Founder Q&A

Julie Deane, the Cambridge Satchel Company

Q&A with the founder of the cambridge satchel company

Julie Deane

What's the story behind The Cambridge Satchel Company – where did the idea first originate?

The Cambridge Satchel Company was born from the need to make money to send my children to a brilliant school – everyone needs motivation and a very strong one as when you start a business you will hit bumps in the road. For me there was no better motivation than making life better for Emily and Max and a great education is the best start in life. I had £600 earmarked to start the business and never borrowed or took on any form of debt – that is until a couple of years ago when I took on an investor but by then I had grown the annual sales to £13 million a year. It’s amazing what you can do with sheer determination and focus.

Do you still have the original table that the initial designs were created on?

I do, it is still my kitchen table. Homework is done on it, baking is done on it and countless cups of tea and coffee are drunk sitting around it. The kitchen is still the heart of the business in many ways as that’s where everyone ends up and it’s a great place to discuss issues. I find it difficult to work in a creative way in a conventional office, it’s suffocating at times. I would much rather be outside or in the kitchen with the dogs wandering around. Many of our best ideas have been hatched from the team having meetings in the park – it’s not conventional but it works for us. 

Has the vision for the business evolved or remained constant over time? 

Our vision is consistent but constantly evolving – there have been so many copies of our bags over the years but we don’t look at what others are doing. We constantly push forward, always with the spirit of the brand at the forefront of our minds. The Cambridge Satchel Company is original and ethical, but brave in its decisions and audacious in its ambition and plans – that’s what makes the company a fun place to work and that’s the energy that sets us apart. Our customers are loyal and incredibly stylish – the interaction we have with them is important as we evolve. I was once given the very wise advice – evolution not revolution. 

You've worked on collections with the likes of Comme des Garcons and Vivienne Westwood, can we expect to see any more collaborations in the future?

There is only one rule when it comes to collaborations – we only collaborate with people who make us want to shout about the association, that make us swell with pride to be associated with. Comme des Garcons and Vivienne Westwood fit that bill but so does the British Antarctic Survey and The London Transport Museum, both of whom we are working with – imagine, anyone can be in an airport duty-free shop but what about the most southerly tip of the Earth with some of the real adventurers and explorers of our time? There is more to life than fashion, there is style and there is passion and that’s the spirit we celebrate. Our pieces for The London Transport Museum have some very unique features including the London Underground map on the inside flap on some of the bags.

How would you describe the three key values of your company? 

The courage to punch above our weight.

The originality to evolve and grow.

The passion to move forward quickly with ambition, determination and energy.

You have had massive success in China, where to next?

We currently sell in 120 countries. Our challenge isn’t finding new markets, it is building on our product range in a way that will make our customers happy and make sure they want to return. The high quality of our bags means they last for a very long time and so we need to keep the offering fresh and relevant. We are known for our incredible craftsmanship and quality and so that level of trust helps us build to offer new and exciting products – that’s what you should be watching out for. Our new bag shape, the Poppy, was inspired by the traditional British doctor’s bag – it is incredibly chic meaning it could sit next to any of the luxury brands. The Poppy has already been referred to as the new ‘it’ bag and we are very excited but there is more to come  a lot more – so watch this space…

With so many celebrity and blogger fans, is there anyone past or present that you'd love to design for?

Princess Grace of Monaco, Audrey Hepburn and Helena Bonham Carter – all stylish confident women (and then there are the men, but we are working on that at the moment so I should keep quiet).

If you had to wear only one bag for the rest of your life, which one would it be?

The 15” Dark Brown Classic Satchel that my son Max bought for me from our website when he was seven years old. It’s the story that makes something special.

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