NatWest Startups Business of the Year 2011

The Cambridge Satchel Company

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The Cambridge Satchel CompanyFounders: Freda Thomas and Julie Deane Year started: 2008 Website:

When mother and daughter Freda Thomas and Julie Deane started The Cambridge Satchel Company with just £600, they had a humble dream to provide traditional school satchels to the children of Cambridge.

What they’ve created is a multi-million pound, international brand, with an army of ambassadors. Their collections of leather satchels – which juxtapose a traditional design (“It’s the kind of bag you felt Harry Potter and Hermione would carry”) with bright colours – didn’t just catch the eye of schoolchildren, they started a fashion phenomenon. Rich praise from the influential fashion blogger community followed and, to date, The Cambridge Satchel Company has featured in Vogue in six countries.

This stimulated a barrage of international demand from fashion buyers and customers alike. “In South Korea they love us,” Deane says. Orders spiked 350% in the second half of 2011 and the team – which has grown from two to 47 in the last eighteen months – are estimating a turnover of over £10m in 2012. However, despite its exponential growth, the Company has stayed true to its ethics, with Deane insisting that every bag is made on British soil. This has not been an easy choice – especially when this hectic period was struck by disaster. Cambridge Satchel found out that one of their manufacturers had stolen their templates and leather and set up a rival company.

Far from being defeated though, Deane seized the opportunity and set up The Cambridge Satchel Company’s own factory in Leicester. Not only did this help to create jobs for the local community, but apprentices will be taken on and taught traditional craft skills – easing youth unemployment and reinforcing the Company’s commitment to sustainable British enterprise.

Judges’ comments: The judges were swayed by the phenomenal growth of the company, which was founded by a mother and daughter three years ago. They are now making 3,000 bags a week in the UK and selling to 86 countries.

Their range of traditional leather satchels come in modern colours and styles, and have been featured in just about every fashion magazine in the UK. Retailers are literally queuing up to stock them.  The judges were equally impressed by their efforts to bring traditional manufacturing and craft skills back to the UK.

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