“Although the road is never ending, take a step and keep walking, do not look fearfully into the distance… On this path let the heart be your guide for the body is hesitant and full of fear.” - RUMI
It was the winter of 2013.
I had left school two years earlier to undergo a heart procedure. On from there, I was mostly house-bound, growing into chronic health conditions which saw me wheelchair ridden at my worst.
I won’t dwell too much on the health aspect of this period, simply because I would rather talk about the more positive aspects here! I do however feel it’s important for me to mention it at the beginning of this however, as this period of ill health was where the idea for Charlotte Elizabeth was born from and I’m proud, now as a 26-year-old women, how I used this darker period of life to create something far more positive.
The idea came as an epiphany. I was not searching for ideas of starting my own business, or even considering to! In fact, if you had sat me down and told me I would go on to create my own business, I thought you would have been talking about another lifetime, something completely beyond reach.
Yet one winters afternoon, the image flashed in my mind. I saw the bag so clearly. It was a structured style, classic in form with tapered sides and a beautiful handle, often seen in the 1950’s style of handbags.
Never have I experienced anything like it! The image kept flooding into my mind, now launching off into all of the avenues that would be created from this one product. From providing jobs, to working with factories, to having customers worldwide and creating something special beyond retail, with emotion and connection.
It was truly elating to be so inside my own vision that it all felt real already. I always knew it would happen and believed in it more than any idea I'd had. It sent shivers up my spine. I got a sense that this was my purpose, and that however challenging, I must go after it.
Now looking back, I suppose I was a glance inside the future, or I created the future, or both!
At the time, I was a teenager. I had never had a career other than a brief stint in the retail and events industry and a summer working in retail. I also had only a handful of GCSE’s behind me. On paper, I was not the candidate you’d put in charge to create the company, and yet I felt that the dream was part of my heart, and that I was the only one who could make that a reality.
I began formulating a plan of action. How was I going to get the money to start this? What will the business look like, what will it’s identity be? Who was going to make the product? Where would they be located? How will I ship the product? How will I sell them? Who will want them?
So many questions began to pop up, and being such early days, with no product in hand, I felt that it was a real challenge to have people support me on my mission. “It’ll be the next big thing, I promise!” I would say to those telling me that I’d never be able to create a new handbag company, begging them to take my idea seriously.
A short time after the epiphany, my eldest sister mentioned that The Prince’s Trust may be able to help me with my business idea, after reading a newspaper about the charity on her commute home. It took a matter of minutes of me learning about The Prince’s Trust, and their helpful business course ‘The Enterprise Course’, before signing myself up.
The course was held over 4 days, in person, alongside over a handful of other young individuals. The Enterprise Course is aimed at young people, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, who have a business idea that requires the knowledge, tools, funding and support to turn into a reality.
After the four days of learning, planning and dreaming, I decided to take the plunge and put all of my energy into creating my vision. The unfortunate reality was that I was severely unwell at the same time, suffering endless symptoms and continuous exhaustion as a result.
I would work a little on the big plan every day, from bed.
I researched every handbag manufacturer here in the UK, phoning them to explain my idea and if they could help me. I searched for leather-makers, those who could supply the material for my bags. I learnt coding, to create the website.
To have the brewing vision and to be working each day, no matter how small, towards it gave me that much needed sense of purpose in this darker chapter of my life.
Finally, after completing my business plan, I went back to The Prince’s Trust. I required funding to get the idea off the ground, and to obtain it, I’d have to pitch my idea in front of a panel of those who were long-standing members of the charity.
I placed four bags on the table, along with my plan for the company. I explained the amount I required to go forward in my idea. Though I was nervous, I believed in my dream so much that asking for their funding felt incredibly exciting. They just had to be on board with my vision, too!
Thankfully, I left with a start-up loan which would cover the first set of costs in getting my idea off the ground. It was incredible - finally I could action my plan that I’d been working on for two years.
