Janie Bartlett on starting up an online business in the fashion industry

Janie Bartlett has more than 20 years marketing communications experience having worked in advertising on some of Australia’s best known brands. She was also a full-time working mother while her children were at school. Today I have a pleasure to interview Janie and find out more about her new business, My Best Friend is a Bag, that as she says “grew from an understanding that of what women need in business bags and accessories that helps you both stay organised and make a statement about who you are, the minute you walk into a room”. Make sure to keep reading to the end for your chance to win one of her bags.

Leaders in Heels: What was your inspiration to start My Best Friend is a Bag?

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Janie Bartlett: Somewhere in my travels I bought an orange laptop bag. Nothing flash, in fact its colour was its most redeeming feature. But if I walked into a boardroom with it and there was a woman in there that I hadn’t met before, I was sure to be asked where I had found the bag.

The more I talked and asked and googled, the more I realised that there was a real gap in the market for beautiful, practical business accessories that were affordable. That’s why My Best Friend is a Bag was born.

LiH: How is it to start an online business in the fashion industry?

JB: My new company is far from successful ….YET! We only launched in 2012 (August) so its really early days for us. We are an on-line store so for me it’s all about getting the brand out there. I have learned more in the past 12 months than I did in the previous 12 years and I continue to learn something new every day. The role of social media has really changed the way we promote a brand. As someone who has been used to million dollar budgets for the brands I have worked on, now its my own meagre savings I have had to find ways to promote My Best Friend is a Bag spending minimal money! It’s all about driving my company up Google search and looking for opportunities to link my brand with sites that are also visited by my target audience.

I have learned that business accessories tend not to be an impromptu purchase so I just have to keep plugging away hoping that when the time comes for the purchase of a new business bag, our name will be recognised in the search. Once someone has bought one of our bags however they always come back, saying its the best bag they have ever owned. We are currently getting lots of sales from word of mouth and repurchase which is great.

LiH: How did you go about taking your idea to realisation, from conception to production?

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JB:I originally started My Best Friend is a Bag with a friend who was experienced in importing as we discovered that the leather bag manufacturing industry no longer existed in Australia. Our first order was placed in India with a supplier found by using an online Global sourcing website. A huge task and a ‘trap for young players’. Honestly, this has proved to be a disaster for us as the supplier turned out to be dishonourable and I have had very little support from the company despite their promises to remove such suppliers from their books. So we lost a lot of time and some money initially. Through a family contact we then found a manufacturer in Kolkarta India who has manufactured our first range. Oh the stories I could tell!

LiH: Who designed your bags?

JB: We did. We thought of everything we had needed in a business bag and the features of bags we had loved. We spoke to colleagues and friends and eventually settled on 3 main designs. A business Tote, a Laptop Bag and a Shopper. We were determined that our bags would be beautiful but practical. They look like stylish leather handbags but just like a good friend, its what’s on the inside that counts! We also make iPad sleeves and laptop cases. We wanted women to be able to walk into a boardroom and make a statement that just because they meant business, they hadn’t abdicated style!

LiH: Did you have any obstacles on the way?

JB: In November last year, my business partner decided that she didn’t want to continue. After the initial shock wore off I realised that this was probably a godsend. I am used to being the decision maker and one who makes things happen and I had found it hard to compromise my vision for the company. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have started the business without her so I will be eternally grateful to her but like they say, everything happens for a reason. It also meant that I could move from our office and showroom in Richmond and bring the business home. This is the first time I have ever worked from home and I absolutely love it. After more than 25 years as a full time working mother, the luxury of being at home has not worn off. I love working and thrive on the challenges of running a small business but for the first time I feel like I have flexibility. If I want to go for a swim (my new passion) or meet a girlfriend for coffee or lunch I do it, and make up the work later. It’s bliss!

So. When I was faced with running the business on my own it was a great time to rethink my plans and assess what was, and wasn’t, working. I made some major decisions that I am currently putting into reality.

  1. While our current bags are beautiful, their current price is restricting sales. Even though they are reasonably priced for a beautiful quality leather bag, Business Bags are a grudge purchase to a certain extent and while women want one that looks great and reflects their personal style, they are not going to spend more money on it than they do on their handbags. This means that for my next range, I need to get the price down.
  2. We had intended to launch our online store but look at wholesaling down the track. Following advice from retail specialists I decided to not pursue wholesaling in the near future.
  3. I have decided to look at China for the manufacturing of my next range for a number of reasons. Proximity, price and quality control being the top 3. So I have just returned from a Trade Fair in Hong Kong and after visiting 5 Chinese factories, have 3 that are currently sampling my next range.
  4. I didn’t want to make the same mistake with China that I had in India, namely take a referral from a factory sourcing website. This time, I’ve used a Sydney company called China Blueprint. They do a thorough investigation into the factories they recommend and match you with one that is the right size for the size of your business. They will also help me through the ordering and manufacturing process. I have found you can’t be an expert at everything and you need to hire specialists to help you. They might cost you money initially, but they save you more!

Visit us next month to read about the most important Janie’s learning from using social media as a marketing tool and her top 7 tips for launching a start-up.


tote laptop bag

Janie Bartlett has kindly offered a choice of Tote or a Laptop Bag valued at $160 to giveaway from the latest My Best Friend is a Bag collection. You can even choose the colour!

To enter simply tell us in 25 words or less “what is your favourite item from My Best Friend is a Bag collection and why” by completing the entry form below. Giveaway is open only for Leaders in Heels Faceboook fans and My Best Friend is a Bag Facebook Fans based in Australia 18 years old or over. Entries close on 6th June 2013 11:59 pm.

If 25 words are not enough simply tell us more in the comments below. And don’t forget to like us on Facebook!

Next month we are giving away another bag so make sure you subscribe to our notifications!

This competition is closed.


One reply on “Janie Bartlett on starting up an online business in the fashion industry

  • Isabel

    Love all the bags! Liked your pages on fb, can’t wait to read your updates. Thank you for the great giveaway.

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