Tell us about your career path?
I started by completing my BSc Honours in Psychology and a Masters in Occupational (Business) Psychology. From that I wanted to advise companies on how to improve their business based on their employees and their culture, however business psychology as a form of consulting was still quite niche back in 2010 and therefore I went into general consulting. I landed my first job at Informa, a business intelligence firm and there I advised UK banks such as Barclays, HSBC, RBS etc. on how to improve their sales and market share based on the data they provided and benchmarking them against one another. From that, I moved on and worked in-house for Santander managing and designing project streams to further improve sales channels and customer service. After a year at Santander, I resigned and decided to take the plunge to start my own company and I haven’t looked back since. I took a part-time job in charge of the branding and design of a small accountancy and consulting firm to provide me with some personal income whilst building the brand.
How come you swapped your job in banking for working in fashion?
I got to the point at Santander where I was at a standstill and I felt my creativity was no longer in use. With consulting, there is an element of creativity, where you are given this wealth of information and then you need to convert it and design how you can improve the company for the better. At Santander, the projects were becoming systematic and bound by too many regulations and I found myself applying my creativity elsewhere. I went on to win Mobile App Design of the year for Santander and then I knew I was meant to be in something more dynamic.
Throughout my career, designs of handbags kept popping into my head and then one day I decided to do something about it. I booked myself on a short weekend course designing leather bags and I absolutely loved it. During the year after the end of my consulting career, I sourced leather wholesalers, factories, metal fittings suppliers and started creating the brand slowly from there. Next thing I knew I was working in fashion!
What is the idea behind Paradise Row and how did you find the name for the label?
Paradise Row is the name of a quaint cobbled street in East London, where I live. Behind a row of beautiful Georgian houses, the railway line runs past, carrying commuters into Liverpool Street Station. Some of the railway arches at the end of the road have been converted into restaurants and bars for the locals to enjoy.I thought it was a beautiful name for a leather goods company andit felt classically British and slightly nostalgic. The idea behind Paradise Row was born there; with the name of a street in East London and the bags also made in the area, I decided to dedicate the first collection and inspired by all things East London.
Tell us about your first collection and where do you draw inspiration from?
The brand’s core and essence is built on sourcing materials and manufacturing in East London. Bringing together the leather warehouse, the artisan bag workshop and the designer, each bag is testimony to local trade working in harmony to create something truly unique.The surrounding area is coursing withhistory and is full of incredible stories, I wanted my first collection to be basedon these stories and to be dedicated tothe area and the people that inspiredthem. The first collection, CORE, draws inspiration from and celebrates these legacies which formed the beating heart of the East End and the charms on each bag capture this history and are the essence of the collection. Buying a Paradise Row bag not only supports all the different components of the local trade chain, but actively promotes the social and cultural institutions which make up the local area, including the London Buddhist Centre, the Pearly Kings and Queens, the Repton Boys boxing club and the Cordwainers College, now part of the world-renowned London College of Fashion.
Can you talk us through the design process?
The design process is no easy feat with lots of iterations during the whole period. The designs of the collection are started six months before the production and the idea is developed almost a year before production! First, an idea pops into my head and I call my hardware designer and ask if this is possible. There’s excitement and then there is a realisation of some limitations. Once we have developed and formed a perfect compromise, I then go to the pattern maker and inform them about the overall design of the bag. Again, there’s excitement and there is a realisation of some limitations. Finally, a combination of both compromises, we come up with a handbag sample. The sample is then used to give perfect measurements for handbag knives to be made (think cookie cutters) for each design.There are often ten to fifteen handbag knives per bag design, one for the back, one for the front, one for the gusset etc, which often take up to two months to produce and these knives are then used for the final production.
The bags are handcrafted in East London, how did you build up your team?
Luckily, the manufacturing industry especially in East London is quite small and everyone in the industry knows one another, so once you find one supplier, they will introduce you to another supplier and then a domino effect occurs and you find yourself with a leather wholesaler, metal fittings supplier and a workshop partner! However, I will say this – it takes a long time to build up trust and often someone new to the industry is looked upon with suspicion. However once you’re in, you’re in and part of the gang. As for local photographers and graphic designers, social media has been undoubtedly a big help by connecting me to all the creatives local to my area.
In your opinion, what are the challenges and benefits of London’s creative industry?
The challenges to London’s creative industry is definitely marketing and getting your name out there. London has such a wealth of creatives and it can be drowned by the sheer volume of talent, but also by the big brands who have a monopoly in this city. The benefits of London’s creatives are endless; most people are in the same boat, therefore everyone is willing to help out in any way they can. The creative industry is such a tight network that there is always someone who knows someone and therefore can introduce you to a person who can be beneficial to your career or business. Finally, because creativity is so rich in London, there are so many opportunities for collaborations, funding, awards, events etc. that you can achieve exposure in the way you would like to, but cannot afford to with PR.
What is your advice for someone who wants to found their own business?
The best advice is that you have to be prepared to have many hats on when entering this line of business. Unfortunately,you cannot take a backseat and be just a designer. You have to be the accountant, the lawyer, the delivery guy, the social media marketer, the copywriter, the networker etc.; about 10% of the work is designing when you first start. If you are happy to do all this, then persistence and drive is key and you will eventually get there. You will have countless setbacks whilst building the brand, but at the same time you will have plenty of opportunities opening up to you after all that hard work.
What are your plans for the future of Paradise Row?
In the next few years I want the company to grow across the UK and overseas and become recognised asthe place for people to get their leather goods from. There is a lot to do to reach this stage, but I will be releasingcollections on a regular basis, starting a basics range and looking into the men’s leather goods market. With enquiries already being received from the US, Australia and South Africa, it is clear to me that, whilst these areas may already be saturated luxury goods markets, a space does remain for luxury British brands such as Paradise Row, which has a strong identity and offers customers a product that is unique and not mass produced.
Can you name some of your favourite places in East London?
Dishoom Shoreditch is always a favourite – I order a Black House Daal and Lamb Biriyani everytime. Their sausage naan roll for breakfast is absolutely divine. Paradise Garage on Paradise Row for a brilliant tasting menu based on Land, Sea and Garden. Decatur at Pamela in Dalston for something different – Louisana cuisine. The Boundary terrace for a rooftop cocktail with wonderful views of London. Bar Ninety-Eight in Shoreditch for some ‘sexy date cocktail action’ and finally Miranda at Ace Hotel for some good music and dancing.
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Shop the collection here
Courtesy of Paradise Row, Claire Menary