I purchased 40 bags for our debut style ‘The Bloomsbury', in 4x colour ways: black, chestnut, grey and chocolate. They were lovingly handcrafted at a small factory in Somerset, UK.
When the bags arrived I felt like an exciting chapter was about to begin. I had no clue if anyone would purchase them, and yet I believed so deeply in my idea, and felt passionate that others may well believe in it too.
The company was to be named Charlotte Elizabeth, after mine and my grandmothers first names. I wanted the company to be a real family business, using other family business to create our product. Still to this day this is a core value of our company.
March 10th 2016, launch day!
I pressed live on the site and watched as a couple of people popped up in different parts of the world viewing the product. It is rather incredible thinking back to social media even five years ago. There was no fancy way of doing it, and not much education on how to use it for business, so I posted a small photo on my personal account showing my friends what I’d been up to over the past two years! I think I gained 12 likes on it…
Over the coming weeks bags began to sell. Some to close friends and family, others travelling to other parts of the country and world. It was so exciting. As any new business owner, you’re never certain on how it will go, everything is guesswork on how sales will go. So to have customers behind me, and with bags selling, I felt proud of how far I'd come, yet daunted by the realisation of 'well, now I've launched it, I've got to grow it!'.
Little did I know on the day of launch that within three years my debut design, The Bloomsbury, would go on to be an international bestseller, selling to 64 countries worldwide.
Since then, Charlotte Elizabeth has grown from strength to strength, having a continuing success due to our product and brand's more honest and real story.
Within these years I have experienced the turbulences of business, learning a great amount in such a short space of time, seeing both the darker and lighter sides to the industry, had to pick myself up a lot, cried a lot, packed an great deal of bags, drove vans to ferry my stock from a to b, and been truly stunned by just how many individuals have got behind the Charlotte Elizabeth dream.
I must say that being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest missions you’ll ever embark on. It is not as glitzy and glamorous as is so often mis-portrayed in the media. Instead, for me at least, it has meant many sleepless nights, sacrificing larger parts of life, being in uncomfortable circumstances and the general pressures of being a business owner.
It has not been an easy ride at times, and yet it has felt like an adventure of a lifetime!
Behind the scenes there have been people who have truly played such a huge role in the Charlotte Elizabeth success.
Stuart Naglar MBE was my business mentor, and now friend, who The Prince’s Trust assigned me in the early days of starting the company. Stuart would meet with me each month, helping me with little and significant questions and challenges that any new entrepreneur would find themselves greeted by. I could not have made the company into what it is today without his clear, wise and centred advice.
Tracy Talbott, my Enterprise Course leader, who told me to “Stick with the bags!” after I doubted myself in whether to go after Charlotte Elizabeth. It is incredible to think where I would be if she hadn’t given me the confidence to continue on this path.
My family, who have been there for me through thick and thin. They are my number one supporters, believing in me more than I do myself at times. Again, I would not be where I am today without them. My parents, who packaged and sent our parcels out in the early days when I was too poorly too, all with so much love and care. My dad, who is continually Charlotte Elizabeth's greatest cheerleader.
And of course finally, our dear, loyal customers who have got behind the Charlotte Elizabeth story. From our very first customer, to our very current, this would not exist without your support. Every single sale has helped me in our mission for Charlotte Elizabeth, and I am exceptionally grateful for this support.
We so often are discouraged by our dreams, with judgement, non-believers in our mission and more negative comments holding us back from unlocking our true potential. I often wonder, how would the world look if we all believed in our potential to do great things, no matter how big or how small? Just imagine how many of us could achieve things we could only ever dream of, if we believed in ourself enough?
One mantra that has helped me tremendously in both my personal and business journey is seeing life as climbing a mountain. Do not rush it, take it step by step, be prepared to adapt and find balance in both the knowing and not knowing, and enjoy the view along the way, not just when you reach the top.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us in our journey from past to present. To the many customers who have shopped with us and invested their money in a smaller business, thank you. Your support has helped us in reaching our 5th Birthday milestone today.
To the next five years...