Belen Echandia, British luxury limited-edition leather handbag designer, launched its brand new diffusion line ‘B.E. by Belen Echandia’ earlier this month. As the launch process unfolds, Founder and Creative Director, Jackie Cawthra, takes her now two-month old baby girl Sophia out to meet the atelier and you can hear her gurgling away in the background as discussions about this season’s line sheet take place over the phone.
This ex-lawyer and working mum is finding the balance between running a hugely successful accessories brand and being at home with two little ones and is thoroughly enjoying both.
“When I designed my first few ranges starting in 2004, life was very different and I could jet off to Ecuador for inspiration or pop to New York for trunk shows without hesitation," Jackie says.
"As life for me has grown up, the business has too. Now I’m at home, so our new diffusion line is only at ‘home’ too on our website rather than needing me and the other mummies working at Belen Echandia to travel extensively.”
When you have little children, you accumulate a mass of ‘stuff’ that you invariably need with you whenever leaving the house and a big but light bag is essential so that is what I hope I have created"
All but one of Belen Echandia’s worldwide team have small children at the moment. They are at home for naptime, for bedtime, to be played with and, as Jackie is doing at the moment, potty training. The designer has not acquiesced to all aspects of parenting life though, such as switching to a nylon changing bag.
Jackie says: “I have never used a purpose-made changing bag because there never seemed to be any that go with my style and when you spend as much time as I do looking at bags, that is important!
"I prefer to organise my babies things in the larger of my usual bags, often my black snakeprint London Tote from our main line and that works really well. I like that the leather is so easily wipeable," she adds.
The company’s designs have changed with the fashions of each season over the years but the new B.E. by Belen Echandia range has two key aspects that draw inspiration and values specifically from life as a parent – the first is the light-weight of the bags.
“One particular requirement I had for this line was that the bags should be especially light-weight. When you have little children, you accumulate a mass of ‘stuff’ that you invariably need with you whenever leaving the house and a big but light bag is essential so that is what I hope I have created," Jacki says.
"For example, the B.E. by Belen Echandia Tote weighs in at just 750 grams (1.65 lbs) but stretches to 46cm (18 inches) wide, giving space for nappies and toys alike without weighing down on the shoulder.”
The second is about protecting the atelier who hand-makes them.
“My core values have, in some ways, strengthened even more, such as the need for us to protect our Italian atelier in times when the economic climate has caused many accessories' brands to relocate their production facilities to China," she says.
"I’m not willing to compromise on the incomparable quality of our workmanship nor to walk away from the loyal, talented artisans that have brought the brand this far. They are part of the soul of the brand."
Mixing discussions about the qualities of saffiano leather with choices of nursery/pre-schools make working life feel integral and flexible with the demands and joys of family life.
Jackie’s inspiration for the new collection is style she sees out on the street, taking everyday chic, stylish women for its muse but this inspiration also leads her to other projects, such as her blog on children’s food at http://littlefoodies.se/ with another working mum and photographer Nina Wahlberg.
Belen Echandia’s personal stylist, Janelle Walters, is mum to three little ones and works from home in Hawaii. She works with many of the brand's customers, particularly in the US, to find the right bag for their own lifestyles.
Janelle says: “The B.E. by Belen Echandia range is beautifully elegant and the streamlined bags will suit customers who need versatility in their bags, such as to have a laptop and files in and assorted personal items alongside. The key is always to find a bag that makes your life not only easier but really more enjoyable.”
While life for working mums is always a balancing act and can sometimes be really very tough, believing whole-heartedly in your own business and, however big it is, adapting it as life changes certainly makes it fun.
For more information on the bags or to buy now click here