Cambridge Satchel Company’s founder tells Graeme Moran about her journey from kitchen table to 10 Downing Street.
Tell us a little about your involvement in the new Google Chrome advert.
We were stunned and delighted to receive a call from BBH, the advertising agency used by Google for the advert. Our story had reached Google and they felt it exemplified how the web can be used to achieve and so fitted perfectly with Google’s ‘The web is what you make of it’ line. I think we are a great fit as without the web, Cambridge Satchel Company would still, I believe, be running from my kitchen.
Why did you decide to set up the Cambridge Satchel Company?
I was a full-time mum. It was only when it became apparent that my daughter Em was being bullied that I realised it was time to start a new chapter – I found a fantastic private school where I felt sure both [my children] would thrive and be very happy. I needed to make enough money for fees so I had the best motivation anyone could have.
I had a budget of £600, a kitchen table and computer and my mum’s never-ending support.
How did the company grow?
No borrowing, no overdrafts, no investors. The internet makes so much possible – I did everything from researching the market to setting up the first website. Since launching in 2008, we already have more than 70 employees and are sold in 140 countries.
What have been your career highlights so far?
Two very memorable moments. The first when my mum and I took the children to John Lewis for their new school uniform, we stood and howled our eyes out. We realised we’d done what we’d set out to do and the relief and sense of achievement was too much! The second was last year: as part of winning Red magazine’s Red Hot Women awards my mum and I were invited for coffee at 10 Downing Street with Samantha Cameron. What a moment and how much more special to share it with my mum.
Why do you insist on British manufacturing?
I firmly believe the satchel is a British staple and I can’t imagine having it made overseas. And for what? Convenience? Cheapness? It’s ripping the soul out of the business. How can we look around at businesses going bust and people losing their jobs and feel blameless if we aren’t making an effort to support UK manufacturing?
How did the collaborations with the likes of Comme des Garçons and Christopher Shannon come about?
I was so excited when Comme contacted me to ask if we would make some special bags for them – the fact they’d heard of us was stunning. Christopher Shannon is another incredible talent; our collaboration produced some of the strongest designs yet.
Any more in the pipeline?
Yes, but I can’t lift the lid yet, although I can give a clue: a big name that makes perfect sense given our history.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Aim high. Don’t settle for something – it’s often easier but it won’t make you happy.