We spent some time recently talking to Catherine Ellis of covetable bag brand Hill & Ellis; a label which specialises in tailored leather satchels designed to carry all your essentials whilst cycling.
Catherine studied art and design at Central St Martins college in the late 90s, and after a design hiatus working in TV production she set up Hill & Ellis 4 ½ years ago. The bags were created after struggling to find a bike bag that looked good and functioned perfectly, so the company was established aiming to focus on stylish bags for commuting cyclists that worked on and off the bike. Since then the bags have sold internationally and the company has launched a British collection & a collection that attaches to the Brompton bike and has been featured in Vogue, Esquire, Grazia, the Wall Street Journal and Der Speigel. The newest range of canvas bags will be launched in early summer and you can view the whole collection at www.hillandellis.com
They are also offering an exclusive £30 off to all Boudavida customers. Use the code “BOUDAVIDA” at check out. Offer closes 31.05.18.
What inspired you to start your brand Hill & Ellis?
Standing in a lift with Ant & Dec and trying to hide my ugly bike bag behind my back.
I cycle everywhere and after this incident, as I was cycling daily to ITV studios (I worked as a TV director), I spent years searching for a stylish bike bag that didn’t look ridiculous when I put it on my shoulder to walk into work. Every pannier that attached to the bike was black PVC, ugly, and uncomfortable to carry. I thought there had to be a better way – a bike bag that attached to the bike but looked handsome on the arm. I made some prototypes and kept getting stopped at lights by fellow cyclists asking where my bag was from. I decided there was definitely something in this and so Hill & Ellis was born – focusing on both style and function.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?
The business side is definitely more of a challenge as it is an area that I have least experience in and it is so varied. I studied design at Central St Martins so I find the design stage comes quite easily but I have had to learn everything about the business as I’ve progressed.
What are your top three most important values for the workplace?
- Flexibility is really important. We’re all human and sometimes we are on it and sometimes we just can’t seem to focus, so allowing yourself and your team the flexibility to work when you’re most efficient is really important. The 9-5 is not always conducive to getting things done and there are some great movements about flexible working at the moment – one big campaigner is @motherpukka and her Flex Appeal. I think how we work in 10 years will be completely different to today and much more flexible.
- Openness & Support; all business’s need to be creative and I think to allow creativity to thrive you need to be open to any idea that comes your way and supportive of each other. No ‘I’ in team and all that…
- Enjoyment. We spend so much time working that we have to enjoy our work as much as possible. If nothing else I at least need music!
What advice would you give to women wanting to start their own business?
Just start. When you first start you’re full of doubts and questions – how much start up money do I need, should my logo look like this, should my name be this, what if people don’t like that colour? But you just have to start with something and it’s amazing what clarity that gives you. Once you have something you can get it out to market and get crucial feedback from potential customers. So much has evolved in my business that it’s almost unrecognisable to how it started. So start and keep evolving.
Have you managed to maintain a good work/life balance?
It’s really hard as there is always more work to do, but I think exercising helps and trying to be as efficient as you can be. I’ve started sectioning my time to 25 mins blocks to make me more efficient when I’m working. It really helps! But ultimately because I love it, it doesn’t always feel like work.
What’s your biggest ambition for Hill & Ellis?
Being part of the growing cycling movement and encouraging more people to cycle. Cycling is growing in popularity across the world, as more people take to their bikes for fun and if we can have a little part in getting more people in the saddle it would be incredible. There is so much evidence for the benefits of regular cycling – from lowering heart disease, losing weight, enabling better sleep patterns and even boosting collagen in the skin (so we can look younger) and that’s before you’ve talked about the benefits in reducing carbon emissions etc. Imagine if the humble bicycle was the main transport in most cities – it would change cities for the better.
Do you manage to find time to exercise? If so what do you do?
Yes, definitely. Exercise is essential for my happiness and keeps me sane so it’s important to make time for it. I cycle (obviously) – commuting all around town, but I also do military fitness three times a week and try to run and swim as well – I’ve signed up to my second triathlon in the summer so it’s train or sink.
What’s your favourite Boudavida item?
I love the leaf print set. Bold and striking. In fact I have been playing with a leaf/tropical mood board at the moment.
Who inspires you?
Other entrepreneurs and designers. I’ve just finished a course with the Allbright Academy – an entrepreneur accelerator programme that focuses on empowering women in business. The cohort – including Anabel at Boudavida – were just all incredibly inspiring, and the range of businesses was so varied. Meeting up and sharing ideas pumps you up. I’m a strong believer in helping boost each other and the movement at the moment which is promoting women supporting other women is so incredibly exciting. There are also a lot of young cycling brands that have started up over the last few years and seeing the innovation in their businesses is also inspiring. I think a lot of the bigger brands neglected cyclists for so long and so it’s the younger brands that are paving the way in cycling products.
What app couldn’t you live without?
I love Mapmyrun as if I’m going to run I at least want to tell people how far I went ;)
Although in all honesty, knowing the distance pushes you further… and that you can tell people about it.
If you could see any band play live (dead or alive) who would it be?
Good question! Queen – when they were at the top of their game as they would have been incredible… and possibly folk musician Rodriguez at his concert in South Africa. If you don’t know his story – have a look. It was pre-internet and he was from North America. It’s a long story but essentially he thought he didn’t really have a fan base but it turned out he had a huge (and I mean huge) following in South Africa. A promoter flew him out to South Africa to perform and Rodriguez assumed it would just be small – turned out he was performing at the Bowl. The electricity at the concert seemed palpable.
What would you be doing if you hadn’t started your own business?
I would still be working as a TV director, maybe I would have met Tom Hardy… Sliding doors eh?
You can view the collection at Hill & Ellis at www.hillandellis.com.