The rise of Radley

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It’s no secret that we British women love our handbags. In fact this everyday essential now officially ranks as the most desirable of all fashion accessories, according to the latest Mintel research. A whopping 60 per cent of us will purchase at least one brand new one in the next 12 months and fashion analysts predict a 52% growth in the sector by 2019. That’s lots of handbags.

Among the sea of baguettes, buckets, clutches and totes from high street stores and high-price designers, Radley is the one standout British handbag retailer that’s delivering some pretty impressive sales figures (the company announced a third consecutive year of growth at the end of 2015, with sales soaring to £30.6 million in the first six months of last year, up £1.9 million from the previous year).

If you have a handbag habit you’ll already be familiar with the Radley concept but if the name still doesn’t ring a bell, the brand’s iconic little black Scottie dog motif just might. For it’s this clever piece of branding that’s made the brand so instantly recognisable.

Headlined by its stylish leather handbags and purses Radley is the brainchild of Australian-born architect, Lowell Harder, who left her native Perth aged 22 to travel around Europe in a camper van before settling in London in 1969. By 1984 the mother of three was looking for a new challenge and swapped bricks and mortar for leather. It was when she’d started selling leather goods for a friend on Camden Market that she decided to fill a gap in the UK accessories market by designing her own range of colourful handbags and purses.

In 1998 the Radley concept was born. Keen to maintain a very British feel from the start and inspired by the regattas her sons had rowed in, Harder named her collection after the well-known public school, then set about the challenge of finding retailers to stock her product. Lots of meetings later, she’d managed to convince John Lewis to stock the new bags on a sale or return basis and has never looked back.

While sales have ticked over nicely from the start, Radley hasn’t always enjoyed the level of success it’s currently experiencing. In 2009, the brand entered what its founder Lowell Harder has referred to as the ‘dark period’. With a new team of directors on board, strategy appeared to move away from quality leather goods to focus more on growing a lower cost range of accessories, such as slippers and scarves. For those who can remember, that little Scottie dog suddenly seemed to be everywhere and the products began to feel a bit cheap and cheerful.

Realising her beloved brand needed her; Harder returned to the helm and by 2012, a new Radley renaissance was in full swing. Today, the company employs 400 people in the UK and the demand for the bags shows no signs of abating.

Offering practicality, classic lines, quirky styles and colourful designs, Radley currently outsells all other handbag brands at both John Lewis and House Of Fraser – quite an achievement in today’s competitive marketplace.

New designer collaborations have also helped to attract a fresh new following of fashionistas to the brand. Following on from collaborations with model Laura Bailey and designer Holly Fulton, Radley snapped up another London Fashion Week favourite – Jonathan Saunders, known for his innovative use of prints.

The future’s bright for the little black dog.

Shop the Radley collection here

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