Meet the owners
From humble beginnings (at her kitchen table), Julie Deane has grown The Cambridge Satchel Company into a global hit, her leather satchels gracing the arms of celebrities, from Taylor Swift to Lady Gaga. Louise Cummings finds out more.
What made you choose to make satchels?
It has a lot to do with sustainability. I had a satchel when I was a child, and it lasted right the way through secondary school, so seven years of hard wear and tear. At the end of school, if anything, it looked better than at the beginning!
I remember when my children Emily and Max were younger, in primary school, you’d buy a bag and if it wasn’t well made, it would fall apart or the zip would break within weeks. A satchel, however, is dependable; it’s structured, it’s strong, it doesn’t flop over, it doesn’t churn out everything you’re carrying on to the floor. It just works.
Where are they manufactured?
Every single bag is made at our workshop just outside Leicester. The leather is a by-product of the meat industry, so would otherwise go to landfill. Our craftspeople are highly skilled and take pride in their work. Our top end bags pass through eight pairs of hands, and someone paints the edge of the leather with wax and ink; the attention to detail is extraordinary.
Do you have a favourite product?
It would be a satchel; I’m such a satchel obsessed person! It’s a workhorse of bags, and I appreciate that. My favourite is my dark brown 15-inch leather satchel, which I use as my work bag, but I’m also besotted with my Bowls Bag. All our bags have a story behind them. We have the Doctors Bag (which took six years to get right!) and the Music Bag, which comes in some extraordinary colours. We make Music Bags for the Royal Opera House and The Prince’s Foundation, and Joanna Lumley has a red Music Bag in the Netflix film Falling for Figaro!
Can you tell us more about the Bowls Bag?
It’s based on a bag from 1938 which people who loved lawn bowling would use to carry two bowls in, so it’s tubular in shape. It’s absolutely gorgeous, with our trademark etched buckles, and top-quality self-seeking magnets. It’s been featured in Vogue and lots of famous people have contacted us requesting one!
Talking of famous folk, who are your celebrity fans?
Helena Bonham Carter has been spotted with a Bordeaux Doctors Bag many times. Sophie Ellis Bextor bought so many bags from my original website and has been such a great friend of the brand that we named a variant of the Doctors Bag, The Sophie, after her. Lady Gaga has been photographed with our bags and Taylor Swift has danced with one on Instagram. When Obama was US president and came to the UK, David Cameron presented the Obama girls with Cambridge Satchels as official gifts. How amazing!
What’s the best part of the job?
I just love my team; throughout the pandemic and lockdown, we’ve kept each other going. It sounds corny but every success within the business feels like a success for all of us. Lockdown also gave us the opportunity to develop software so people who may be isolating can now book virtual appointments with managers at the various shops.
Any exciting new products you can tell us about?
I am ‘wear testing’ a new computer workbag and praying everything goes well as it’s so beautiful! So, even if we have to spend more time in front of Zoom screens, eating our way through another lockdown, we can divert attention with our fabulous Cambridge Satchel work bag and look completely professional and stylish and absolutely fantastic!
A brief history. . .
The Cambridge Satchel Company began in 2008, devised by Julie Deane and her mum Freda. Inspired by the iconic leather school bags of years gone by, the satchel was their first product. Today the brand’s portfolio spans bags, briefcases, purses, journals and trunks, each beautiful piece handcrafted from ethically-sourced leather in the UK. The Cambridge Satchel Company, which has collaborated with Vivienne Westwood and Comme des Garcons, amongst others, has a flagship shop in Cambridge, and stores in London and Edinburgh.
Visit The Cambridge Satchel Company at 2 St Mary’s Passage, Cambridge, or cambridgesatchel.com
Cambridge BID is working in partnership with Velvet Magazine to support local businesses.
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