At a time when most retail news is pretty miserable, the Scottish bag label Strathberry is on the rise. Husband and wife Guy and Leeanne Hundleby started their business around their kitchen table in 2013 and, just five years later, they’ve landed on a winning formula that’s helping them to compete with fashion giants in the crowded It bag market.
Their signature satchel design, with its unique metal bar closure over the handle, now comes in a myriad of colours and materials. The bags are made, the Hundlebys tell me, in the same Spanish workshop as where Loewe creates its £1000-plus Puzzle bags, and Dior manufactures its small leather goods. Quality is key, but Strathberry does it all for around £300 - a price dubbed the ‘sweet spot’ on the affordability / desirability axis.
In the past year, the team at Strathberry’s Edinburgh head office has tripled in size, from 11 to 32 staff. The Hundlebys have poached talent from Anya Hindmarch in London and Carolina Herrera in Spain, convincing designers, press officers and product developers to relocate to Midlothian and join them. Major global department stores, including Selfridges in the UK, became Strathberry stockists for the first time this year.
This week, the duo will open their first boutique outside of Edinburgh, in London’s Burlington Arcade, fitted with cabinets designed by Edinburghian Colin Parker and a window display made from East Lothian flowers.
Their growth this year is remarkable. But something rather helpful did happen to Strathberry; it is almost a year exactly since the Duchess of Sussex carried one of the brand’s bags for the first time.
“It was her first official royal event after her engagement,” says Guy of the appearance. In the 24 hours that followed, Strathberry sold 400 Tri-Colour Midi Totes at £495 via their website, selling out. “We suddenly had interview requests from around the world. We're a pretty private family so the interest in us was scary. But for the brand it was phenomenal and it has driven our business.”
Nano tote, £295, strathberry.com
Although the Hundlebys say they never could have predicted the response, they had been clever enough to get upstream of the then-unproven ‘Meghan effect’. They made their approach several weeks before a royal engagement was on the cards.
“I had watched Suits obsessively, and always thought she was stylish,” admits Leeanne. “I wrote to her agent and stylist routinely, then we sent a few pieces. You never know if someone will like what you’ve sent or if you’ll never see it again, so the day [she carried the bag] was completely unexpected.” Meghan now has three Strathberry satchels in service.
Sensibly, Guy and Leeanne’s strategy is based on more than just luck-of-the-draw endorsements (Lady Gaga and Natalie Dormer are also now patrons). Neither had any experience of working at a fashion label before founding Strathberry - Leeanne was consultant in the financial sector and Guy ran a film production company - yet they identified that Scotland didn’t have a flagship bag brand, so set out to create one.
“We had this really naive optimism,” admits Leeanne. “It wasn’t easy having four children and setting up a business when there are so many bills to pay. We ran it from home - we sellotaped boxes and ran them to our local Post Office when an order came in.”
Mini crescent bag, £395, strathberry.com
In 2015, the Hundlebys raised £125,000 using crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. “It gave us this final push to make it work,” says Guy. “When we relaunched with a new batch of product on the website, we did £100,000 of sales in a day.”
One of the key developments during that time was their hardware design. “The bar closure on our bags is something people can instantly identify as Strathberry,” says Guy. “But we knew that we need to move it on in order to grow the business in the long term, so we’ve got seven new shapes launching in the new year.” His instinct is right - they wouldn’t want their bread and butter idea to go stale - so variations with a new crescent clasp are beginning to filter into the range.
Being new on the block in London, next door to Chanel and Manolo Blahnik, will be another learning experience for Strathberry. Luckily, the new shop will be less than a 10 minute drive away from the royal residence of the brand’s most high profile customer at Kensington Palace. That could prove handy, couldn’t it?