn heads.”
During residency at the Mercy Catholic Medical Center in Darby, PA, her now-husband Alhagie Tobb convinced her to pursue her passion, even if only part-time.
She began researching different types of computer and handbags and decided to give it a try. To remain true to her African culture, Tobb hires artisans from Gambia and Senegal, further solidifying the authenticity of the products. At first, they were only sold in West Africa, but in 2023, Tobb launched an international website.
“This year I decided to become bold and share it with the world,” she says.
Tobb refers to each bag as “she,” giving them names she believes best fits the style of each bag.
“I don’t just design the bags and put a name on it,” she says.
She continues, “I look at the bag and think about how that bag is going to service the person that buys it.”
While Tobb is not involved in the physical production of the handbags, the designs are her own.
“My mind creates what I want and I collaborate with my team of artisans,” she says.
As each item is made-to-order by various individuals, no two products are the same. Each bag is its own “person” with its own style and unique qualities, similar to the trendsetter who wears it.
To design and name the bags, Tobb draws inspiration from the people in her life.
The Sassy bag, dedicated to Tobb’s oldest daughter, is described as “a pillar of conscientiousness, diligence and dependability.” It’s a tote the same size and with a similar silhouette as Kadi, the collection’s “signature bag,” but Sassy includes a flap in the center that folds over the bag’s zipper and comes with a matching pouch.
The Mia bag, named after Tobb’s youngest daughter, is a 6-by-9 inch foldover clutch complete with a 22-inch strap. For this purse, the solid-colored flap stands out against the busy black, blue or brown prints it rests atop.
In addition to handbags, Tobb is working to incorporate clothing and men’s fashion into the collection.
Through her professional career and fashion design, Tobb promotes the empowerment of women. She believes each piece someone wears is a statement of their authenticity, and their careers should not stop that from shining.
“Each individual should have their own style and be comfortable in it regardless of what profession you’re in,” she says.
Learn more about Tobbstars at tobbstars.com.
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