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Julie Deane CBE of The Cambridge Satchel Company: Part 2 on Handbag Designer 101 Podcast Every Tuesday



Emily Blumenthal

Host

00:00

Hi and welcome to the Handbag Designer 101 podcast with your host, Emily Blumenthal, handbag designer expert and handbag fairy godmother, where we cover everything about handbags, from making, marketing, designing and talking to handbag designers and industry experts about what it takes to make a successful handbag. Welcome, my dear sweet Julie Dean. Back to the Handbag Designer 101, the podcast for part two of the tale of the Cambridge Statue Company. So where we left it because this was worthy of part one and part two we made it to the point where somebody had come in and, after you've been running it yourself, a company had come in and you made the hard decision to sell part of it or give up control the first time. What had happened? 

Julie Deane

Guest

00:55

Yeah, because we talked about all that happened with the manufacturer stealing the leather, making the rip off bags. I think that was such a difficult, difficult time because the relationship that you have with your manufacturer is a very strong one. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

01:14

You know, it's a marriage. 

Julie Deane

Guest

01:16

You're the podcast. It's a marriage, and I think that it's very difficult when you've been having meetings every week, when you'd shaken hands, sat across the table, looked someone in the eye, felt that you knew somebody so well to then have such an unexpected and unbelievable sort of disruption more than a disruption, and it makes you question are you even a good judge of character? Should you be doing this? How do you get over this? Which is one of the big reasons that led me to this. Looking back on it, quite incredible decision of you know, what I'm going to do is I'm going to become my own manufacturer, you know, and I'm not going to go through this again, and which is right, you know. 

02:07

Looking from the slightly, from the outside now back in, I sort of think, wow, that was such a brave thing to do for someone who didn't know about manufacturing. 

02:18

But it felt like the only way of not going through that again. And it was a decision that would pay dividends over and over and over again, you know, sort of in the years that followed, because it meant that I would never feel that if a bigger brand came along, I would be pushed backwards. You know, I no longer be a priority, or you just never quite know what somebody else's agenda is Right, and so when you own your own manufacturing, it just means you can decide what gets made first and you know whether you have overtime to do something or in the whole product development line. It makes things a lot more straightforward and, though nobody could have foreseen it at the time during the pandemic, it just means that at least you're slightly more in control of how the whole thing is handled. You know how people are taken care of, how you make the things safe, your supply chain. You at least know what's going on. So it was something that I look back on and I think an incredible decision, but I'm really glad I went that way. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

03:34

So, in the midst of all this, you had not once but twice, somebody come in. Yeah, take over your company. 

Julie Deane

Guest

03:43

So what? It didn't feel like a takeover, I think. That where we were lucky and I was speaking to somebody who's got a startup just this morning and I said you've got to really know your business, what makes you different, and then you will become visible on a very crowded radar Right. And I do remember it was only about six months, maybe less. After that we had the whole thing of the Google advert and I don't think we touched on that. 

04:16

But I remember the thing with the manufacturer made me quite a paranoid person and I remember getting a phone call and it just said oh, we've got this amazing, unbelievable media opportunity you've been shortlisted for, but we need to know more about your business. And I was just not having it. So it was like well, tell me all about it, otherwise I'm telling you nothing. You know I'm dragging it. And they sort of got back in. They said, no, no, well, we can't tell you very much about this, but just believe me, this is something you don't want to miss. And I was just thinking no, you must think I was born yesterday. I'm not having this. I'm not divulging my secrets. I don't know what secrets I felt I had left to divulge at that point, but I'm not devil. And they said OK, look, we will find out if we can tell you both. You're going to have to sign a nondisclosure agreement. 

05:15

And I remember my mum was sitting with me in the office just outside Cambridge. My mum was sitting there, dog was sitting there, and all of a sudden this agreement, this nondisclosure agreement, came through and it was massive. I mean, the printer was doing it over time. It was huge. And my mum was looking at me and she said well, julie, if this is some kind of joke, they're taking it Very seriously. There's this endless stack, it's like two-inch thick document, and we looked at it and in the end I sort of thought, oh, what the heck? Now I really want to know. I signed it and they said you've come to the attention of Google and they love the story of how, with 600 pounds, using things like Google Translate to take orders from people in Korea and Japan, and if you've used all of these different three tools, they want to use you as the subject of the advert for Google Chrome. 

