independent

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Stylish and ethical too

Published 08/01/2014 | 05:44

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HANDBAGS are big business, with the global market measuring its worth in the tens of billions of euro each year. However, with the proliferation of big name brands dominating the industry, smaller designers must find a way of differentiating their product in order to make headway in the market.

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Bray native Lorna Burton might have found a way to just that through her business CoralLei, which specialises in designing ethical, environmentally-friendly handbags made only from sustainable materials.

'The label focuses on the ethos of responsible design, providing for the environmentally conscious consumer as well as the fashion conscious,' Lorna explains.

Lorna's journey began in Bray Institute of Further Education, where she studied Fashion Design, following this up with a three year course at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

'After three years of studying Fashion Design, my desire for further development was imminent,' she says. 'London College of Fashion was the obvious choice and there I specialized in small accessory construction and design. Then in 2012, I attended Prescott & Mackay, where I had the privilege of working alongside a former pattern maker for Mulberry. After all of my education to this point, handbag design was the pretty obvious choice for me.'

The genesis for CoralLei lay in a project called 'Restyle for Oxfam' for which Lorna designed a number of handbags in 2009.

'Following on from this a London-based Italian fashion label 'From somewhere', asked CoralLei to collaborate on a range of handbags which then showcased at London Fashion Week in 2010,' she says. 'That was the real beginning for the label.'

The business now sells its handbags to retailers throughout Ireland and launched in New York last year. Lorna is hopeful that the label can expand further to enter other European markets over the coming years.

Moving forward, she is adamant that the business will hold dear to its ethos of using only ethical materials, feeling that this is integral to her style and work.

'I couldn't work in any other way,' she claims. 'I feel that as a business owner, I have a responsibility to design and manufacture responsibly - it's something that is important to me. I have had a lot of customers, especially internationally, who have fallen in love with CoraLlei because of our ethical approach.'

Despite this, her business venture to date has not come without its difficulties, as acquiring the specialized materials needed to construct her bags proved a challenge for Lorna.

'The main challenges at the beginning were getting the basics right; sourcing the right fabric and manufacturing team that met the high standards of where I needed the brand to be, and then gaining financial support to fund the development and research,' she claims.

As an industry, handbags present their own specific challenges, such as remaining relevant through changing trends and seasons, as well as finding the right retailers for the product.

'It's challenging, but incredibly rewarding when you see your designs and your brand compete at a level you could only dream of seeing.

To negotiate these and other challenges, she advises other aspiring entrepreneurs to look into doing a course to help them gain the acumen they need to get their business off the ground.

'I would highly recommend a Start Your Own Business course. It's vital to map out your ideas and put a business plan in place before you even attempt to enter into the market place,' she says.

'You only get one chance for that first impression so you've got to be confident with your product. It's crucial to believe in yourself and to strive for success but also to find people that will constructively look at your work and make you solve problems and reassess ideas and at times change your direction. Concentrate on your vision, your end result and make it happen!

'I've been really lucky with the people I've met throughout the years who have selflessly wanted to help in any way they can.'

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