There’s a lot of money in restoring goods (Picture: Handbag Clinic/Metro.co.uk)
Welcome back to How I Made It, Metro.co.uk’s series looking at interesting job journeys.
With the sustainable pre-loved market growing, this week we’re speaking to Charlotte Staerck, CEO and co-founder of Handbag Clinic, who restores tattered, worn and stained bags to their former glory, and sells pre-owned designer finds.
For the 32-year-old, it really is a labour of love, as she’s been obsessively learning all there is to know about bags since the age of 16.
Through chance, she met her now husband who worked in the restoring business – but he knew little about passion at the time.
Together they took a leap of faith and Charlotte career switched from being in pharmaceuticals to leading a start-up.
She credits him with helping her get some initial start up money – which is an important reality to acknowledge, as the road isn’t easy when setting up a business and sourcing funds.
Speaking to Metro.co.uk, she says: ‘I knew in my heart that my true passion was for luxury handbags and it felt instinctively right to quit my job and start over.’
Charlotte managed something many of us only dream of: turning your hobby into a career.
Here’s how she made it happen:
Hey Charlotte. Why did you get into the handbag industry?
I’ve been obsessed with handbags forever.
I’m not sure why, I grew up in a tiny village outside of Newcastle, and my mum wasn’t interested at all.
But, I remember, when I got a Saturday job, I’d stare at them through the windows – and, as soon I could, I bought my first brand-named bag: a cream Luella tote, at 18, which I thought was the best thing ever.
How did the interest in restoring items come about?
That bag soon got covered in dye transfer from my jeans and a colleague told me there was a local company, The Furniture Clinic, that did repairs.
She gave me their number, but I lost the piece of paper.
If I had gone, it turns out I’d have met my future husband, Ben, two years earlier than I did.
He’d built up that business with his father restoring furniture and leather household items.
Eventually I met him at a bar in Newcastle and soon we began working together to restore bags.
Charlotte now has a team of restorers (Picture: Handbag Clinic)
So, what were you doing before this point – you must have career switched?
At the time, I was on a fast-track career path having risen through local government ranks to be appointed as a Senior Buyer of pharmaceutical and medical equipment for the NHS.
I was fiercely independent and my career was going from strength to strength but my passion was always luxury handbags – I would spend ages browsing the preowned market and buying and selling at the right time so I could covet the latest ‘it’ bag.
Was it scary to make the career switch?
I was always super independent and I’d worked hard to get where I was in my career so it wasn’t a snap decision I made overnight.
The transition began when I worked with Ben to pivot the furniture restoration business into an offshoot for luxury handbags.
As demand for that grew and I observed how this directly impacted the resale value, I knew there was a clear gap in the market.
Once I was set on this decision, I started researching non-stop, for about a year, until I knew everything there was to possibly know about bags.
Ben helped raise investment capital for Handbag Clinic whilst supporting on strategy.
We began investment raising initially through crowdfunding back in 2018 and raised over £300,000. In the summer last year, we secured an £800k investment.
And at first, I couldn’t believe how profitable it was. For example, I made £200 on a damaged velvet Gucci cross-body bag.
What is it that you love about bags and restoring them?
Restoration work is truly a labour of love and we get to see items being brought back to life that may have otherwise been discarded – seeing the amazement and joy this brings our clients really is priceless.
Often clients don’t think it is possible to restore their item to its former glory and yet, to us, it’s an everyday occurrence.
One client I will never forget is a lady who accidentally ruined her Jimmy Choo wedding shoes just days before the wedding.
A past bag her team were tasked with restoring (Picture: Handbag Clinic)
We fixed these for her in time for her big day and she was overjoyed.
Another client, last year, brought in her Chanel GST bag – she really thought it was beyond repair.
The bag was gifted to her from her husband so it had huge sentimental value.
What do you know now about building a business you wish you knew before?
I would probably have said to myself – be prepared to work harder than you ever dreamed possible and for it to take over your whole life.
Success doesn’t come overnight – the ascent towards your vision is long and steep but only you can see it so don’t be too hard on yourself.
I would also say to have a path but remain open minded and flexible.
As a founder working in the sustainability business, I’ve also learnt that it is really important to lead by example.
You can talk the talk but you also have to walk the walk.
I am always striving to ensure sustainability is ingrained in every process within our business – from the products we use, to the packaging we ship items out – we keep waste to an absolute minimum.
I even go to the extremes of fishing out recycling that has been put in the wrong bin and locating the culprit!
An average day in the working life of Charlotte Staerck
7am: The day begins with checking emails and a yoga session in the garden.
9am: Charlotte picks up a coffee en route to the office.
10am: Meetings with management to discuss day to day operations and working closely with the buying team to review incoming bags.
Hard at work (Picture: Charlotte Staerck)
2pm: More meetings and being on hand for the team throughout the afternoon.
6pm: Dog walking to unwind from the day.
What do you love most about the job?
I love developing our team of passionate young people and watching them grow on their career paths within the Clinic.
I truly believe your team is your most important asset.
We all work tirelessly and we’re all aligned with the same vision and you can’t even begin to put a price on that.
And what do you dislike?
We see so many customers bring in bags that probably only initially needed a small £50 fix – but because they have used the wrong products or pressure when cleaning, they require significantly more work.
There are some terrifying cleaning hacks out there online – from using baby wipes, to washing up liquid and vinegar to lift stains.
These are all myths and cause more damage.
Do you have an interesting career journey?
Email [email protected] to share your story.