Julia Dobson is one of those women you’d be happy to cross the mountains or start the business with – she has bountiful energy, a true sense of vision and an ability to think on her feet. She is also a multi-tasker, something that comes, perhaps, with becoming a mother, and Julia is a mother of two. As I caught up with her at Best of Britannia fair in London’s Clerkenwell, Julia was fixing up an overhead lantern to create a spotlight effect over her collection of stunning leather bags, Village England.
With background in managing luxury brands, such as Celine and Acqua di Parma at Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy and inspired by such mentors as Robert Bensoussan of Jimmy Choo (now CEO of L.K. Bennett), she has been mulling over starting her own business for a while. She shared her thoughts with a Eddie Knevett, then Head of Accessories at the House of Fraser, and they discovered they had shared similar values and thirst for entrepreneurship.
Eddie and Julia wanted to create something different – beautiful, top-end quality yet practical and affordable accessories, inspired by a uniquely English sense of style.
“I really care about the quality and attention to detail you get when you buy a luxury brand, but when I left my job to start my own business, I quickly realised that without a brand funded clothing allowance but with two children and a start-up, my perspective had changed: I still wanted quality and style, but I wasn’t prepared to swallow the prices anymore – I just had other things to spend my money on. Like school fees. When Eddie and I looked at the market, there was nothing that I wanted to buy for the money I was prepared to spend.”
“You’ll find a great selection of Village England bags at £250 with some items priced at a higher end. We’ve managed to achieve reasonable pricing despite designing much needed pockets every woman needs, buying amazing Italian leather and finishing our bags with luxurious lining.”
Julia and Eddie actually started the business just after Julia’s second son was born. She was amazed at her ability to simultaneously type, Skype and breastfeed, but equally, she discovered that “doing your own thing” cuts out a lot of “politics, pointless meetings and chatter”, leaving Julia and Eddie focussing on developing their brand and products.
“Village England has been inspired by craftsmanship, farmers’ markets, the importance of community. Our customer is a woman who values quality and style but lives in a real world, which means she should be able to throw her bag on the back seat of a car or take it on the Tube.”
Later I caught up with Julia’s business partner, Eddie, who designed a beautiful wooden display to showcase the bags at the fair. He told me about his design vision for the brand.
“The design of our bags and accessories is infused with an English sense of style: eclectic, understated and colourful, but in a subtle, rather than a loud way.”
It seems incredible that the brand was launched just a year ago. Village England is available in select House of Fraser and Anthropologie stores, and the bags are also sold online via the company’s website. Julia and Eddie have launched their second collection Autumn-Winter 2014, grew a team and have delighted many happy customers. Clare Balding is a fan.