Third year English student Abi Tamara Harvey talks about her luxury handbag collection, Tamara Harvey, and gives her advice for budding student entrepreneurs.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
I don’t like being bored and I’ve always had little ventures on the sidelines, so when I was 13 I set up my first business designing jewellery and selling it. My mum lent me £30 and in a few weeks I turned that into £300. Then at 17 I bought a beach café – Maidencombe Beach Café – it’s actually now one of the premier places to be. I did that for three years and at the height of it I was employing six other people. I went to uni and wanted to drop out within a few weeks – doing English, I don’t read a lot, so I found that quite hard. I wasn’t allowed to drop out, so I thought I might as well do something with myself! I couldn’t find the right bag to go on a night out and I was like, “well, if I can’t find it, I’m going to make it’” so I did. And it just has spawned.
Do you send the bags off to a manufacturer to be made?
I made the prototypes myself, but I made them out of fabric because leather’s really expensive. I emailed every single manufacturer in the UK and only got two replies. My lovely manufacturers are fabulous. I got my first one back within two weeks and before I’d even had the rest of my stuff I’d already sold to everybody I knew anyway.
THE MOST QUALIFIED I AM IN THIS IS A LEVEL ART
I’d say the hardest part is finding the manufacturers and actually honing in on a design. The most qualified I am in this is A Level art – I have no design knowledge or anything, I just know what I like and go after it.
How do you come up with your designs?
I’ll think of an outfit and the perfect bag to go with it and see if I can find it, but usually I can’t. And I’ll just draw it. Then I’ll start looking at other products, so I’ll go into stores and be like, well how do other people make the base of their bags? I’ll have a look at those and I’ll have a look at things like how straps are added. I also have a lot of books of handbag design. It usually starts with an idea or a colour. Something just sparks the imagination. A bit like how an author will hear something and see a whole story forming. That’s how I see it.
What happens after you send the designs to the manufacturer?
They make a prototype and I’ll have a look at it and see what needs to be done. I’ll use it a bit because you have to see if these things are practical, and I’ll show it to people and see what they think. Then there’s a period of about two weeks when I have to work out how much this is all going to cost, order the leather, order the hardware, order the zips, then ship it all off to the manufacturer. About a month and a half later I get all my stock back and then I have to think, “how am I going to sell this, then?”
How do you publicise it all?
Social media and word of mouth. So you sell to a friend, a friend will wear that bag out everywhere and then their friends will see it, and it’s like a chain reaction.
IF YOU’RE DOING A START-UP, YOU HAVE TO BE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
It helps when you get your very first store; that kicks the snowball off because you’re showing to a load of people that you’ve never met before so they don’t know who you are. They’re not going to buy out of sympathy; they’re going to buy because they love the product. That’s really good, but social media is brilliant. I’d say if you’re doing a start-up, you have to be on social media. It’s free, it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s quick and it’s accessible. You can reach other people in different countries, so I get messages from people in Los Angeles. I ship worldwide, I sell off my website but mainly selling through department stores and to friends and family.
Do you run the business alone?
Last year we had exams in April or May and I had this three day gap when I had to get my website up because I had everything ready and needed to get the money in. I’d never coded anything in my life, so I spent a night on YouTube working out how to code. I spent three days building my website and then got to my exams. I do everything. Packaging, shipping it off , even going to the Post Office – I do all that stuff myself.
Who would you say is your ideal customer?
Cara Delevigne, because she’s fun, quite edgy and quirky. You’ve got to have quite a bit of money to buy my products – they’re quite expensive – so people who frequent luxury shops, but people who like colour. I don’t like how you always see black handbags and brown handbags and grey handbags. Where’s the yellow handbag? Someone who experiments with colour, who likes fashion, is fun and who is conscious because everything is made in England. But I would say I don’t design for a specific person in mind, I design for myself and I think I have quite a good general grip on what other people would like also.
If I could get anybody to wear my products, I think it would have to be someone like Kate Moss. I love Kate Moss. If I could get her in a photo shoot, I would be happy. Definitely someone rock and roll, quirky, fun, who happens to be stunning and have a million followers so then they’re all going to go and buy all my products, because that’s what we want at the end of the day!
Are there any lessons that you’ve learned the hard way?
Oh god yeah, I’ve wasted so much money on sampling. There’s this one where I was really stupid and I got confused between inches and centimetres – quite a basic thing that you should know about! I did the height in inches and I did the length in centimetres. It looked absolutely ridiculous and I wasted about £500 on that.
So I would say definitely go over it again, make sure the finer details are perfect and make sure everything’s working. I would also say, think a little bit before you run, because I’m an impulsive person so I will buy 205 square foot of leather without having a single design or idea. Check yourself a bit and make sure everything’s perfect so there are not silly little mistakes like adding things up and profit margins.
What are your hopes post university?
MY MOTTO IS “WHO DARES WINS”
World domination. I’m being serious. This is the stepping-stone. I’ve recently designed a ten-piece lingerie collection, but that won’t be for another two years or something because that’s quite expensive to do. Just branching this out into more of a lifestyle brand like dresses, shoes, lingerie and stuff like that. Then I want a department store, and everything in the department store is going to be made in England; all the designers will be English up-and-coming designers.
THE ONLY WAY YOU’LL MAKE YOUR MILLIONS IS BY GETTING OUT THERE
If I did have to work for someone else, another part of me actually quite wants to be a comedian. So I would maybe go into something like that, like script writing. Or just in other businesses and enterprises really. But hopefully when people read this article and buy all my bags I’ll be like “yes, I don’t need to get another job!”
Do you have any advice for other budding entrepreneurs?
I would say: get out and do it. My motto is “who dares wins”, and I think they’re the best words an entrepreneur can hear; the only way you’ll make your millions and live the life you want to live is by getting out there. Stop dreaming, stop thinking of excuses and get it done! Start the company! You’re never going to know if it’s going to work unless you actually get out there and do it. Put everything in place and just go for it because no one’s going to give it to you. I strongly believe that degrees and expansive theories can only get you so far; the best way to learn is to get out there and give it a go.