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Interview: Julie Deane, Cambridge Satchel Company

Julie bags her place in fast growth league

Julie DeaneConsidering that she launched her business in her kitchen with just £600 and the help of her mum, Julie Deane has not done too badly. Six years later, a need to find a way to pay her children’s school fees has turned into a company with a £13 million turnover, operating in 120 countries.

Julie, founder of the Cambridge Satchel Company, was in Edinburgh on Friday night to mark the opening of her latest pop-up shop. The outlet in George Street is one of five – two in London, one in Cambridge, and another which opened in Glasgow on Thursday.

The Cambridge Satchel Company, based in the city of the same name, is an online business, but she has been persuaded to get into the high street to showcase her range which have become a fashion sensation.

Her satchels have featured at New York Fashion Week, where the distinctive colours and designs drew the attention of the New York Times and both Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue who wanted to stock them. The company’s logo was painted on taxi roofs and the firm became the face of Google Chrome.

All this has been crammed into a busy few years which began with a desire to build a business that would pay the school fees for Julie’s children.

“I had a list of 10 things and rated them. I wanted satchels for my children but there were few places to buy them,” she says. This was the prompt she needed to get started. She contacted a local school outfitter who stocked them and asked who made them.

“He wouldn’t tell me, so I rang him every half an hour for days until I nagged him into submission.”

Julie, based in South Wales at the time, contacted the manufacturer in the north of England and asked the man running the business to make just three. She got to work designing a website, arranged for her children to pose with the satchels, and began sending 300 emails a day to fashion bloggers, lifestyle editors and anyone she thought might promote her range.

Her big breakthrough was a feature in a national newspaper gift guide. She was out looking for a garden shed to stock the satchels and had set up her phone to ping whenever an order came in.

“That day, it just kept pinging and I thought it must be an error by one customer,” she says. It wasn’t. “My husband turned to me and said: ‘I think you’ll need something bigger than a shed'”.

She wanted the satchels to be manufactured in Britain and now has 900 a day made at a factory near Leicester where she believes the best leather workers are still based. The company was recently named the 7th fastest growth firm in the Virgin Fast Track league and next week she launches online in China where the range has already proved very popular.

The Edinburgh shop will be open until February to test the market. The Glasgow shop is in Royal Exchange Square.

Julie studied natural sciences at Cambridge University and qualified as a chartered accountant. She worked for Deloitte in London and Chicago, but hankered after working for herself.

In January this year she succumbed to pressure from external investors and sold a minority stake to Index Ventures which has invested in Net A Porter, Asos and Skype.

But despite the international expansion, Julie likes to keep her feet on the ground. Her mother Freda, who helped her get started, is still involved in the business.

Julie says: “She has the best eye for colour of anyone I know and she gets involved in the creative process.”

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