06:18

You could be the face of Google Chrome. I was looking up my mother, I just get out. We just didn't get it. So we were sending the things. And so that is what happened in the end. And I remember going up to BBH, this incredible advertising agency, and they said we've got so many questions that we need to create this advert. And I hadn't had any breakfast. I'd gone on, an early train arrived there and I was really, really hungry and as I was going through, I could see that. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

06:49

Wait a second, so, but Google has a good buffet. I understand, no, but this was at BBH. This was at the age of the advertising agency. They didn't have a spread for you. 

Julie Deane

Guest

06:59

Well, I went to the agency. I know it's only 12.30. I'm really, really, really hungry. I've come in from Cambridge. Could I have a banana? And they were laughing. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

07:09

They said well, you're like no, seriously, I want a banana. 

Julie Deane

Guest

07:13

They said you're the least effort ever For in these series. He said we've had Lady Gaga, we've had people. You can have anything you want, right? You know, you can just tell us anything from any restaurant in London, we will go out and get it whatever you want. I said no, no, just, you know a banana, I'm happy with a banana. And I said I'm looking out there I can see somebody's got a cheese sandwich. If I could have a cheese sandwich I would be just all set. You know it was. And I remember back to that sort of phase of doing the Google advert. I had no idea what a big deal this was going to be. You know the advert on YouTube we had 8 million views. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

07:59

I need to go back and see it because I have a big recollection. It was like you buy a table wasn't it and it was. 

Julie Deane

Guest

08:04

I remember that. It was just incredible, because I remember saying to Emily and Max, because my kids were both on that advert, and I remember saying to them look, I know you've just started a new school, but don't worry, nobody's gonna see this. This isn't worry, nobody, and we'll use your mind that, yes, I was, I was, and at the first time that advert aired we have this huge sort of it's like an America's Got Talent type thing the X Factor yeah, yeah, yeah, biggest show on TV at that time and the advert aired during the first break of the X Factor on Saturday night, prime time TV, and both my children were looking at me like really, this isn't gonna be a big thing, you know at all? No, of course it isn't no. And I took them to the cinema. Sure enough, larger than life there it was. The advert was playing in the cinemas, but so they went back to school and it was like what did you do over the summer holiday? Oh well, you know we're on the Google advert. It was absolutely incredible. It was incredible and, of course, the website crashed and but it was, which is so exciting. It was very, very exciting, and it was a year after that that we got approached by. 

09:27

Well, for the six months up to when I decided who to take investment from, I was getting phone calls all the time, you know, from private equity, from venture capital places. Oh, we'll take you out for lunch, you can tell us your plans, and I'm still, you know, thinking well, why would I do that? You know, I'm really really busy. I don't know you, I don't want to go to lunch with you and I don't want to tell you my plans, you know. 

09:53

And then in the end it became obvious that it would be really nice to have somebody else sitting at the table, because if you're the one that everything comes just down to you. And the company was growing as the seventh fastest growing company in the UK, everything was growing so quickly and I've never done any of this before. I just knew what I liked and what I didn't like. You know, we were right making for Dover Street Market. We were working with Vivian Westwood, we're working with Kondigas on, we've been in vogue in seven countries. It would be, and I just thought it would be really nice to have people that actually know what they're doing at this table. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

10:36

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11:20

For the past 20 years, I've been teaching at the top fashion universities in New York City, wrote the handbag designer bible, founded the handbag awards and created the only handbag designer podcast. I'm going to show you like I have countless brands to create in this in-depth course, from sketch to sample to sale. Whether you're just starting out and don't even know where to start to begin, or if you've had a brand and need some strategic direction, the handbag designer 101 master class is just for you. So let's get started and you'll be the creator of the next it back. Join me, emily Blumenthal in the handbag designer 101 master class. So be sure to sign up at Emily Blumenthalcom slash master class and type in the code on cast to get 10% off your master class today. 

Julie Deane

Guest

12:12

And so I engage a big audit accounting firm you know that was really really sort of big in the space and and just so said to them, can you please just talk to all of these people and just give me a list of three, just three, that you think are really good, that I should speak to and meet, and I'll decide from those three. But I don't want this constant barrage of of right, right, right, right, right in zoning and they did a fantastic job of that, you know. They sort of taught me through. These are the differences between these three that we've narrowed it down to, because that's manageable. I mean, yeah, yeah, yeah, to run this business, and that was already more than a full-time job. I didn't need to be trying to be, you know, distracted by all these people wanting to gimme punch. So that was really good. And the three that they gave me at the end were three excellent ones. 

