Brand Spotlight: Isabella Queen
Isabelle Ugochukwu, founder of luxury handbag Brand Isabella Queen gives 10 inspiring answers to 10 questions about her business.
Tell us about your brand in two sentences?
ISABELLA QUEEN is a British luxury brand offering quality-remarkable Italian leather accessories handcrafted in England. We are proudly rooted in England, where all the bags are carefully handcrafted at our Kent atelier, by expert leather smiths and are firm advocates of the quality blend of European raw materials that we use and of exceptional British craftsmanship.
Where do you sell your products?
All over the world but mostly in Asia and the UK.
What inspired you to start a fashion business?
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, in 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. 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 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"!
What was your background before starting your business?
I worked in FinTech in the city.
What’s the most difficult aspect of running a business?
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 which has seen us now setting up our own factory after three we used, closed down in four years. We are happy to be setting up our own factory as it means we can have total control over our manufacture. But other challenges do exist - the economic effect of political decisions such as increases to the living wage and Brexit (which you must just plan 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.
What is the most rewarding aspect of running a business?
Seeing how far we’ve come in such a small amount of time on limited resources. You always want to do more, but when you take a step back and see what you’ve accomplished, it’s a good feeling.
What question do you get asked the most?
Questions 3, 4 and 5 above.
How many hours a week do your work?
Probably around 70-75hrs.
How do you relax away from work?
I love spending time with my other half, my family and my core circle of friends. They remind me over many a good meal and glass of wine that I need to give myself time to rest because I am not a robot although secretly, I'd love to be a robot sometimes! I love a good run or country walk, rare days out in the countryside, even rarer holidays away. But my guilty pleasure at home that helps me unwind before bed is a good glass of wine, a few Belgian chocolates and an episode of something crime-y. I don't have a TV and that decision was one of the best I ever made to keep me as productive as I am, so I watch one episode only every evening on my laptop. I've watched all of the CSI's (yes, every single episode of every single series of all three CSIs), all of Criminal Minds, Numbers, The Mentalist, NCIS and countless other shows like them and now I'm slowly making my way through NCIS: Los Angeles. I also watched all of Friends and SATC back in the day. I watch one or two episodes a night and that's about as much screen time as I allow myself. I love the thrill of catching the bad guy and I love that it only takes 42mins because after a long day that's about as long as I've got before my eyes close.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
Treat people how you want to be treated. Please, thank you, manners and praise are all free and have a really good ROI.
First published June 15, 2018