When Julie Deane’s daughter Emily, then 8, was bullied and harassed at school, the mother of two became determined to move her to a 12,000-pound a year private school where she could be safe but finding employment that could cover the costs proved impossible. So out of that resolve was born The Cambridge Satchel Company, a business Julie started from her kitchen table with only 600 pounds and her mother’s help.
The idea of making satchels came after Julie made a list of ways to make money so she could afford her daughter’s tuition. She had put down “selling traditional leather satchels” because she remembered looking in vain for Harry Potter satchel bags to buy for her kids. She saw an opportunity and decided to fill the market gap. The first challenge, however, was to find a manufacturer who will make the bags.
The search took ages. When she did find one, the manufacturer advised her to stop wasting her time since there was no demand. In the end, he agreed to make eight satchels, which Julie advertised by designing a website and leaving leaflets in doctors’ offices and school receptions.
Within a year, the satchel bags are sold in Urban Outfitters and embraced by fashion bloggers. It took a couple of years more for the bags to reach celebrity status-hood when fans like TV presenter Alexa Chung, Elle Fanning, and singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor were snapped carrying them like fashion accessories.
This fact is not lost on Julie since the satchel’s original market was for school-age children and their mothers. But when it became apparent that the fashion crowd was going to be its main bread and butter, Julie switched gears and rode the trend by experimenting with bright colours like red and green.
Proudly carrying the label ‘Handmade in Britain’, the satchel bags are now sold in 110 countries worldwide, including Bloomingdales in New York, which dubbed it ‘the Brit It bag’. The bags have also been highlighted in several Fashion Weeks from London, Paris and New York. Most surprising of all was the nod from the Drapers list which also named Julie one of the most influential people in fashion, alongside Stella McCartney and the Duchess of Cambridge.
Julie believes that the key to their success is not only their strong brand but also their price point. The satchel bags are sold starting from 100 pounds because Julie said they wanted the bags to remain affordable and not priced out like designer bags.
What began as a mother’s desperate effort to save her child from bullies, The Cambridge Satchel Company has become one of England's small business employment solicitors which are helping the country achieve newer economic heights. It employs 60 people and has a factory in Wigston, Leicestershire that makes 1,500 satchels a week and an annual turnover of 10 million pounds.
In February 2013, the company opened its first flagship store in Seven Dials, Covent Garden which was attended by the crème de la crème of London fashion. The company has also been shortlisted for The Growing Business Awards, which recognize innovative young entrepreneurs such as The Cambridge Satchel Company and their potential to expand. The 14-year old awards body was set up by trade publisher Real Business along with the Lloyds Bank and Financial Mail. Julie is also shortlisted for the Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
John Fegan is a freelance copywriter who writes for a variety of websites, including a number of employment solicitors in Greater Manchester.