We love to bring you the wonderfully diverse journeys of likeminded designers… especially those who strive for high quality, locally handmade pieces that go against mass produced, and focus on the unique and different.
Meet ISABELLA QUEEN, she is one of these inspirational designers who has such an interesting story, I had to share it. Isabelle’s story really resonates with me and I was curious to find out the story behind the label.
First a little about ISABELLA QUEEN and how we met.
Following a 10+ year burning desire to make leather handbags that are an extension of the modern British woman, over the last 3 years, Isabelle has built herself an internationally recognised brand. With a passion for being part of the movement of re-establishing the manufacture of luxury goods in the UK, Isabelle’s pieces are designed and made in the heart of London. Through this, Isabelle is incredibly involved with the manufacturing process and is deeply invested in her relationships with her makers.
We were fortunate to meet Isabelle through the Inspiring Rare Birds – Mentoring Program. Not only was she able to garner valuable insider tips on how to develop a fashion business, she also was there to bounce ideas off and I was lucky to develop a wonderful friendship with an impressive and fabulous woman. You can read the article I wrote about the mentor experience here, ‘Rare learnings; so much more than a mentor’.
Following is a deeper dive into ISABELLA QUEEN in her words.
Tell us a little about yourself?
Most important things first – I love cake! And tea! We can also add fine chocolate, truffles, and wine in there. Oh and why not fizz too! I mean who doesn’t love champagne?!?!?! I also love food – A LOT. Like, I’m a massive foodie. I recently got married and what a mad planning craze that was! Very happy to be married, will not miss ‘wedmin’ at all and definitely glad I only have to do that once with several jobs to juggle at the same time. I’m a mixture of seven different nationalities and I love travelling, learning about new cultures and new languages. I currently speak four languages well but can read many.
Share with us you ISABELLA QUEEN story?
The dream was born in my mind after I spent 10+ years despairing at settling every time it came to buying a handbag no matter how much I was prepared to spend. My philosophy has always been that a handbag is an extension of you, and much like you can tell a lot about a dog owner by the type of dog they have, is the same way you can tell a lady by her handbag. I was looking for ISABELLA QUEEN but everywhere I looked I could not find a strong feminine leather accessories brand in which beauty and elegance met ethical sourcing and quality craftsmanship, proud British heritage and exclusivity.
I had never thought of myself as a designer or business owner, but after a decade of discontent at the gap between the story my handbags told and who I was, my brother having listened to my handbag woes the entire time; he urged me to do something about it and so I enrolled at the London College of Fashion on a few modular short courses covering everything from how to start a leather accessories business to leather accessories making. The day I first stepped into the LCF not knowing how or where to begin was three and a half years before I launched the brand in August 2015. And what an incredible journey it has been ever since!
Every single industry professional I meet catches the vision and introduces me to another who introduces me to another. And in a very short space of time the brand reputation has grown and continues to grow in a way that amazes me. All I have had to do since the beginning is trust the creative process, work very hard, listen to my mentors and talk about the vision to every single person I meet. Through the journey, the brand has accumulated some noteworthy mentors without whom I would not be here today.
- Alison Lewy – (MBE) Founder of Fashion Angel
- Jack Porteous – Retail and E-Commerce SME at the China-Britain Business Council,
- Paul Alger – Director of International Affairs at UKFT
- Thierry Bayle – Founder of Global Fashion Management and the Ex-President of Fashion Group International
- Kim Baptiste – Owner at Kudos PR and Ex-General Manager at Mulberry
- Ann Saunders – Designer at Alice Foxx, Lecturer Bag Design – London College of Fashion and Ex-Design Coordinator at Laura Ashley.
I owe them everything and in the same way they are raising me up in the industry, is the same way I am big believer in giving back, so already I am mentoring two young female (lingerie and apparel) designers who I believe have the creative vision and business mind to make it. I have come a long way in a short space of time because of the giants that preceded me, and the generation of ‘Made in Britain’ designers coming up behind me need me to share my story with them, because there is too much that is never said between “it all started from humble beginnings” to “and now we’re in Selfridges”!
Why bespoke and British?
I am super proud that we make our accessories not just in the UK, but right here in the City of London. For me, it is not just the ability to use it as a powerful and unique selling point; it is deeply personal. When I came to the UK aged ten, London was the first place my feet landed and I remarked even then as I was taken to primary school, that London had a million different faces, backgrounds, nationalities and influences – the multiculturalism fuelling the creativity that makes this great city so dynamic. We soon moved up north where I grew up prior to spending six years living in Scotland. But there’s something about London – it welcomes you, embraces you and never leaves you. So that is how as an adult, I came full circle, back to this city that I love so much. And there is so much about London that people still have not experienced, so much excellence, so much creativity! With its unique mix of ‘classic meets modern’ that directly inspires ISABELLA QUEEN, and with so much untapped freshness still to come from IQ, I am very proud that it is the home of our brand.
