The #Businessmum behind The Cambridge Satchel Company tells me how she built her international company from her kitchen

Julie Dean is a tall, well spoken woman whose demeanour exudes the natural confidence of a leader. Perfectly mannered yet forthright, the phrase Keep Calm and Carry On comes to mind when speaking to Julie.

Cambridge Satchel Company logo hand drawn

The business started with a problem

Julie wanted to move her children to a better school and needed the money to do it, hence The Cambridge Satchel Company was born. With £600, Julie searched hard and found a small British manufacturer to make the classic satchel design she remembered carrying to school herself but couldn’t find anymore, taught herself to code and build a website and got her first ‘pity’ sales off friends and family.

Who helped? “Well, the thing is you have got to get somebody who will work really hard, put up with your slightly easily irritated temperament, not expect to be paid. It narrows until you are left with your mother.”

I asked her why of all the businesses in the world did she choose a handbag company. She says it was out of frustration that she couldn’t find “a decent school bag that lasted longer than a term.”

There must be others mothers feeling this way right?


More Than Mothers

In 2010, Julie sent neon satchels to bloggers at New York Fashion Week and was an instant success. Word got out and Julie found herself flooded with 16,000 orders. Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Alexa Chung, and Sophie Ellis Baxtor were all fans.

Her dream client to this day though is Helena Boham Carter. “Helena has a strong female identity. She’d love the Poppy style, it’s the silly bag of the range. It has a round bottom and you know it wont sit on it’s own but you just fall in love with it’s sturdy version of femininity.”

With Great Success Comes Great Anxiety

Forced to move to a bigger factory in Leicester to accommodate all those orders, things looked amazing for The Cambridge Satchel Company. At 10,000 orders a month she was her manufacturer’s biggest client and Google featured Julie’s story in their Chrome ‘the Web is What You Make of It’ advert.

Watch the Video

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But it was at this time of heady triumph that Julie faced her largest obstacle to date. A whistle blower worker let her know that the factory was stealing her leather, using her knives and thread to make copy-cat bags with a different label to undercut The Cambridge Satchel Company. What the hell?! What did the owner say when he was confronted?

“He told me I didn’t have a choice. I was a ‘stupid woman’ what did I know about manufacturing and he walked away from me.”

Inspiring and resilient, Julie spent the next THREE weeks simply setting up her own factory in Leicester and pinching all but two of his staff. The best bit? The money she won after suing the sexist pig was used to set up the Cambridge Satchel Company’s first store.

“To say I can’t be in manufacturing because I’m a woman is ridiculous. At that point, If I hadn’t stood up for myself he would have taken my business from me.”

By January 2014, The Cambridge Satchel Company was worth £50 million.

CSC Roxy Julie 2 editedgold

“People will copy and that just means you’re doing things well.”

Julie Deane

Autumn/Winter 2018

Emily the 8-year-old that motivated the first bag is now 18, off to uni and still inspiring her mother. Product developers from Mulberry and designers from Vivienne Westwood put together mood boards from Julie’s ideas.

Emily is going to a music festival, what will her bag look like?

Emily is starting university, her new namesake bag can not only easily carry a laptop but is well made and beautiful in cheery colours like Indian Yellow, French Grey and Oxblood.

“You want things that you can pick up and they give you a sense of joy, or be done with them!”

– Julie Dean

Every year the team go on a digital detox to a ranch in Wyoming and instead of trend reports, the 2018 AW collection colours are inspired by their trip. The juniper bush and leather from the horse’s saddles, uplifting, bright, happy, autumnal and warm. They design bags that work hard for you. Take the new Pushlock style, a cute clutch with a detachable strap “for when you’re riding your bike.” “The clip on tassel adds some flair?” I ask; “Of course!” Exclaimed Julie, “or you can add a different tassel.”

Julie is really proud of what we do well in Britain. Heritage, craft, design and education (the Cambridge thing) are all intrinsic to the unwavering Cambridge Satchel Company brand voice.

“Celebrating what we do well as part of our DNA.”

I ask Julie how she’s tackling the sustainability issues the fashion industry is facing and she proudly tells me about her non harmful leather dye, minimal transport and built-to-last quality. “I’ve been using my dark brown satchel for 10 years and it hasn’t fallen apart but looks better with ago and love. It’s not a fad. They deserve more than to be a fad.”

CSC Julie croppedgold

So much practical thought has gone into the styles but with all that in mind, how do The Cambridge Satchel Company keep prices so accessible? Mini satchels start at £60 and the most expensive style comes out at £225. The answer is an unforgiving customer focus. Julie isn’t ashamed to admit making losses 3 years in a row because it is so important to her that the bags can be worn by everyday people who want something that is really well made.

“It means we depend on our customers loving our bags so much that they tell their friends and we grow authentically through word of mouth.”

So there you go! How to build a £50million company, in 5 years, from your kitchen! Let me know how you get on 😉
If you enjoyed this post please leave me a comment, share it with your friends and check out Fashion For Feminists, you’ll enjoy that blog too! Ooooh and A Central London Woodland Wonderland – more previews of winter’s cosiest fashion 🙂
Love Roxy xXx

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One thought on “The #Businessmum behind The Cambridge Satchel Company tells me how she built her international company from her kitchen

  1. Ellen Lindsay says:

    Your purses and bags are beautiful! The greatest motivation in the world is for a man to tell a woman she stupid, and can’t do something!!! You go girl!!!!! ♡☆♡☆♡


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