Not so long ago, the average woman was walking around with a handbag that weighed more than the average puppy. As smartphones replace laptops and Filofaxes the weight’s dropped a bit but the experience of dragging a hefty bag around town inspired a business idea for former fashion trend-spotter Rae Jones.
“I’d always had this idea in my head for a bag that could be used for any occasion that was practical, elegant, well-made and durable — that didn’t weigh a tonne before you put anything in and wasn’t overly branded or covered in blingy hardware — and no one was doing it,” Jones explains.
She was already running her own shoe business — named after herself — which she launched after a postgraduate course in footwear design at London’s Cordwainers College.
But Jones’ first Buckitt bag was designed last year — then she started crowd-funding for customers as well as backing.
“Since I’d already launched my women’s footwear brand, I knew what a slow process it is to build a fan base of customers, so I thought crowdfunding and social media would help.”
Jones, 35, put her Buckitt bag design on crowdfunding site Kickstarter. She plugged the fact that the bag — which had been designed in Hackney — would be made in a run-down factory just outside Manchester, near where she grew up: “The factory was facing closure caused by its luxury fashion clients moving business overseas — Buckitt could play a small part in keeping those increasingly rare skills alive and in the UK,” Jones told would-be investors.
“Having spent years working as a fashion trends analyst, I spotted a market gap for a bag that blends full-on functionality and style,” she added in her bid for £15,000 of seed funding.
It worked: investors — who received rewards ranging from a limited edition postcard, to a classic Buckitt bag for £170-worth of backing — put in £19,000, almost a third more than Jones’ target.
“As well as the cash, it meant I had 150 orders on my books,” Jones says. “So I put the money towards setting up production, organising packaging and shipping processes, and investing in buckles, eyelets and other hardware, plus expanding my range of accessories.
“I went through a long process of perfecting the shape and size of the bag before working with a pattern cutter at the factory to get the proportions of all of it just right. The leather is high-grade Italian vegetable-tanned cowhide and all fittings are sourced for their durability and quality.” In the future, Jones says, the Buckitt will be offered in more colours, and an accessories line is on its way.
Working from her Hackney studio, Jones took her Buckitt bag to trade shows around the UK, where she secured wholesale orders from independent shops and chains including cult fashion store Anthropologie.
“It’s been tough organising all parts of the business as well as fulfilling the Kickstarter orders before Christmas,” the entrepreneur admits.
But it helps that all production takes place in the UK. “I am passionate about manufacturing in Britain and trying to retain some of the skills we have had here for centuries,” Jones explains.
“We were masters of leather-working and the skills are starting to die out as bigger brands move their manufacturing overseas.
“I had to have my shoes made in Portugal as there are no women’s footwear manufacturers left here, so I was determined to get the bags made here and make a whole label that is only made in Britain.
”There’s another plus-side too: Jones adds that the “made in England” tag “is also great for the export market”. The bags — which cost from £260 each — are sold in Japan and Australia; the entrepreneur is now in talks about expanding to Russia and beyond.
“They got in touch via Kickstarter,” Jones says. “I was surprised how much the publicity bought — certainly more than just money.”
Business idols: Rosie Wolfenden and Harriet Vine of handmade acrylic jewellery designer Tatty Devine. “I admire the way they have built up a successful business, run and owned by themselves, and are passionate about manufacturing in the UK.”