Quitting the corporate world to start a handbag business – Sarah Haran
I talk to Sarah Haran, handbag designer, about her leap from the corporate world into starting her own business
I first met Sarah a year ago. We met for coffee and chatted about her journey, inspirations and challenges. I love meeting other business women who can talk about things honestly and Sarah’s story of quitting one industry and leaping to another was refreshing.
Ahead of Sarah’s event at Jenner’s in Edinburgh on 8th August I took the opportunity to ask her about her journey from corporate to business owner and you can take a look at her collection of bags and customisable accessories, here.
What inspired you to quit IT and start your own brand, Sarah Haran?
I found myself at a cross roads after 30 years of IT. Whilst I was at “C” level with over 300 staff reporting through to me, if something went wrong at 3am on a Saturday night, as the COO, I was expected to be there sorting out the issues. It really was time for a change. I started making handbags as a hobby to give myself some work-life balance and when our company went public in 2000 I found myself travelling weekly and became frustrated with the limited options available for women who wanted to transport their essentials stylishly, whilst still adhering to the strict policies in place for cabin baggage. So an idea was born to use my hobby skills to create the perfect handbag to solve the challenge that I was having. Eventually the hobby business grew and gave me the opportunity to take a leap of faith and move from IT and start a company, Sarah Haran operating in a completely different area! But I reasoned that the foundations of business are similar so I could apply the skills I had gained in IT to a fashion business.
What kind of skills did you need to learn to adapt to the new industry and what skills and experience came in handy to cross over?
I think my operational skills have stood me in good stead in the new industry. I am having to deal with factories and processes which in many ways are not dissimilar to the operations of a corporate IT company. Service remains key and after 30 years of managing customers and their expectations these skills are very handy in my new business. I believe you always have to be “easy to do business with” and this underpins any business that you might be working in.
How do you start to plan your designs? Are they always inspired by something?
My designs are always inspired by function over form. Whilst I want my handbags to be beautiful I also want them to be able to be a functional product. I want my customers to be able to carry their life in style and have confidence from knowing that my handbags (with all the versatile elements of them) will empower them as they go about their day.
Sourcing ethical and sustainable products is a growing must for consumers. How do you source your materials?
When I first set up I spent a lot of time sourcing materials and leather from tanneries that had made as much effort to be sustainable and environmentally conscious, and had a set of values that saw them gaining relevant environmental credentials. I also use high quality leathers and materials that will last and my designs are such that our handbags can be used every day without actually having to change to another handbag. I also offer a life time guarantee to underwrite the sustainability of our products. I also seek to make sure I reuse my scraps where I can – notebooks in various size and tassel keyrings all ensure we use almost all the leather that we purchase for our handbags.
I know running your own business is hard. You need to do everything! How do you manage?
After working in start-up companies that have grown it’s amazing how easily you forget that you really are responsible for everything that has to be done. Where possible I do as much as I can but I have learnt that you should play to your strengths and ensure you give yourself the time to focus on what you are really good at. With that in mind I use freelancers for the bits that I am poor at (like the accounting function for instance) that coupled with some time management and list making ensures that I just about keep my head above water! There is always the danger of getting bogged down in the detail and as a detail person I find that very easy to do so having “To Do” lists really helps me manage things a bit better, you will never find me without a notebook – in fact so much so I designed the perfect notebook for managing my time.
What’s been a labour of love? There’s always one piece that’s taken forever and caused the most stress!
My first handbag- the Dahlia I think was my real labour of love. It was the first time I had really designed a handbag that had to solve a challenge I was having. I must have made over 50 iterations of the bag, testing it for months and months to ensure that it really lived up to the rigours of a busy executive, taking me from day to night, offering me the ability to change the look of the handbag and being able to be used at the weekends.
What advice would you give anyone who wants to quit the corporate world and follow their dreams?
I think they should definitely go for it. With planning and a managed exit you can give yourself a cushion for managing the change that will give you the confidence to really follow your dream. Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen and once you understand that it will give you the confidence to make the change. Also at the end of the day, the skills you have gained in the corporate world will remain with you and if you find running your own business is not for you then the corporate world will always be there. Better to have tried than live with the regret of not doing it. “Who dares Wins” after all.
What other fashion brands inspire you and why?
I have been very inspired by the new ecommerce disruptors of the fashion industry. Brands like Everlane, Beauty box, and Stitch Fix who are finding new ways to inspire a new generation of shoppers and make changes to the way that we shop. I also admire Victoria Beckham for what she has been doing and Stella McCartney.
What’s been your favourite part of your own journey?
Seeing and hearing the feedback from customers. I have been overwhelmed with the support and buy in to my brand. Once customers understand what I am trying to do and actually use my handbags I am so honoured that I have been able to add to their life’s and give them the feeling of confidence. Being told by customers that my handbags have changed their life’s really has meant the world to me
Finally, what can we expect next from Sarah Haran?
My biggest mission is to sell handbags but I want to continue to empower women with a wider range of new designs. I would love to expand overseas and have that on my roadmap for the future. Just now though I think there are still many women in the UK that I can target who I hope will end up loving my handbags!
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