13:13

They definitely picked the right ones and that was an interesting process, you know, to try, and I mean one was easy, because I went to visit their offices and it was so messy and it looked so disorganized. I just thought, no, no, that's out. I can't deal with going to a place where I think that it felt chaotic. I didn't like it and it's got to be a place you feel really comfortable. And that woman and so I did. I got down to index. And then inflection was the other one, and both of those were a really good fit. And index was just so impressive. You know, they've backed some incredible, incredible brands, and fashion wasn't particularly their space. They're more, I would say, they're still just more tech minded, but just so impressive. And then inflection they've done great things, but it was then came down to the way that people wanted to structure the investment, and I'm very debt averse. I guess one should be. I think it puts less, you know, it felt less, so I just wanted a straight equity investment. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

14:34

So was this the first investment or the second one? This was the first one. 

Julie Deane

Guest

14:38

This is the first one, and if I went back I could have made far more of a success of that. It's this kind of imposter syndrome type thing of look, I've got it to this stage, but now I need to get the experts into scale. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

14:54

And now we've got you and what you realize after the fact, that they aren't experts and they just have money. So how did you handle it once they got involved and what ensued? You took it back, didn't you? Or how did you manage it? 

Julie Deane

Guest

15:09

It was I made years where you, with the final Well, right until right until the end, when I sold it, index was still evolved. And one thing I would say is you need to deal with people that you respect because they behave well all the way through. They might not think they want to put more money in, and maybe that's the right decision, because as a founder, you're always you know, it's like as a mummy always think your child is the best. You always think that, yes, you just need to. But they do have that objectivity. So they might not want to put more money in and you might have disagreements along the way, but as long as you've gone with an investor that's a good investor with a good reputation then they behave well throughout. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

16:01

What took you to the point of saying, okay, it's time to sell. Was that then? Was it you was a collective, was it? You just didn't like the direction, like I'm going to do the same or I needed to step away because we'd gone through Brexit. 

Julie Deane

Guest

16:17

We thought Brexit was going to be a really, really difficult and it did throw up a number of challenges, but those challenges were totally dwarfed by the pandemic. We have leather from Europe often, and so either from Italy or from Spain or from Holland, and that supply chain, you know, during the pandemic, places are completely locked down. We get leather to the factory. Also, the shops, right? Oh my gosh, all of a sudden the shops were closed and we had about six shops during that time. Half of the landlords totally reasonable and you know, did the right thing. And then some of the landlords know no rent reduction we are pressing for how can you still pay your rent when you have no customers, when the shop can't even be open, right? So you know, that was a very, very stressful time. Over 100 people on furlough, yeah, you know, and it was a really, really stressful time and I think it was during that time that I thought I'm going to hold things steady, I'm going to get through this, but after that I need time away. I need time to recover from just all this constant, you know, and the pandemic ended up being, you know, years of lockdowns and disruption and tourist traffic behaving differently, you know, and it just everything changed. And so when I was approached, you know, just over a year ago, by a French group that had deep pockets, that wanted to set up a luxury group, but they loved the fact that we had British manufacturing because the factory that I'd set up, knowing nothing, I have been incredibly fortunate in having ahead of manufacturing that the loveliest, loveliest man who knew everything there was to know about manufacturing, and I never had any worries about the fact that because of this man, you know, and we won British manufacturer of the year, we won every award going and that was, you know, his expertise showed in that factory. That made us a very attractive proposition, because then we could be manufacturing for other brands within the group. And so I was adamant that if they were to take over, I wanted people's jobs to be safe and the British manufacturing to be safe, and so I'd said no to everybody where I didn't feel that that was going to be the case. But with them, you know, yes, people, there were no job cuts, there were no job losses and the manufacturing in the UK was valued, and that was really, really important to me. So that's why I decided look, I need to step away from that. 

