Last month I met Julia Dobson, one of the 2 founders of new handbag brand Village England for a coffee and a bit of a bag-natter. Ex-LVMH, Dobson and her business partner Eddie Knevett who happens to have been head of accessories at House of Fraser are more than equipped to bring us – what is – the latest in Brit bags.
Digging deep, I wanted to know why we need more bag choice on our high street and how Village England planned to attract our attention in this already crowded market.
Here is my interview with Julia:
Which handbag did you carry before you launched Village England? As I’ve worked for handbag brands for years, I have been obliged to carry the brand I work for! So, I carried CELINE when I worked there, Bally when I worked for them…
And which Village England bag is your go-to bag? I carried the Polperro from launch until our AW14 samples arrived, but now I’m a Beamish girl. I love the super soft leather, the squishy pockets on the front to carry all those things you need to access fast (Oyster Card, phone, pen, notepad) and of course the cross body strap for when I need to hold someone’s hand crossing the road…
What do YOU carry in your bag? My life. Without fail my phone, house keys and Village England purse (in yellow, since you ask). Depending on where I am going my laptop and Smythson note book (gift from my last paid job), 3 or 4 pens and a lip gloss. There has been more than one occasion when I have reached in my bag to pull out something for a meeting and have found a My Little Pony (with rainbow hair – a Christmas gift from my 4 year old son). He sneaks it into my bag so I would have something to play with at work… Love that boy.
What’s your ambition for Village England? We set out to make women happy – make a great product that looks great and works within a real life. Pockets that are the right height to use when they are on your shoulder and straps that work. And then make sure we have the right attention to the details that you won’t notice unless they are NOT there – like a gorgeous lining that feels nice when you put your hand into the bag and feet on the bottom of the bag. We engrave our studs with one of the original drawings Eddie did of a cottage, just because we think the details are important.
Who or what inspires you? At the moment I am being completely inspired by a bunch of older women who are really teaching me a thing or two about cutting yourself some slack and enjoying the moment. I think as women we seems to be hard wired to take on so much, to be perfect in every aspect of life, to feel guilty about everything, mothering too much, not being there enough, not being at work enough, not cleaning the house enough, not seeing our friends enough. I’m currently working on just appreciating what I have, which is lovely, even if the kitchen floor really could use a mop.
What makes you really happy? The sound of the boys laughing in the next room; a cup of tea in the sunshine on our deck, a quiet glass of wine with Mr Dobson once the boys are in bed. Seeing one of our bags on someone on the tube – that’s probably the most exciting thing.
Is fashion for the faint-hearted? Broadly there are two types of people who work in fashion – those for whom most of their self esteem is derived from the brand they work for and those that just work in an industry that sell a product and a derivative of the lifestyle that is used to communicate that. Frankly there is a huge amount of competition in this industry, so you really need to have a great product if you want to have any chance of survival. The major fear factor comes from the investment required: if you want to work with the best manufacturers, you have to sign up to some very big production runs, which are not cheap!
who would you LOVE to carry one of your bags – and which one? So many amazing women I admire, but I don’t think we’re particularly a celebrity brand. So I love it whenever I see a REAL woman carrying our bags, on the school run, heading home from work, heading out for a drink.
Who would you enjoy being stuck in a lift with? A lift repair man. Why a lift? Can’t I be stuck in the Maldives instead? Why have I never been to the Maldives? And why does the return flight from a holiday NEVER get cancelled?
What makes Village England different from its competitors? We care. We really care. We want to make an amazing bag (based on all our experience working for luxury brands) for a real world price. That’s our starting position
What can we look forward in the future? Autumn /Winter 2014 will soon be upon us, which of course will include my favourite Beamish (you’ll see it in House of Fraser and Anthropologie amongst others)
Tell us a handbag secret… Way back when… Eddie (my co-Founder and great friend) is the cause of one of the biggest hit bags a few seasons ago. When on a buying appointment for House of Fraser in a certain brand’s showroom, he found a bag he rather liked in the corner, but the bag had been edited out of the collection and was not for sale. Of course, if you have the buying power of House of Fraser you can get things back in to a collection if you’re prepared to back it with an order. That bag was eventually launched with the name “Roxanne”, and provided him (and Mulberry) with some rather healthy sales.
You may have seen me out and about with my stunningly vibrant Cranleigh. Curiously many observers and admirers have glanced at my orange friend commenting that they think they have seen it on Bond St. And yet the price is dramatically different. (80% of Village England bags retail at less than £300.) Based on the quality of leather, the diverse colours and the everyday wearablity, I’d advise you to check out Village England’s bags as Julia’s right – they are perfect for our very real lives…
Village England bags can be purchased online or in House of Fraser, Jarrolds (Norwich), Elys of Wimbledon, Fenwick Brent Cross, Kate Kuba and Anthropologie from next season.