Mum who couldn’t afford daughter’s school fees makes £12million a year selling satchels


When Julie Deane discovered her daughter was being bullied, she vowed to move her to the £12,000-a-year school down the road.

But unable to afford the fees, the housewife sat down at her kitchen table and wrote a list of ten ways to raise money.

Halfway down the list she wrote ‘selling traditional leather satchels’. It was a business venture which, just four years later, would generate an annual turnover of more than £12million.

Entrepreneur: Julie Deane started the Cambridge Satchel Company to raise money to send her daughter to a different school

Entrepreneur: Julie Deane started the Cambridge Satchel Company to raise money to send her daughter to a different school

Humble beginnings: The Cambridge Satchel Company, which was started with a budget of £600, has just opened a shop in Covent Garden

Humble beginnings: The Cambridge Satchel Company, which was started with a budget of £600, has just opened a shop in Covent Garden

The Cambridge Satchel Company, which was started with a budget of £600, counts singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and model Alexa Chung among its clientele.

It is sold in shops including Saks Fifth Avenue, while Bloomingdale’s in New York described it as ‘the Brit It bag’.

Most surreal of all, however, was when Mrs Deane was this week named in the Drapers list of the 100 most influential people in fashion – alongside the Duchess of Cambridge and Stella McCartney. ‘How weird is that?’ the 45-year-old said. ‘It is completely amazing. It is times like that when I think, “Golly, look how much farther we have come than we ever set out to”.’

The company now makes 900 bags a day and still has a backlog of orders.

As the firm’s first shop opened in Covent Garden at the weekend, it is hard to believe that the multi-million-pound business began as a solution to pay private school fees.

In 2008, Mrs Deane and her husband Kevin discovered their daughter Emily, now 13, had been thrown to the ground and kicked by bullies.

She said: ‘Emily was eight when it became really apparent that she was being badly bullied by a group of girls. I told her, “You will not go back to that school next year. We will find you a new one and you will be so happy.” I had promised my child I would deliver and I couldn’t let her down. It was the trigger for me to start my own business.’

By chance, Emily and her younger brother Max, now 11, were reading Harry Potter at the time and had asked their mother for leather satchels similar to those worn by the book’s characters. Starting small, she found a leather supplier in Hull and asked him to make her eight chestnut brown satchels.

Popular: The company now makes 900 bags a day and still has a backlog of orders

Popular: The company now makes 900 bags a day and still has a backlog of orders

Business started slowly and she sold just one a week at first. But, determined to make it work, she left leaflets in doctors’ surgeries and school receptions, and taught herself to design a website.

She said: ‘I chose satchels because I had always loved mine as a child. It lasted me all the way through school, whereas my children’s rucksacks became tatty and dirty within a few months.’

The Cambridge University graduate had been enjoying life as a full-time mother while her husband, a partner at an engineering consultancy firm, was the breadwinner. But she immersed herself in books on how to run a business and quickly found herself working all hours of the day from the kitchen of the family home near Cambridge to keep up with demand.

When it became clear the satchels were not being bought by mothers but by the fashion crowd, she began experimenting with colours, initially adding red and green to the collection.

vBright idea: Mrs Deane first thought about satchels when her children were reading Harry Potter and asked her for some similar to the ones worn by the characters in the book

vBright idea: Mrs Deane first thought about satchels when her children were reading Harry Potter and asked her for some similar to the ones worn by the characters in the book

Within a year she was selling to high street chain Urban Outfitters and the satchels, which range in price from £80 to £130, were championed by fashion bloggers.

The business now employs 84 staff and has its own factory in Leicestershire.

When asked if she always had a passion for fashion, she exclaims: ‘No, no, no. Any photos of me in the 1980s are evidence of that.’

She says the greatest reward of her venture has been fulfilling her promise to her daughter.

‘My daughter is so happy at her school. My proudest moment was when we went to get her school uniform from John Lewis a few weeks after I started the business. It was quite emotional.’  (Source)

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