Personal: “I think there will never be a perfect time to start your business,” says handbag designer Julie Peelo

“You know, things always happen. None of us could predict a global pandemic, but I think there will never be a perfect time to start your business.”

Meet Julie Peelo on a Teams call, coming to me from her home — and design studio — in Malahide. Dressed in a bright pink and orange sweater, the fashion designer is no stranger to doing business over video calls.

Peelo, her burgeoning handbag brand, was born during the pandemic. “I had September 2020 in my head as the start date and just stuck to it,” she says simply.

She points out what could have happened if she had waited for the ideal moment to promote her bags and accessories line: “Oh my god, is there a recession? There’s a war, cost of living – there’s always something.”

In the first year of the pandemic, Peelo’s only contact with the factory that brought her handbag designs to life in Porto was via phone call or voice memos while she stayed at home with her family.

She first located her leather supplier in late 2019, working with a small family-run factory in the Portuguese city.

Since I mainly sell online, I can also keep the price point better

“When I finally got back there, I went out for lunch [the owner] and one of his daughters. I said [to her] ‘Oh yeah, I have three kids’ or whatever and he just starts laughing and says ‘No, no, she knows, everyone hears your kids in the background,'” she laughs.

The Support Local movement, which fueled Irish shopping habits in the early days of restrictions and social distancing, also played a crucial role in the brand’s development, especially given that Peelo’s launch was entirely online.

“I think in a way I had a certain advantage because I was very online from the beginning, rather than trying to back down and try to take things online like other companies do,” she recalls itself.

Social media has been key to raising awareness in days of endless online scrolling, with Peelo choosing to gift items or offer freebies to some influencers.

As the glory days of endless pandemic supplies faltered, Peelo now envisions a mix of online and physical retail.

For her, B2B sales is the channel that offers the brand the greatest potential for the future, as more and more customers want to see the products before committing to a purchase.

“The business has grown and it’s definitely become more wholesale,” she says. “I want to explore more outside of Ireland. I’ve sold all over the world.

“Since I mainly sell online, I can also keep the price better.”

“There is a lot of potential. I’m just trying to manage my cash flow and grow in a sustainable way. I have never gone into debt for my business. It’s just about being smart about how I grow it,” she adds.

Peelo bags are available in five Avoca stores here, as well as a number of Foxford Woolen Mills stores and boutiques across Ireland. She’s also collaborating with other Irish brands for a pop-up shop in Dublin this month.

“I feel like there isn’t a really good contemporary handbag brand in Ireland. That’s what I really want to create,” she explains.

Peelo’s design career began in Dublin after her studies at NCAD when she secured a job with Irish designer John Rocha. But she wasn’t here long.

“I just had Italy in mind,” says Peelo. “I rented a couch from someone for a month and said I’ll get a job in Milan for a year and I’ll quit John Rocha. They said, ‘Are you crazy?’”

Peelo then spent the next few years collaborating with top designers in several fashion capitals around the world.

These included Marni in Milan, John Galliano in Paris, and Diane Von Furstenberg and Juicy Couture in New York. Bags designed by Peelo have since been worn by celebrities such as Jessica Biel, Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez.

“I’ve done everything in accessories, from sunglasses to shoes to jewelry to wallets to belts,” she tells me.

She then returned to Dublin for five years with Dunnes. In her role as Design Director, she worked with a number of Irish designers creating for the retailer and collaborated with Creative Director Carolyn Donnelly.

“Back then, Dunnes was hiring designers massively, and they didn’t really have anyone with experience managing designers,” she recalls.

These very different experiences cemented her approach to creating her own brand after years of caring about who each designer’s client really was.

I’ve done every price point from €3,000 down to Dunnes stores for €10

“When I started my own brand, I thought what do I like? What am I trying to stand for?” she says.

“It was really hard at first because I did every price point from €3,000 down to Dunnes Stores for €10.”

Deciding that she didn’t want to be prohibitively priced, she aimed for affordable prices for people that were “useful, well-made and not a rip-off”, on par with brands like Michael Kors or Marc by Marc Jacobs.

The line goes from €160 to €450.

Another area Peelo would also like to campaign for is providing more design jobs in Ireland. Their ultimate goal is that designers here don’t feel the need to take to the skies or sea to find a place to make a career.

“ID [like to] Hire people like me who left the country. There are a lot of designers leaving and I would love to be able to grow this business and hire some designers who want to stay and have a good job,” she muses.

Peelo has also noticed that up-and-coming designers ask how she managed to gain such a strong foothold with established designers. “I don’t think there’s any magic formula. I think you just have to work hard and be nice,” she says.

“Be nice to people on the way up because you never know who you’ll meet on the way down.” Personal: “I think there will never be a perfect time to start your business,” says handbag designer Julie Peelo

Fry Electronics Team

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