We could have chosen to manufacture anywhere in the world, but the passion for being part of the movement re-establishing the manufacture of luxury goods in the UK and the benefits of manufacturing here informed our decision to be part of this great elite. I can hop on the tube at any time and be in either factory in 45mins meaning I can keep a close eye on things and decrease the risks of challenges often posed by language or geographical barriers when manufacturing abroad. Travel costs are low as I do not constantly have to travel far to go and see what is going on, enabling me to invest into our relationship with our manufacturers by popping in for a cup of tea and a chat as well as for business. Manufacturing is a go all year round and across the globe ‘Made in Britain’ is rightly synonymous with unparalleled quality. And by far the most important of all the benefits – the integrity of the supply chain is fully transparent and accountable.
Realistically you cannot ignore the challenges which include the high cost of manufacture (something we are happy to endorse as it means we can guarantee that all of our workers are paid above the living wage), the economic effect of political decisions such as increases to the living wage and #Brexit (which you must just plan as soon as you can into your business in order to best absorb its effects when you cannot insure against or transfer them), and the decreased availability of skilled resources resulting from decades of winding down manufacturing and artisanal craftsmanship in the UK (which is thankfully changing as we champion the resurgence of ‘homemade’ luxury). But if your brand is remarkable, the products striking and your presentation impressive – that combined excellence will open up the doors enabling you to best deal with the challenges and maximise the benefits that come with British manufacturing.
“Integrity also means everything to me. If you can’t be trusted to mean what you say and say what you do then you’re nobody worth knowing.”
Three pieces of advice…
1 – Get mentors, ask them to review every major move you want to make and do what they tell you. Even if you think they are wrong, do what you want but also do what they tell you so you can benchmark the two ways. If your mentors are wise and have been around the industry long enough, they won’t be wrong, even if you are right. It’ll either be that you were wrong and they were right, or that you were both right and had perspectives each other couldn’t see. Mentors are crucial because you need someone who is experienced and has been where you want to go to take you there. No one would stay on a plane if the captain announces they have no formal qualifications and have no idea where they are going or how to get there.
2 – Get thick skin and get ready for rejection and disappointment as standard. Then count anything else as bonus. Celebrate any wins modestly and remember that every win expires at midnight that same day. Before the day is out you should be strategizing what your plan for further successes are for when you wake up the next day.
3 – Talk to everyone about your dream because once you do people will crawl out of the woodwork with introductions to their networks that will make life A LOT easier for you. You’ll sure get the naysayers but just bin whatever is not encouraging, keep what edifies and grows you and move on.
3.1 – (…That’s four – oooops!) Wisdom and good money management. Learning to discern from the million opportunities that come at a cost. You really don’t have to do it all and tbh – you don’t have to do hardly any of it. Do your research, analyse the potential outcome, ratify it with someone else who has experience of that same or similar opportunity and then make your informed decision. If you do this with everything, you will manage cash flow very well.
What’s your inspiration for ISABELLA QUEEN?
For a brand that is also looking to challenge the global status quo in leather accessories design and manufacture, innovation is everything. If people cannot be wowed by distinction robed in beauty every season without the brand losing its identity, then the brand has failed in its mandate to innovate. This is a particularly interesting conundrum for a brand like ISABELLA QUEEN that prides itself on a ‘classic’ and ‘timeless’ identity because it is easy to impress people when you play with contemporary ideas and all sorts of exotic skins, textures of leather, materials and jewels put together on the one bag; but to continually excite seasoned industry professionals season after season when you manufacture classic bags is no mean feat. We are always on the lookout, and finding in the most unusual places right across the globe, inspiration that keeps us innovating within the boundaries of what we represent; and for that reason we are always several seasons ahead. Add to that my personal in-depth research of almost 400 brands prior to launching the brand and I am confident that ISABELLA QUEEN will continually achieve its goal of pushing boundaries while remaining relevant, making the desired impact along the way.
What inspires you?
Everything from plants and animals, to other people’s creations and basic human needs. The creative process happens gradually in my head without my consent. It manages me and only when it’s ready does it tell me I can pick up a pencil and my drawing pad to begin sketching! If I try before, nonsense will emerge on the page so I wait for the collection to finish drawing itself in my mind’s eye, and then I begin!
What habits make you successful?
I work every waking hour, even when I’m on the move. And when I’m having ‘downtime’, I’m still working in my head. I don’t ever switch off, until I’m sleeping. I wear my work on like my skin. It’s more than a passion, it’s an obsession and that’s how I obsess about every little detail in my head before I start creating with my hands. And it shows! People see it in my creations, and afterwards, many brands try and copy it.
Where do you see your growth?
Good question! We are about to move into the home and lifestyle sector and that’s all I’m prepared to say just now. So watch this space.
Thanks Isabelle, we definitely we will be following your every move and from a personal front, thanks for being such an inspiration and fabulous friend.