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My Life: Julie Deane, Co-Owner and Founder Of The Cambridge Satchel Company

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If Julie Deane's story doesn't make you want to get and up and start your own business, we don't know what will. The mother of two children started out with £600, and alongside her mother Freda Thomas, has created a business worth £10 million.

Her story started with necessity - the necessity to get the money together to put her daughters through private school, after her then-eight-year-old daughter Emily was being bullied.

The inspiration for the beautifully-made satchels (our favourites are the fluoro shades) was a battered old satchel. When the two of them realised that no one really made satchels like that anymore, they spotted a gap in the market. Soon followed a mention in The Guardian gift guide and a spot on a Google Chrome advert. Their bags are now beloved by fashion editors, designers and celebrities.

The company was set up in 2008, and we wanted to catch up with Julie to find out what her advice is for budding entrepreneurs and how she handles her business and her home life.

julie deane

What were your biggest challenges in the early months?

One of the biggest hurdles at the start is remaining convinced that your idea is a good one as many people will be discouraging. Lots of people want to start their own business but relatively few do, and the ones that don't are the ones that will be discouraging - my mum and I heard everything from "If it was a good idea, then someone would already have done it" to "It's such a risk, you should take a 'normal' job" - keeping your determination and focus is key.

Creating the first website was also a challenge, it's easier now as there are some great template commerce sites on offer at very reasonable rates so that's one less hurdle. One less reason to be put off! I keep saying that it has never been a better time to start a business and I believe it, the tools are right there and the internet brings the whole world to your door.

Working so closely with a family member can have its ups and downs - how did you both manage that?

My mum and I have always been close, we genuinely like and respect each other and so it's fine. It also helped enormously that we both had one aim - to get the children into a brilliant school and so the fact that we didn't get paid for years was never an issue. I think it would be difficult if we hadn't been focussed on the same goal.

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What have you been most proud of to date?

My proudest moment was reaching the goal of being able to send the children to the school we (my mum and I) had set our hearts on, after that it was definitely setting up our own manufacturing facility.

To start a factory from scratch and see it grow and supporting a whole new workforce makes me very proud. We have just moved into our new home (still in Leicester) but four times the size, now we can set up the work flow better and get the apprenticeship schemes up and running - we have our first apprentice but will be taking on many more as these skills need to be passed on.

What things did you not want to compromise on - and didn't - at the start of the business?

Manufacturing in the UK was a big one. Many times it would have been cheaper and easier to outsource manufacturing overseas but we would have lost the connection we feel to the product. Also a very personal (and slightly quirky) one, wherever we set up has to allow dogs, Rupert comes everywhere with me.


Lessons you learned (and wish you'd known before?)

The eCommerce template websites available now make selling on the internet so easy and affordable - I didn't have that in the early days, I spent ages creating the first site. The importance of manufacturing agreements and non disclosure agreements - it's not just Cambridge Satchel that have fallen foul here, many brands admit that counterfeit product has come from their own manufacturer, very sad but better to protect yourself from the outset.

mini satchel

Did you ever dream - a few years ago, that you would own such a successful company?

I didn't think about it, I have always worked hard at following up every opportunity and building the brand. Trying to exceed expectations of customers (individuals and trade) and not compromising ethics or quality.

What advice would you give to other small business entrepreneurs?

Give it a go, it's never been a better time to reach a global market. Don't risk what you can't afford to lose, that way you will remain optimistic, creative and happy.

What do you do for fun?

I love spending time with my family and our dog - we travel quite a bit and enjoy board games (I'm not sure my husband would go along with that, or my son for that matter, but my daughter and I are fanatical board game fans). I also enjoy photography, my father was an avid photographer and I love looking back over the thousands of photographs I've taken over the years.

How do you like to relax?

At home, either in the garden or watching a film with a nice glass of wine..

Do you find it hard to make time for yourself?

This isn't a strong point. My work blends with my life, it has to - I take the children to school and collect them, then catch up with email while they do homework. Hard and fast rules don't work for me, I just try to enjoy the moment. Cambridge Satchel has made so many things possible for me and my family, showing the children what can be done with determination and hard work is important.

They have seen for themselves that a business can start with an idea and a small amount of money - that passion pays off and even though things don't always run to plan it's important to get up and back on track. The time I spend on the business isn't a hardship, it's what I do and so I don't feel that I need time for myself - what would I do that's more fun?

Have you been involved in any community work/charity work?

I have filled many community roles, from local Parish Councils to Chair of Governors on local school boards. I spend time helping students understand business and designers bring their ideas to market. As a company we support anti bullying charities and educational causes.

How do you give back?

I do lots of inspirational talks at schools and colleges but recently the pressures on my time has made it less easy to do that. I am trying to help by creating jobs (93 people now work for Cambridge Satchel) and investing in British manufacturing and apprenticeship schemes.

How do you make your company a nice place for people to work?

Everyone that visits Cambridge Satchel has commented on the energy and buzz the offices have - people are excited about working at Cambridge Satchel, we never know who will call next or be spotted with a satchel. The new factory is a lovely building, and buildings make a difference. It's the people that make Cambridge Satchel special, the team makes it a wonderful place to work.

The Cambridge Satchel Company have just released the Mini Satchel which starts from £125.

Around the Web

Starting a Business | SBA.gov

Six Steps to Starting Your Own Business-Kiplinger

Start Your Own Business - The only startup book you'll ever need ...

10 Reality Checks Before Starting Your Own Business - Forbes

7 Ways to Start Your Own Business - wikiHow

Start Your Own Business: 50 Things You'll Need to Do | Nolo.com

Start Your Own Business for $100 or Less - ABC News

Starting a Business - Internal Revenue Service

Financing Start-Up Dreams With Retirement Savings

Entrepreneurs: Start-up arrives with changes in medical insurance

How to raise the finance needed for a new business start-up

If You're Starting A Think Tank, Or A New Business, This Book Is A Must Read

 
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