Mildly obsessed with bags, and determined to put her textiles talent to use as part of an ethical brand, Katie Sykes opted to create her own accessories label. Here, she shares the story of her journey so far with Eloquently Her.
Bagging Herself a Dream Business
Unless you’ve been on another planet for the last 12 months, or are unusually good at staying away from social media and cultural content, you’ll know that ‘vegan is big’.
Bloggers and vloggers are dictating their entire feeds to discussion around what they do and don’t eat as part of their vegan-loving vegan-living life.
The ethical dietary approach is just one facet of veganism, however.
If you’re really ‘hardcore vegan’ you may well have switched from merely stocking your kitchen cupboards with vegan produce, to ensuring everything you wash with, wear and indulge in, is all 100% pure vegan.
Hardly surprisingly, that lifestyle approach gives way to more and more brands and businesses stepping in to the arena, keen to reach a committed audience of those who feel really strongly and passionately about vegan living.
Perhaps this is just one of the many elements which will make Katie Sykes’ entrepreneurial formula a winning one.
Aged just 27, Katie is something of an accessories supremo.
Not too many years out of college, but with stacks of styling – and celebrity – experience under her belt, she’s launched a rapidly growing bag business, which, yes, you guessed it, is completely and utterly ‘vegan approved’.
“I have to be honest and say that, as much as it tends to surprise people, I wasn’t a real girlie girl and always obsessed with fashion,” says Katie.
“Clothes weren’t that much of a big deal to me, but as I went through my late teens and started watching different fashion-inspired TV programmes, it was bags and accessories which seemed to attract my attention.
“Fast forward to making college decisions, and instead of going to college to study sport as so many people thought I might do, I went down the route of textiles and fashion promotion.”
So far so normal.
Katie opted for a sandwich placement course, while studying at the University of Central Lancashire.
It was from that academic study that she scooped an internship with one of the UK’s biggest Saturday night successes – X Factor.
“Looking back, I was incredibly fortunate to secure that place,” she says proudly.
“I didn’t think I had a chance, but they selected me, and I was lucky enough too spend an incredible couple of weeks working with the show’s stylists and seeing how they worked with the celebrities.
“When I graduated a year later, I dropped them a line and it just happened that they were after someone to assist them with celebrity styling on a permanent basis.”
In a position beyond the compare of many of her other course peers, she immediately began work in London for the X Factor team.
Ploughing in seven-days-a-week and meeting all manner of celebrities and TV execs, she appeared to have it all.
But the role was leaving her lonely, disconnected, and increasingly determined that she was meant to ‘pursue other things’.
“I suppose it sounds somewhat ungrateful, but I just knew that however great it was as a job on paper, it really wasn’t me at all,” admits the Norfolk-born creative.
“I’ve always wanted better things for myself and pushed myself really hard, and the more I found myself working all the hours God sent for this great TV programme, the more I felt that I was isolated from what my life was meant to be about.
“I knew it was time to do my own thing, and to really throw my heart into a world of work which I was shaping myself.”
Resolute that her journey ought to be taking her elsewhere, Katie resolved to return to her family home on the borders of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.
It was there that, perhaps not so coincidentally, given her father’s line of work as a luggage and trunk-maker, that the ambitious accessories lover began to fan the flames of a business idea.
“Once I was back living a life which felt truer to who I am, it didn’t take long before I had formulated my plan of attack,” she says cheerily.
“I came up with the brand of Katherena, and could visualise high quality individual bags which would be entirely vegan friendly.
“It felt important to me that I would be building an ethical and sustainable brand, of the like that people will only purchase from boutiques, or in the knowledge that it’s one of very few in the world.
“While I’m not obsessed with trying to make everyone out there a vegan, I did see an obvious opportunity to provide a gorgeous bag brand which would feel like a conscientious purchase for those who follow that way of life.”
In part because of that ethos, around ethical trading and vegan compliance, the journey so far has been anything but straightforward.
Not for this young businesswoman the idea of mass-market creation and retail.
Katie was adamant that she would source her own manufacturers and craft a supply chain of people and businesses who really ‘got’ her vision.
“In an ideal world, it would have been nice to have been able to create something of a father-daughter concept, and see if my Dad’s business could have produced the bags, but before too long we both realised that that wouldn’t have been viable at this stage in my start-up,” she confesses.
“Instead, I traced manufacturers both here in the UK, and overseas, and found some producers who I feel really have the interests of the Katherena brand at heart.
“That’s so important to me. I don’t want to be part of the fast-fashion brigade where things are made with very little love, care or integrity.
“I’m fortunate enough to say that as young as the business is, it’s being contributed to by people who love what I’m trying to do.”
Katherena saw its official launch early summer in 2017.
Since then, it has gained incredible traction via the world of social media, and there are plenty of boutiques and accessories specialists reaching out to have an opportunity to sell Katie’s limited-run designs.
While she accepts she’s currently a long way from having her bags featured on the New York runways (or even in the backstage dressing rooms of the X Factor celeb’s), she is unwavering in her belief that she has chosen the right path for her own heart and soul.
“I know it’s only early days for me, but there is no-one who could change the way I feel about the desire to run my own brand and deliver it the way I want it to be,” she says candidly.
“Of course there are times when I’ll recollect the days of being in the thick of the action for a major TV programme and among all the celebrity activity, but there’s something completely different and so much more rewarding about knowing you are producing a product of your own conception.
“While every day is filled with a little nerves about how many bags I’ll sell, or whether I’ll find that next boutique to start stocking my brand, the other part of me is overwhelmed with excitement at the thought of what the future may hold.”
For more information about Katie’s range, go to katherena.com
Eloquently Her readers have a limited-time only opportunity to order from Katherena at a reduced rate. Katie is kindly offering our audience a discount code, entitling you to 15% of your first purchase.
Simply enter EH15 at the checkout.