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The Journey of Starting Charlotte Elizabeth

Eight years since launching Charlotte Elizabeth, I wanted to share the story of my journey in creating a handbag business, and the process of how I made my dream into a reality.

I remember the moment that I had my first idea for Charlotte Elizabeth. I was recovering from a heart operation as a teenager.

Being unable to go to school or university due to severe ill-health post surgery and bed-bound as a result, I had a lot of time on my hands to think up what I wanted for the future.

Upon lying in bed and staring at the four white walls and ceiling, I had what I now call an epiphany - a clear visualisation of a top-handled, classic looking handbag.

It was in that moment that I had a rush of excitement, and saw a 'whole image' of what this one bag could cause.

I thought about the jobs this brand could create, the factories we could support and the people who's daily lives would be that little bit better having a handbag that felt luxurious, unique and personal to them.

I recall scribbling down the image of what we now call 'Bloomsbury' on a rough piece of paper. I was so unwell at the time, that even doing this seemed to require a great amount of energy, but it felt like it was one step closer to being real when I saw it outside of my head.

My next step in pursuing my dream was 1. Learning how to start a business and 2. Finding the funds to be able to do so.

One of my sisters saw an advert in the newspaper on her commute home one evening, which sparked a huge part of the journey for me.

It was an article about The Prince's Trust, a charity created by King Charles to help and support young people who had disadvantages. In this particular feature, they were highlighting an entrepreneur who had been helped by their Enterprise Course.

I quickly googled the course and signed myself up to attend one locally. I was really challenged in leaving the house at that time, but those few days of learning about creating a business plan, financials in running a company and marketing have stayed with me since.

I was unable to work at the time due to my ill health, so receiving any funding for me was critical in bringing my idea for Charlotte Elizabeth to life. Two years after attending the course, I pitched the Charlotte Elizabeth vision to the charity, and received a £3,000 loan and two years of free mentoring, both crucial to the brands future success.

That £3,000 loan enabled me to purchase my first 40 handbags, which I had produced in Somerset, UK, using Scottish leather.

I chose Black, Chestnut, Grey and Dark Brown coloured leather for our first production run, which was an instant success.

I didn't quite know what to expect when I hit 'live' on the online store I had built months earlier, however on 10th March 2016, Charlotte Elizabeth formed an international community and customer base, which resulted in selling out within weeks, something I was incredibly grateful for.

That cashflow allowed me to invest in more colours in our next productions, and gave me an understanding on sustainability in production - making what is needed and required only, without the wastage and excess stock.

Without a large marketing or PR budget, I had to find ways to promote Charlotte Elizabeth in ways that felt authentic to the brand.

At the beginning, I was very honest and vocal about my health battles, linking this into my business journey and how Charlotte Elizabeth helped me deal with such challenges and also my gradual recovery.

Being so vulnerable and open, and treating my customers like friends enabled me to build a strong community worldwide, with people rooting for me on my mission to grow the brand.

It led to an authentic brand voice, and one where I never lost touch with the customers needs and wants, which has been the golden thread to our journey.

With the brand organically growing, being British-made and creating something unique in my sector (I hadn't realised just how small the percentage was for young women like me, on my own, doing what I was doing at the time), I knew that I had something special that retailers may be interested in.

I remember going to the legendary Liberty Department Store for a meeting with the accessories buyers, it was a total dream of mine to be in one day.

This was my first taste of learning that the brand and collection needed to build first before others could invest in me.

Being so extremely motivated and driven to get in stores so early felt like a defeat at the time, but it was all part of the learning of patience! A hard thing for entrepreneurs to practice, but something I have become very used to 8 years later!

A photo of my first ever office. It was in my parents house and I was so grateful for this space, which until then had been my bedroom, to build my brand in.

This space allowed me to get creative, expand my collections and productions, and I really felt an energy of something special happening for the future here.

There is a certain energy that only those will know if they have found their purpose too, that nothing else matters and there's a sense of tunnel visioning your life to achieve your goal.

I used to love seeing all of the new bags arriving fresh from the factory, and using any space I had in the office to showcase the new styles.

There is always a moment where you realise that you have outgrown something, and that came when I was visiting the post office everyday with enough boxes to cause some very unhappy people queuing behind me!

Despite the annoyance I would cause, it was always a satisfying moment to send the bags off, knowing that they were off to all corners of the world with grateful, supportive customers on the other side of the transaction.

Through my journey of Charlotte Elizabeth, I have learnt so many lessons and learnings.

Running your own business takes up a huge proportion of your life, and I used to find it much harder to switch off at the beginning.

I have learnt how to play the role of accountant, photographer, designer, marketer, customer care, website developer and more.

Through all of my roles and experiences, I would say that my favourite part of Charlotte Elizabeth is the people. From our supply chain (mostly formed of individuals that we have worked with for many years due to shared values), to our customers located around the world, who I just love speaking with and learning from.

It's such a special part of my career and something that I'll never take for granted. Who knew that one handbag idea could lead to all of this!

This was from the first photoshoot at Charlotte Elizabeth, which was located on my dressing table in my bedroom! Being unwell to set up a real shoot at the time, I made use of the white bedroom I had, which doubled (sort of!) as a photoshoot backdrop.

It sends shivers to me when I see this photo now, as this was the beginning of exploring a dream which I hope to continue well into the future.

I once received some great advice which went along the lines of 'don't worry about having everything professional and perfect around you in the early days, instead pour that concern into the quality of your product/service, and not your lack of production/equipment.

Charlotte Elizabeth is an example of not needing tonnes of funds in starting a business. Instead, it is possible to do things on a budget and with a lot of hard work, sacrifice and determination, along with creative and more authentic ways of selling your product.

What an incredible journey it has been for the last eight (and more, as I was working on CE two years before launching!) years.

Here's to continued success ahead!

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