If you’re cycling to work, or (social distancing allowing) to a meeting or to see friends, you’ll need a practical pannier bag. Hill & Ellis make a range of attractive, versatile pannier bags that easily unclip from your bike and transition perfectly into a stylish over the shoulder bag. Their leather range is ideal for the office, with plenty of space for your laptop, mobile phone and other work essentials. Their trendy, colourful canvas range, inspired by the founder’s favourite cycle routes, is perfect for shopping and social activities. Today I am sharing my interview with the founder of this company. I hope you enjoy reading about Catherine Ellis.
Tell us a little about your childhood and teenager years
I was incredibly lucky to have a very happy childhood. I lived with my parents and my older brother in Northwood – which is basically London suburbia with a little bit of countryside thrown in and we were and are still very close. It was the classic 80s upbringing – terrible outfits, dubious pop music and a lovely amount of freedom – I could cycle round to my friends houses to hang out (with my bike covered in spokey dokeys obviously), and we had the luxury that not everything was documented – the best you got was a part thumb covered photograph of you doing something embarrassing from a disposable camera.
What was your first job/career? What did you learn from this?
My first job was working as a leader at a kids summer camp on a local farm. It was brilliant fun and absolutely exhausting. I think my top salary at the time was £36 a week – for a 50 hour working week so it definitely wasn’t for the money. I learnt a lot from that job – how to work with a mix of people, how to entertain kids and keep them happy, and it was such a warm environment that it really taught you to support each other. There was zero competition – it really did have a team mentality and everyone benefitted from that.
What led to you setting up your business?
I worked as a freelance TV producer at ITV and cycled to work everyday. Once I got into the studios having cycled in, switched shoes and jacket and walked into the lifts, where it was just me and Ant and Dec looking sharp in their suits, and I was carrying this awfully ugly black PVC bike pannier. After a couple of apologetic comments about my bag, I got to my desk and thought there was to be a better design for this bag that marries, style and function. After making some prototypes, which I tested on my cycle ride, I was getting stopped at the traffic lights by cyclists asking where my bike bag was from and so I decided to set up the company.
What are your products and/or services?
We design stylish bike bags that work perfectly and look good on and off the bike. We have a wide range of bags – including our British made collection where all our bike bags are handmade in London, and use materials sourced as locally as possible to reduce their effect on the environment. Our latest vegan canvas collection is made in water-repellent canvas and it was designed alongside two London print designers to create a variety of modern print patterns for the bags.
What makes your business special?
Individuality and customer service. We don’t want to make the same bike bags as everyone else. We want to make bags that really stand out – both for how they work and how they look. We use patented pannier hooks, and the very best components, and have built in features for the cyclist – waterproof bag covers, reversible reflective detailing and a nifty pocket to pack away the bike hooks when they are not in use. Our bags are all handmade in small batches and individually checked, and they come with a no question 1-year guarantee.
As a small company we can offer great customer service and I think this is something missing from the bigger companies. During the lockdown if customers were buying bags as presents we would offer complimentary gift wrapping and hand written gift cards just to offer a more enjoyable customer service – it felt like Christmas here! As we ease out of lockdown we are looking into offering more personalization options as I think customers are looking for unique items for themselves and for gifts.
How do you ensure you look after yourself properly? What do you do for self-care?
Exercise. I’ve always needed to exercise as a release and if I’m feeling defeatist or fed up a run, or a spin class (when we could venture to classes) would shake me out of it. You get back and feel like you can take on the world and it also gives you more energy, which I have never understood but it works!
Who supported you as you set up your business?
My parents – a lot! They have been so incredibly supportive of the company and my mum has always come to shows with me especially in the early days when I was getting the company name out there. I have also joined various mentoring programs along the way including Allbright (a woman’s only networking club) which ran an acceleration program for women-run businesses to train them to expand the business. This was invaluable and gave us all the tools we needed to expand our businesses. It also gave us our own network of women to fall back onto.
What things would you like to see change about the position of women in society?
More equality. We are getting closer but given it is 2020 the situation is pretty shameful. But this equality stands across the board – BAME and LGBTQI+ communities need to come up with us. We need to make sure we are all lifting each other up. Equality is equality for everyone and ensuring all communities are supported and represented is the fastest way to get there for all of us.
And Flexible working – I hope that if any good things can come out of this pandemic, flexible working could be one of them. Women are so often cut out of the work force as they are often the carers of children or older family members and the 9-5/6/7 with a 1 hour commute just doesn’t allow women to stay in the workforce. If flexible working is genuinely on the table then this opens up many jobs to women, and also allows men to have the time to spend more time with their family, which is something they currently miss out on if they are commuting and working long hours during the week.
If you could recommend ONE book to women what would it be and why?
“How to Fail” by Elizabeth Day. It’s a great book but an even better podcast (I generally mainline podcasts at the moment as I don’t sit still long enough to get into a book). In both she interviews a wide variety of people who are incredibly successful but instead of talking about their achievements they talk about their failings. It’s a really refreshing twist on people’s narrative and often their success was only born out of their failure at another job, exam or relationship. Us women never talk about our failings – we are ashamed of them but actually they are the point at which we either learn to become better or pivot to find something else we really love. Elizabeth Day is engaging, empathetic and very insightful and the book and podcast all bore out of her failure (as she puts it) to have children. She found the language around IVF and miscarriage was all cloaked in failure so she wanted to challenge that and talk about it. She is now an incredibly successful author and her podcast has won numerous awards.
If you could recommend ONE website (to women, what would it be and why?
https://www.vestpod.com/ It encourages women to get to grips with finances – personal and business.
And www.holly.co, Holly Tucker, the founder of Not on the High Street, has set up a new venture where she encourages women on their road as creative entrepreneurs. The website has lots of advice, competitions and links to her incredible podcast – Conversations of Inspiration.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Ellis is founder of Hill & Ellis, which produces a range of high quality, stylish cycle bags. Each bag, designed in the UK, is created to transition perfectly from home to bike to boardroom to bar. They are functional, fashionable and hard wearing. There’s plenty of space inside for a laptop and other essentials, and each bag comes with patented pannier clips that fit almost any bike, allowing you to clip the bag on and off quickly and easily.