How Bella Corke found flexibility by launching a major handbag business: “People thought I was delusional”
Thursday, April 27, 2017/
By Tarla Lambert
The thought of starting a new business to find flexibility as a single mother is enough to make even the boldest woman sweat.
But for Freedom Filosofie founder Bella Corke, there was really no other option. After returning to corporate work following maternity leave, she felt “directionless”. The hours and schedule she used to work no longer suited her life as a new mum and she dreamt of a more flexible lifestyle and a career she could be passionate about.
Paradoxically, it was Bella’s busy work life that led her onto the pathway of entrepreneurship and gave her the ingenious idea for Freedom Filosofie— stylish, laptop-handbags, custom made for busy women everywhere.
We sat down to speak with Corke about life, business and the inspiration behind Freedom Filosofie.
How did Freedom Filosofie come to life? What was the catalyst for starting the business?
After a lot of travel and dragging around my laptop in my handbag I just got sick of being a crazy woman at the airport rifling through my bag trying to find things — literally at one point kneeling down shaking out my bag looking for my boarding pass. Most handbags are not functional and most laptop bags are just plain ugly.
What was your career prior to launching Freedom Filosofie? Did you enjoy it?
I previously worked in events/exhibitions but had two years out of the workforce when I had my son and came back a bit directionless really.
As a solo parent to a very young child I wanted flexibility and I really didn’t want to be travelling for work like I used to. I explored various options but nothing excited me until this bag idea evolved.
I also really love how proud my little son is of me and the bags. I think it has been great for him to see his mum go out and do something like this.
Though it is scary somedays at least I own the scary and I don’t dance to someone else’s tune.
How did your family and friends react to your decision to become an entrepreneur?
I think a lot of people thought I was delusional. Actually, I know they did.
Quite a few people tried to talk me out of it and one friend said to me, “well, at least you had a go”, suggesting failure before I even launched.
I don’t think most believed I could do it and let’s face it ‘running around making handbags’ does sound a little fanciful, but I stood by my vision and the range has the same identity, feel and design concept that I envisioned long before the first day of my course in London.
I just had to keep going and believe in myself. I’m lucky to have an incredibly supportive partner and friends who did believe in me, not to mention my gorgeous sister who kept me going and reminded me of past life challenges that I’ve had the strength to move forward on.
What steps did you take once you realised you wanted to pursue this venture?
I originally thought perhaps I could source a product not yet in Australia and then become a distributor. Two large trade fairs in Milan and Paris were recommended to me so I set about researching what existed in the market outside of Australia and what was launching at these fairs.
Through Europe and the UK, at trade fairs and retail shopping, I just went through every bag looking for something attractive that had function and I was honestly surprised that nothing seemed to exist.
When I was researching my trip, I found a course at the London College of Fashion in Handbag Construction and Design and so I enrolled to better understand the task ahead as I had no prior background in handbags or fashion.
I collaborated with a designer, a textiles designer and found a lovely factory in China and through many ups and downs along the way, mistakes made and lessons learned, I launched Freedom Filosofie in October 2016.
What’s been your proudest moment for the business so far?
There have been quite a few. I think it was when the chief executive of a big company had seen a bag of mine via a colleague at work and he ordered one for his wife but sent me a lovely email saying how he travelled to Italy a lot for work and always bought his wife a handbag and he told me that my design and quality was right up there. I was so delighted to get that feedback and it was very early on, so it meant a lot to me and validated why I was so focused on quality and not compromising on any of these elements.
I’ve had some lovely editorial and feedback overall and I think I’m just so proud that I’ve put a beautiful product out there and that I haven’t compromised on this in any way but that the function and comfort truly stack up.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
There have been so many challenges! My first designs were so terribly bad that I cried (it wasn’t the quality of the factory, it was actually my designs). I’ve had to keep them as they are so laughably awful.
But you just keep finding answers. I consider the last few years like having a bucket on my head running into walls and just bouncing around trying to find a way, find the answers, weed out the sales spin and keep looking forward — even when things seem impossible there is always a way to work it out.
So what’s next? Can you share the business’ long-term vision?
My vision for Freedom Filosofie is to build a global brand in the travel/business space with high quality, stylish and super functional pieces with a twist.
And what’s the best advice you can offer to other emerging female entrepreneurs?
They say startups have a high rate of failure and I can see that this is true, but not because the ideas aren’t good, more because sometimes it seems so soul destroying and difficult that people want to give up.
My advice is to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and move forward. Don’t be afraid of your mistakes and certainly don’t dwell on them. I made so many mistakes that if I spent too much time thinking about them I’d never have made another decision.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.