This week's Ask The Brand feature is especially fun. Cambridge Satchel Company came seemingly out of nowhere, all the sudden their punchy, bright, classically-shapped satchels in flourescent hues were all over the fashion scene from blogs to the streets of New York Fashion Week. Cambridge Satchel's popularity is hinged largely on the support of the blogging community, so we're pleased to bring you a little insight into how this small, UK-based accessory company has worked with bloggers and grown their brand through online media.
Tell us a bit about Cambridge Satchel Company‘s roots.
The Cambridge Satchel Company was started four years ago – I discovered that my lovely daughter, Emily, who was eight at the time was being bullied at school – I tried working with the school but soon decided that the only way to improve the situation was to move her to a place I felt she could thrive and be truly happy. Cambridge is blessed with a number of excellent schools and the one I chose happened to be private and that means school fees, and with two children I was faced with fees times two – time to hatch a plan! I made a list of business ideas and satchels were on there as I had been trying to find a traditional school satchel for the children. I was very frustrated with the poor quality, trendy school bags that last two minutes and thought I could sneak in a beautiful, well made accessory that would last and look great as it aged. Four years on and the company is thriving, the children love the new school and have flourished, and along the way I have had the chance to work alongside my inspirational and very stylish mother who was anxious to do her part in helping achieve the school move. The wonderful team that is Cambridge Satchel has been another enormous plus in this journey, the business has brought together a happy and talented group of people who are passionate about what we do.
What are Cambridge Satchel's overall thoughts on social media in the fashion/retail industry?
I am under no illusions that without the support of the bloggers Cambridge Satchel would be a very small business, struggling to get noticed. Throughout the rapid launch and the difficulties with the imitators, bloggers have supported the brand and helped us get our message across – the ethical, original classic – made in the UK, listening to our customers about colour and style. By working with fashion bloggers and through our own Twitter and Facebook, we get instant reaction to proposed styles, colours and new ranges. We will be launching a new website later this summer and it will have a greater emphasis on communicating with bloggers and our customers and will offer some very exciting ways to communicate better.
At what point in your marketing strategy do you incorporate social media – is it considered from the beginning, or do you find ways to fit it in later?
We are still a small business at heart – when we have a new colour or range we get very excited and the bloggers are the first we reach out to – it's not really a strategy as such, more an urge to shout out to our friends! we have a very social media savvy PR professional (thank you, Linda) who helps us reach new audiences and her daughter Emily, who was one of our first customers and has helped us as we have grown – the fantastic Tumblr site is entirely her doing. We are very proud of our bags, they are vibrant, fun and yet still classic and so talking about them through social media is very natural for us.
How big is your social media team?
In Cambridge we have Jess and Emma, I tweet but they are the ones that actually run the Facebook and Twitter sites – then we have Linda and I do count Emily in on our team, though unofficially, they are based in the US. When we need help we have so many amazing fashion bloggers that we can call upon, when we say social network it really is that for us, a network of people who help us and have become friends. During New York Fashion Week last February we hosted a bloggers tea party and it was wonderful to meet so many people whom I had been in touch with only via email before then.
What are the daily activities of CSC's social media (or digital marketing) team?
Jess and Emma keep a close eye on the Twitter and Facebook pages and try to answer any questions that arise through them. We post what we hope are interesting comments about what's going on in the office – or what Rupert, my dog (who is in work each day and loved by everyone) is up to – we keep in touch with our customers and try to coordinate announcements with shops that carry our brand. It is evolving constantly, there is so much scope to interact, improve relationships and take inspiration from the blogs that are written daily.
CSC has been a huge hit among style bloggers. Can you tell us a bit about how that happened? Was it a marketing strategy or a happy accident?
Most of the bloggers we have come across are very passionate people – they love fashion and have a strong sense of style and individuality. When I started the company I was eager to let them know why I was doing it, the story behind the brand and the support they showed was staggering. Here's one example – to produce a new colour we have to dye 500 sq feet of leather – enough for around 100 bags and that's a huge investment, particularly in the early days when I would be selling one or two bags a day. Jessica Quirk featured a post where she invited her readers to look at our range and comment on their favourite bag, where they would wear it, what they would put in it and wear with it, finally there was a question of what colour they would most like to see added to our range. There was a fantastic response from the What I Wore readers and a very clear steer on colour – Kelly Green was by far the biggest on the wish list and it gave my mother and I the confidence to launch that colour and have the batch of leather dyed, it is still part of the range. I will always be grateful for that help.
How do you select bloggers to work with? What kinds of projects have you done, do you have a favorite example?
Many bloggers contact us – I remember contacting Keiko Lynn as I asked customers which blogs they followed and enjoyed – her name kept coming up and I enjoyed meeting her at the tea party, she has been with us from the start. Sasha (Liberty London Girl) and Briony (A Girl a Style) have also been a huge help in finding our way through the fashion minefield.. during our recent troubles with imitators we found that the bloggers were at the fore, they tend to be people with ethics and hate rip offs and so we have a natural affinity. I love working on new projects with bloggers and welcome approaches, the energy of collaborations is addictive.
It seemed like your neon bags blew up overnight around the internet. Did it really happen like that?
Cambridge Satchel has collaborated with Comme des Garcons for years now, and the fluoros / neons were being sold at Dover Street Market (CDG) in London, naturally they got noticed, as its one of the trendiest places to shop – but it was again through the bloggers wearing the bags to New York Fashion Week that created the stir.
What value do you think blogger collaborations have to a brand, as compared to traditional marketing? Do you think it makes a difference if a company is larger or smaller?
I think the best blogs are the most honest ones, the ones where the blogger stands up for what they really like, even if it is a bit out there – it makes the blog far more interesting to read and the opinions ring true. To appear on those blogs is an honour as the followers know that the blogger really loves the brand, it's not just a case of a free bag having been sent. The internet has allowed people to have a voice, an opinion that is hopefully one's own, not catering to mass appeal and that should be used to encourage people to be comfortable with following their dreams and adopting their style – that's what I did, I gave my dream a go and found there were lots of people that shared my taste in a simple design and quality craftsmanship. Larger companies will have a harder job keeping the roots, the passion but it can be done – look at Mulberry and what a great job they do on their blog, they have managed to avoid becoming corporate and bland.
How do you measure the overall value of bloggers and social media?
It's not about the number of followers – it's about the individuality, the spirit of the blog. The bloggers have an independence that makes them worthy of listening to and of reading what they have to say and then adopting it to your own style. The individuality means there are blogs out there for everyone, everyone needs a bit of inspiration, a pick me up and having the opportunity to take part in influencing a brand or a movement is far more fun than just watching and being a spectator.
Do you have any tips for bloggers looking to engage with brands? How can they make themselves more attractive to brands?
Approach brands you love, ones that have a resonance for you and think of something fun you could do together – if you're a blogger then you're creative, you know your readers and what they'd like so go in with an idea. Make it something you'd be proud to do and the chances are they will be excited too. Don't alter to fit – if you need to alter, or bend over backwards, then it's the wrong brand to be approaching.
Image credit: StreetFSN, Hanneli Mustaparta for Vogue