19:25

In the year before that, I'd been on blood pressure monitors 24 hours a day on three occasions. You know that's how stressful it was. And so I just thought enough's enough. I'd done this to make sure that Emily and Max had a great education. And I'd done that, you know, and so much more. You know my family was secure. I was secure. My mom, she was secure. She said you know, you've made it so I don't have to worry about turning on the heating, you know, and that's what this cost of living crisis has done for so many, and so I'm incredibly grateful to Cambridge Satchel, this incredible brand that you know I created with my mom standing beside me, and it gave us enough security that I could say these are the right people. 

20:21

I'm going to step away and I need to look after myself. I need to feel healthy, I need to take the pressure off, and that's, you know, a really tough decision, because this brand was my third child. You know I sort of worried about it. No detail was too small for me to get involved in. I would make sure the tone of voice was right that all of the photos, the photo shoots, that bag wouldn't be seen there. This person isn't wearing the right clothes for that bag. You know absolutely everything. I knew it inside out, but it was, you know, sadly had become such a source of stress and that was largely because of what's been going on in the world, which has become a very scary place and the even after the pandemic. You know the price of energy when you're a manufacturer. The energy bills for the fact were absolutely enormous and to safeguard everybody's jobs, it was the right time for me to say look, I have got to step away. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

21:30

How do you now reflect on the brand? I mean, we were talking about how, since you left and I just noticed it too the logos change. The DNA of the product is not yours. Are you able to look at it like a divorce, like a child who's gone their own way, or are you able to emotionally separate yourself and saying it did what it had to do? I'm sad looking at this, but that chapter is close. How are you able to contextualize that, Because it is no longer yours? 

Julie Deane

Guest

22:01

No. And when the rebranding happened and the bicycle which I really honestly believe, that was just such an authentic Cambridge symbol you get rid of the bike. That was the point I had to unsubscribe from the email and stop looking at that was the point that I just thought this is not mine. Now I can't put myself through this because I'm not going to be able to do it. I'm looking at things which weren't my decisions and I have no say over anymore. 

22:33

But it is very much like a child. I mean, Cambridge Satchel will always be in my heart, my brand always, but I think that it's going through a very big change that would never have been my choice and so I think that the kindest thing. And I wrote a LinkedIn piece about it and just said you know, I can't be that person that's saying, well, I don't approve of this and I don't like this and I don't. You know, they have bought that and it's theirs now to do what they think is right. Do I agree with the direction? No, it's not the Cambridge satchel that I created, but you know, I need to just not look and think what's next for me, what is but right? 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

23:20

I know people to still walk down the street and see someone wearing the satchel you created and still find joy. Does that stay? 

Julie Deane

Guest

23:29

Yes, because those bags last for decades and you know the bags that. When I see a satchel, that was the bag that my mom and I brought back. You know that is our bag. You know that is a fantastic, fantastic thing and it is very much like a child. If they needed help, advice, anything, you know I would always be there to help. I could never turn my back on Cambridge satchel. But I cannot bear to read the emails and the tone of voice and look at this you know new year for it because I think it would just spoil my feelings and my memories of what we created. It's kind of like if you go back to a place that was really special to you when you're a child, you've got to do that, knowing that it's probably evolved and moved on and changed. And if you see it this different way, maybe that will taint your fond memories of it. So it's that kind of decision that has to be made. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

24:35

Julie, honestly it has been a pleasure and beyond. Thank you so much for sharing a journey of the Cambridge satchel with us. Listen, if there's a movie that's going to be made, I'm going to be behind it and I'm going to be chasing you down with the camera, along with all the stuff that's growing in your garden behind you, and the Welsh that you're learning right now, because I don't know what I need to eat in Welsh, but I'm sure you're going to tell me because now, with the lessons you're taking. But thank you so much for being part of Handbag Designer 101, the podcast. You an absolute gem. 

Julie Deane

Guest

25:08

Well, thank you, and thank you for giving me the opportunity, because the one thing I would say is, with all the ups and downs, with all the roller coasters, where else would I have got the opportunity to do such incredible things? And so to anybody who is standing looking thinking should I do this? Yes, you should, you know, absolutely yes, you should. And just take every challenge one at a time, because they don't all come at once. 

Emily Blumenthal

Host

25:38

Okay, down. Oh my God, Thank you, julie. Thank you so much. Thank you, thanks for listening. Don't forget to rate and review, and follow us on every single platform at Handbag Designer. Thanks so much. We'll see you next time. 

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