Just a few years ago, Julie Deane and her mother, working from their home in Cambridge, England, had the idea to create a business around classic looking satchels for school children. From initially making and selling a few a week The Cambridge Satchel Company has gone from strength to strength, becoming a firm favourite of fashion bloggers and taking the fashion world by storm: the brand has collaborated with Comme des Garcons and Basso and Brooke.
The success of the satchel lies, I feel, in the down to earth approach of its owner, Julie Deane, who I had the pleasure of meeting during New York Fashion Week in February. Julie's journey with the company is an incredibly inspiring story of business success. Her insistence on creating the satchels in the UK lends a lovely British nostalgia to a much loved item by both children and parents alike.
I interviewed Julie for Lookbooks, below, about the development of the brand, her thoughts on its appeal and what lies in store for the company in the future:
Tell me about the Cambridge Satchel Company and the idea behind starting the brand:
The Cambridge Satchel Company was born from the need to find a way to send my children to a brilliant school, not the typical start for a fashion brand, but then I’m not really a typical fashion person – more of a science geek really. I think the fact that a fashion phenomenon can have a real grass roots start is a real strength, it empowers people to think that it doesn’t matter that their career choices haven’t been leading to a particular dream that comes along. It needs passion, hard work and commitment to know what you like and stick with it.
Your bag is a huge hit, both in the UK and across the Atlantic. What do you think is the appeal of the Cambridge Satchel? (And, did the success surprise you?)
Our satchels have a classic simplicity; hence their appearance at The Tate Gallery and many other design centres (we are very proud of our inclusion among design classics). The twist of adding a contrasting front panel, or introducing bold, vibrant colours, is what has made the bags fun and so eye catching. My mum and I have felt so proud to see the bags being worn by such stylish people, and to be in shops like Selfridges, Harrods, Bloomingdales, it’s a dream. I do think that the story behind the brand has contributed hugely to the support of the bloggers and the fashion press – without them we would still be in the kitchen!
What is the most popular satchel?
The 15” vintage is a real classic and still very popular especially this time of year when students are thinking of going of to a new school or college and want to make a good impression. Our red is very popular too – even featured in Vogue Italia – it’s a very beautiful colour and always a firm favourite. Who could overlook our signature fluoros? My daughter, Emily, has an 11” pink fluoro (neon) and it’s always a show stopper – but it might be her, she’s lovely! And the pastels have just been launched, a limited edition for summer, they are flying out.
Who do you think is your typical customer?
Someone who knows what they like – they aren’t followers they just love the bag – so all ages. Our customers come back and buy again and again; they love the quality, the simplicity and supporting British manufacturing. We are a very ethical brand and hope to do more in the US to say thank you to our very supportive customer base there. Support your supporters, that’s what we try to do and so we keep the prices affordable, listen to the ideas and love the thank you notes!
I loved your collaboration with Comme des Garcons. How did this come about?
This is truly unbelievable, I had an email from them, they are a very gracious fashion house and we were flattered to have been noticed by them and even more flattered when they said they were fans. We have produced bags for three years worth of collections now.
What’s inside your satchel, Julie?
My work satchel is a 14” oxblood and navy batchel – I have my wallet, my phone, a few sweets (!), a notebook and my favourite fountain pen with green ink (which I bought myself as a treat to celebrate the visit to 10 Downing Street with my mum). I also have a little word game in a leather long box, like eight dice but with letters on which I love to play with anyone who will play it with me whilst waiting for food, on a train, anywhere really….. (I can hear someone shouting geek!!)
What inspires you?
Beautiful things, the colours of flowers in a stunning arrangement, the colour of the sea whilst on holiday. Some colours just feel right, they make you happy and those are the ones we try to replicate.
What’s next for the Cambridge Satchel Company?
There are some amazing new collaborations on the way, we have a new website launching soon, a new bag for Christmas, new flash colour collections, something special for anti-bullying month, a trip to the US…. Lots, so please keep in touch!