Julie Deane: Living proof that you can start a business from your kitchen table

For the past ten years, we’ve been helping people turn bright ideas into successful businesses. To mark this anniversary, we’ve appointed founder and CEO of The Cambridge Satchel Company, Julie Deane OBE, as ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’.

Julie Deane

Julie famously founded The Cambridge Satchel Company from her kitchen table in Cambridge eight years ago, with only £600, as a means of paying school fees for her children. Being seen on the arms of celebrities and bloggers such as Taylor Swift and Liberty London Girl quickly gave the brand global recognition. It now has five stores across the UK, soaring revenues of more than £13 million and is hugely successful around the world.  

Championing the self-employed cause

Julie’s monumental start-up success from “a cup of tea and a big idea” to a globally recognised brand is living proof that anyone can set up a business they’re passionate about from their kitchen table. Throughout her rise to business success, Julie’s philosophy has always been to champion aspiring entrepreneurs, believing that everyone should have a chance to take control of their own destiny and achieve their life goals.

“Personally, self-employment changed my life,” said Julie. “There are over 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK and there are now more possibilities to set up as self-employed. People can now create opportunities for themselves – they now have options.”

Whether it’s getting a brand new product to market, securing investment for a potentially ground-breaking invention or simply spreading the word about your available services using social media, there are now more ways than ever to achieve your self-employment ambitions.

Overcoming limited budgets with creativity

With such a small starting budget, Julie had to be extremely creative in raising awareness of her new business. Julie admits she was a self-proclaimed “queen of the free directory listing”, utilising as many local resources as possible to get noticed, such as regional newspapers, fashion and lifestyle editors and business directories. In fact, it was her innovative relationship-building with fashion bloggers and lifestyle editors that would eventually propel the brand to the next level.

In 2010, Julie was contacted by fashion bloggers in the United States, who were desperate to wear her satchels to New York Fashion Week. This massively increased the exposure of the brand, and having the satchels on show on the laps of front row fashionistas caused quite a stir. This culminated in Bloomingdales stocking the satchels in the iconic 5th Avenue store in New York – quite a meteoric rise from Julie’s quiet Cambridgeshire family home.

The importance of staying true to your roots

Perhaps the really impressive aspect of the global growth of The Cambridge Satchel Company is that the brand has continued to remain close to its roots. Julie has been the brand guardian throughout the years, using social media to maintain close relationships with customers and building the human aspect and relatability of the brand.

Julie’s first company photo shoot of her product range even featured her own children as models. This proved to really resonate with customers, especially given that Julie’s children were such a significant factor in the company’s creation.

Julie cites her greatest achievement in business as being able to scale the business globally whilst staying true to who she is.

“We’ve taken investment, and it would be very easy to step back and potentially get too big for our boots but we’ve remained the same company essentially – we have a direct relationship with our customers and want it [to stay that way],” she said.

Guard your intellectual property with your life

One of the biggest challenges Julie faced in the early stages of building up her business was protecting her intellectual property. The company’s first factory and manufacturer actually attempted to steal her original designs to create an imitation product.

Julie, however, soon learnt from her naivety, and opted to set up her own manufacturing facility in Leicester and operate using non-disclosure agreements when working with third parties, which helped her protect her brand.

In the space of just twelve months, Julie discovered 330 fake websites that claimed to sell her satchels – some even displaying an imitation trade mark. Fake profiles had also been set up on social media channels claiming to be The Cambridge Satchel Company and selling counterfeit goods.

“We enforce our trade marks aggressively and have fake websites shut down,” she added.

“At MarkMonitor meetings I am surrounded by household names, far bigger than us. We have to join together to defend ourselves but it is a huge drain on resources.”

Intellectual property infringement is no laughing matter; it can cost you thousands. However, you can get all the information and guidance you need to protect your ideas and creations here at the British Library at our regular workshops and through advice clinics.

Work with honesty and integrity

As a new business on the block, what’s really set The Cambridge Satchel Company apart from other start-ups is the honesty and integrity shown by Julie and her team. It’s quickly become a brand that people can believe in across the world and this has led to global success. This is particularly the case for China, which is now the business’ second-largest territory for sales. Even Prince William paid a visit to a festival in Shanghai which housed Julie’s very own ‘Great Wall of Satchels’.

Julie has been deservedly heralded as a true British business success story and was acknowledged last year by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron who asked her to lead an independent review of the UK’s self-employment landscape. The resulting report outlined 10 recommendations for the Government’s consideration that would support the growth of the self-employed community in the UK.  This included increased use of libraries and enterprise hubs.

The Cambridge Satchel Company’s inspirational story is a fantastic example of how one great idea can spiral into a global business success. As Entrepreneur in Residence, Julie will share her own expertise and experience to help users of the Business & IP Centre achieve their own self-employment ambitions. In addition to this, she will also be advising on how the Centre can develop and expand by raising the profile of its work in city libraries across the UK. 

Watch Julie speaking about her new role as 'Entrepreneur in Residence' here.

For a decade we have been helping entrepreneurs based in and around London start, run and grow their businesses. Isn’t it time you paid us a visit


See also

Plan to start your business

Plan to grow your business

Protecting your ideas