The story behind the explosion of the Cambridge Satchels

Photography by Lewis Mirrett
Cambridge Satchel Company founder Julie Deane

This past summer and into the fall, identical brightly hued satchels in every colour of the rainbow began popping up everywhere from style blogs to outside of Spring 2012 shows. No label, no glitz, just simplistic construction and straight up utility. Unlike often-unattainable It bags, The Cambridge Satchel Company satchels don’t break the bank, with styles ranging from just $100 to $200 a pop. A surprise hit with street stylers and editors alike, the bag’s success was somewhat of a shock to its creator, the U.K.-based (Cambridge, to be exact) mother, Julie Deane, who started her business with her mother as a means to send her daughter to private school. Although her former manufacturer saw that Deane had hit upon something special (they stole her designs and she’s pursuing legal action), she still can’t believe her satchels “appear on such stylish people and in such amazing stores. I feel very honoured,” she says.

We got the lowdown from the Cambridge mastermind herself on the little bags that could. »

Three generations of the Cambridge Satchel

On her inspiration for the bags:
“My daughter, whom I adore, was being bullied at school. I had to get her into a lovely school I had found, but it’s a private school and that means school fees. There is no greater incentive than helping your children when they are in need, and so I began to look at business ideas I had. One was school satchels, as I had had a difficult time finding a good one for my children when we were reading Harry Potter.”

On designing the bags with no previous experience:
“I remember hearing many times that art is all about what an individual likes and having the strength to stand by that. That is very much the approach I take—I know what I like: good design, no frills, no clutter, but craftsmanship and quality, a bag that will last. I tend to favour a classic line and strong colours. We have so many imitators I decided we needed to start our own manufacturing unit, we now have a U.K. workshop that can make 400 beautiful bags a day. I know each member of the team and make sure everyone is treated fairly and decently, I want every person who works at Cambridge Satchel to take pride in the amazing success of the bags. I have an amazing production team, I know where we need to go and what we need to do—they make it happen.”

Photography by Lewis Mirrett

On the designer collaborations:
Comme des Garçons contacted me when we were still operating from the kitchen table. It was by email, and they said that they were huge fans of our bags, can you imagine? It is exciting to work with them—they have brought our production quality up to a very high standard and we have made bags for them for many seasons now. We enjoy collaborating as designers bring new, fresh looks to our classic bag—a new twist is fun to see.”

On when she realized her bags were a success:
“My mum and I started the business together and we knew we had received a major nod of approval when Erdem bought one of our bags, then Italian Vogue featured the red ones—it was a dream, and still is.”