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Julie Deane from The Cambridge Satchel Company shares her story of success

portrait photo of Julie Deane
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The Cambridge Satchel Company’s bags are both versatile and fashionable. A well-recognisable staple to any wardrobe, The Cambridge Satchel Company has become a household name. The face behind the brand, 2012 NatWest everywoman Athena Award Winner Julie Deane, started the company because she hoped it would enable her to move her children to a new school - she didn’t expect the success The Cambridge Satchel Company now has.

With her story being the background to the newest Google Chrome Advert, a shop in Covent Garden, and nearly everyone knowing exactly what a ‘Cambridge Satchel’ is – Julie's business is going from strength to strength.

 

WHAT DOES THE CAMBRIDGE SATCHEL COMPANY DO?

The Cambridge Satchel Company designs, manufactures and sells classic leather satchels in amazing colours. The bags are all made in the UK, but sold all over the world, from big department stores, to online outlets – we have even opened our own London store in Covent Garden.

 

How did you get your idea for your business?

A long time ago, I decided I needed to set up a business to raise funds for my children’s schooling. When my daughter was eight years old, and bullied – I decided I needed to do something about it, so moving my children to a private school seemed the only option. So with passion, determination and lots of energy I set up The Cambridge Satchel Company.

The company was founded in December 2008 and within that time we have really reached exceptional levels. We currently sell to Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdales, Printemps, Saks Fifth Avenue and Lane Crawford – we have been given window space in every Bloomingdale’s window during New York Fashion Week and prime floor space next to Prada in Printemps in Paris.


How easy was it to set up?

Like any business, setting up takes hard work and determination. I made good use of the internet and used Google to find out all the information that was needed.  

I started just four years ago with a start up fund of £600 and my mum, and I launched the business from the kitchen table.


Because of the popularity of the bag, we have had hundreds of fake websites popping up claiming to be us. They are either selling counterfeit products or they are taking people’s money and not even sending them a product.

This has been very frustrating for us, but we have now taken on Mark Monitor which is a company that is currently helping us find these fraudulent sites and getting them taken down so that customers are not caught out by these scams.

 

What do you find is the best way to market/PR your business? As a small company have there been any free tools you could recommend to other women hoping to start up their company?

There are many website programs that make it very easy to build your own website as well as templates for e-commerce stores. These are very affordable and make the set up process easier. I’d definitely recommend these tools to any woman starting her own business.

I used a free Microsoft “How to Build a Website” course and with a £50 Google Adwords voucher I was able to develop a web presence and start an advertising campaign. I then began phoning, and emailing fashion editors and fashion bloggers and the media was incredibly supportive.


WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR HIGHLIGHTS SINCE STARTING YOUR BUSINESS?

Since starting the Company there have been so many highlights – one of which was visiting 10 Downing Street with my mother after winning the Red Hot Women Awards, starting up our factory which currently produces more than 500 bags a day, being chosen as the face as the Google Chrome Advert, opening our first store in Covent Garden in London. We have collaborated with the likes of Comme des Garcons, Christopher Shannon, Dr Martens and Basso and Brooke.

Our bags have graced the pages of The New York Times, being dubbed “The Brit It Bag”. Cambridge Satchels have appeared on celebrities and on TV shows such as Glee and The Good Wife – we were the gift of choice for the director of Mad Men who presented the cast with a Cambridge Satchel with the Mad Men logo as an end of filming treat. These are just some of the proud moments I have had since starting – there are way too many to list.