‘My advice? Go slowly and start small’
2016-01-25 16:04:33 -

 In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Angela Hope of Hope and Benson Handbags, based in London and Leitrim 

Seven years ago, Angela Hope came from Bristol, in the south west of England, to holiday in Mayo. “We just fell in love with the place,” she recalls. “We were helping a friend to renovate a cottage there. My partner and I decided to do the same and we were originally going to do the project as just a holiday home.

“After a month of living here and renovating our own place, we decided to stay. We both went back to the UK and resigned our jobs. I was a marketing director of a research company and my partner was manager of a Waterstone’s bookshop, so we were trading in a busy city life.”

Hope and her partner settled initially in Mayo and are now in Leitrim. One of the reasons that Hope moved to Ireland was to return to a more creative way of life. “My original training was as a fashion designer and my degree is in fashion design,” she says. “I knew that I wanted to get back to design. I had years of experience working for other people in the fashion industry in the UK. As a result, I had also built up contacts with various clients and suppliers, particularly in the textiles industry.”

Hope has designed lingerie and swimwear and has already owned a shop in Bristol where she designed, made and sold her own products. “I had over 20 years [of] experience and yet I did not want to return to designing clothes,” she explains. “A friend in London had asked me to make her a handbag. I made one and all her friends loved it. That was the start of the business as it now stands – Hope and Benson.”

Hope did not borrow any funds to start up: “I used my own savings to invest. I knew that a domestic sewing machine just wouldn’t do the job, so I bought the industrial type. It has proved a worthwhile investment as I am still using it.” Hope decided to dedicate a room in the house for the business as she felt it gave her venture more credibility.

Hope explains how the business works: “My business partner Daniela Benson is based in London, England. We get our inspiration from the textiles; the texture and colour can be the starting point. We add decoration that suits and it can be motifs from nature. The flowers can adorn the bags but we also pay attention to detail and the lining is important too.

“We go to the Paris shows twice a year to source suppliers. We tend to stick with Irish and English suppliers but it is just handier to see them all in the one place. I go to Foxford Woollen Mills in Mayo and to Hanly’s Mill in Tipperary. The fabrics and tweeds from these mills are beautiful.”

Confident with her product, Hope put her marketing skills to good use. “I literally started walking around knocking on doors and going around shops,” she says. “I would choose a shop that I liked and thought would be good at selling our bags. I started in Westport. Then we did the same in England.”

A further push of the product came when Hope exhibited her designs at Showcase Ireland, a trade show held every January at the RDS in Dublin. “I was able to show with the joint stand of the Leitrim Enterprise Board. At the end of that first show I had about 30 stockists globally. It was a great success.  Daniela does the London shows and we now have 170 stockists.”

Hope has continued to invest in an annual stand at Showcase Ireland as she feels that it is a good way to pitch to that market: “We would not reach these worldwide buyers otherwise. It has proved profitable for us even though the costs of exhibiting at Showcase are quite high. You have to spend the money.”

Hope and Benson the company has garnered several awards, including Best Small Business in Leitrim for 2006, and Country Living magazine’s Rural Business Woman of the Year for 2006, as well as being recognised four years running as a highly commended winner in the Index Top 50 Products, organised by the Crafts Council of Ireland at Showcase Ireland. Hope is happy to cite her awards as it helps with public relations.

Regarding words of advice for other entrepreneurs on a similar path, Hope keeps it simple: “My advice to anyone starting on a creative venture is to go slowly and start small. There is no point having hundreds of customers if you can’t supply them properly.”
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