Creative women at work: bag designer Mimi Berry
On the wall of Mimi Berry’s showroom-cum-shop is a beautiful Moulton folding bicycle, so the first 10 minutes of our meeting are spent talking enthusiastically about bike design and cycling in London. Mimi studied Fashion Design at Central St Martins and upon completing her degree went on to launch her eponymous accessories and handbag label from a stall in Spitalfields Market. She continues to manufacture her products exclusively in the UK, working with skilled craftspeople and leathersmiths. Using Italian vegetable tanned leather, in a gorgeous array of colours, Mimi Berry’s bags are simple and elegant with a beautiful attention to detail. Having followed the accessories entrepreneur’s career for quite some time, I finally took a trip to the shop in Hackney, East London, to meet her.
TNMA: What are you working on right now?
We work a year in advance, so from now until the end of November we’ll be designing our A/W 2019 collection. We have two intensive design periods a year – Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. I oversee the design and production processes, as well as other business stuff too like banking, social media and marketing. I’m lucky to have a job that I enjoy. I like making things and there is a lot of freedom and flexibility. Our shop is on Lower Clapton Road and acts as more of a showroom. Buyers make appointments so we close the store and pull samples out to show them. But we do get customers who travel across town to see us, or pop in when they are visiting London.
TNMA: Please can you tell me a bit more about manufacturing in the UK?
We’re proud to manufacture exclusively in the UK. Our bags are handmade in Manchester and Somerset, and other factories based here. Each factory has a different skill set and it has taken years to discover the best production system. Smaller goods are completely different to manufacture, so we use Northampton for pieces like wallets, and any ad hoc stuff is made in London. All of our leather is made in Belgium and Italy and dyed to our specifications using environmentally-friendly vegetable tanning processes.
TNMA: What’s important to you when designing?
It’s important to keep design originality and ethos. And we do really like to support British factories. We rely on them and they rely on us. They are really proud of what they make and we really appreciate that. The Mimi Berry brand is not owned by anyone else, and there’s a lot of control in a business this size; we’re not answerable to ridiculous targets. We’re lucky that we have very loyal customers. We have some who buy the same style in all the different colour options. It’s lovely when people bring in bags for an MOT, or some refining, for new rivets or a replacement buckle, for instance.
TNMA: What are your most popular bag styles?
In the UK our best-sellers are Francis and Artie. They’re both cross-body bags and named after my friend’s two boys. Japan has become a huge market for us, and Hebe is the most popular style there. We also sell lots in France and across Europe.
TNMA: How would you describe your style? Have you always dressed like this?
Yes. I’ve always dressed a little bit utilitarian, a little bit Margo from The Good Life. I don’t do girly, as being fairly tall, I feel silly and self-conscious in skirts and dresses. Much more at home in a seriously nice jumper and scarf. It’s a very British look come to think of it!
I love clothes but I’ve become very aware of their provenance. For the past few years I’ve been wearing mainly British designers. Folk, Old Town and Spry workwear for example, with the exception of COS. I love Cos. I have a rail full of day and evening clothes, both vintage and new, loads of hats, drawers of scarves and shelves of shoes. I love them all like a collector. I suppose I make handbags as it’s a vent for making art. By and large clothes make me feel good and they make me happy. They can keep a good mood going and I love colour.
TNMA: Tell us about the outfits you’re wearing in the photos:
The yellow jumper is from COS, it was a present from my husband and it’s my favourite. I love it. It makes me smile when I wear it, plus I am under the illusion that bright yellow can go with virtually anything. The cotton scarf is vintage YSL, and was a birthday present from my best friend, Jo. The black canvas skirt was a spontaneous purchase from Monoprix in Paris in February. I didn’t mean to buy it, but seriously glad I did. My jumpsuit (in the top picture) is from La Redoute and the scarf is hand-painted from Japanese brand Manipur.
Photography: Neil Mackenzie Matthews
And here are some scarves inspired by Mimi:
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