Everybody’s seen that Google Chrome commercial where the mother and daughter duo start their own handbag company right from inside their very own kitchen with a mere 600 pound budget, and you’ve got to admit that it’s quite an inspiring story. We caught up with Julie Deane, who explained exactly how she and her mother, Freda Thomas, created a company that sells Britain’s current It bag — the Cambridge Satchel.
The Fashion Spot: Tell us about your background?
Julie Deane: I graduated from Gonville and Caius College Cambridge in 1987 having gained an Honours Undergraduate and later a Masters in Natural Sciences. Having graduated, I worked as a Chartered Accountant and then later, I became a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College. Following that I became the first female Registry in the 650 year history of the college.
tFS: That’s not your typical fashion background, so what encouraged you to found your brand?
JD: The Cambridge Satchel Company was founded in 2008 at my kitchen table just outside Cambridge with a budget of just £600. The company was founded as my daughter was being bullied and I needed to move her to a school where she would thrive and be happy. Five years on, my daughter and son are at a school where they are both happy, we now employ more than 80 people, are stocked in some of the most prestigious stores in the world and have even opened our first ever store in London’s Covent Garden.
tFS: So, tell us about your company? What makes your idea so special?
JD: All of our satchels are handmade in the UK by skilled craftsmen and craftswomen in our Leicester based factory, we also continue to support other UK based manufacturers, many of whom have been with us from the very beginning. For us, having the satchels handmade in the UK is so important — a satchel is a classic British design and we would never think to have them made anywhere else!
We also offer an in-house embossing service which gives our website customers and those who pop into our store the chance to add their personal touch to their satchel.
tFS: Your Google Chrome ad leads us to believe that Fashion Bloggers have been integral to your brand’s success, tell us how?
JD: Fashion Bloggers have played a key part in helping to get the brand out there and they have always supported us from the very beginning. As part of our new Covent Garden store, we will be offering membership of our exclusive Bloggers Lounge, which we hope will give them a base of their very own whilst they are in the area. We also have a Lending Library where bloggers and press will be able to pop in and borrow a bag from us for a special event.
tFS: You recently had a celeb-filled launch party, which celebs would you love to see carrying one of your satchels?
JD: It’s amazing to see so many celebrities with our satchels and we always feel so proud whenever we see them being carried! It would be lovely to see Kate Middleton carrying one of our satchels — she is the Duchess of Cambridge after all, so a satchel would be the perfect fit for her. I think that one of our Comme des Garcon satchels would be just perfect for her.
tFS: Tell us about your current range?
JD: Our new Chelsea Collection was inspired by the quintessentially British Chelsea Flower Show. The four new colours are named after flowers typically found in British gardens throughout the spring and summer months. We have named them Crocus, Honeysuckle, Lavender and Sweet Pea (formerly known as Duck-Egg but brought back with a Chelsea inspired twist due to popular demand). The Chelsea Flower Show is, like us, quintessentially British and I think that the collection has a great heritage feel.
tFS: In general, do you have a best seller?
JD: Our classic red and vintage satchels are undoubtedly two of our best selling colours and are popular in all sizes — both colours have been with us since the beginning. Our fluorescent satchels are also very popular in the U.S. and last year Bloomingdale’s filled their shop windows with them!
tFS: Who would you describe as your typical customer?
JD: One of the best things about Cambridge Satchel is that there is no such thing as a typical customer. Our satchels are carried by men and women, celebrities and fashionistas, 6-year-olds to 96-year-olds. We have a satchel to suit everyone, whoever they are!
tFS: Do you have any more designer collaborations in the pipeline?
JD: We are always looking to develop our product range and we love working with designers who bring something new to the classic shape and design of our satchels. We have lots of exciting new projects in the pipeline…watch this space!
tFS: Tell us about your American launch? Do you have any styles exclusive to America?
JD: Internationalising into the U.S. was the natural next step for the brand, as the U.S. is such an important market for us. When we first started, we were lucky enough to have great support from U.S. bloggers such as Jessica Quirk from What I Wore. Since then, we have gone on to be stocked in some fantastic U.S. stockists including Bloomingdale's, Henri Bendel, J.Crew and Shopbop. By launching a U.S. specific website, we will be able to offer our U.S. customers special offers as well as tailoring
tFS: To date, what do you regard as your biggest achievement with your brand?
JD: There have been so many moments over the last few years that it would be hard to choose just one! We were invited to 10 Downing Street a couple of years ago to meet Samantha Cameron as part of the Red Hot Women Awards, which was incredibly special and it did make us both look back and reflect on how far we had come. Being chosen as the face of the Google Chrome ad, 'The web is what you make of it,' was another amazing moment for us, as seeing our story being told on TV and in the cinema was an incredible moment and we've had over 4 million views on YouTube so far!
tFS: So, what’s next for your brand? Will we ever see you branching out into items other than satchels?
JD: Never say never…
The Cambridge Satchels are usually priced around the £90 and upwards and are available to buy online at cambridgesatchel.co.uk. Or at the newly launched cambridgesatchel.com for all of you American shoppers out there!
Images: The Cambridge Satchel Company.