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L'année du Pannier

(c) gretel ensignia, gretel_ensignia@hotmail.com, 07783620234 Catherine Ellis 04.07.14

A Q&A with Hill & Ellis founder Catherine Ellis, who discusses the inspiration behind her beautiful leather pannier bags, aimed at cyclists seeking stylishness and practicality…

Interview GAVIN STOKER

Hill & Ellis launched in 2012 amid London Olympics’ fever, when the public’s recognition of cycling as an exciting sport – not just a means of commuting – was highest.

“The cycling successes of Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Lizzie Armitstead and Laura Trott created a wave of excitement, and many people hit their bikes that summer because of it,” Catherine Ellis recalls. “Though 2012 wasn’t the reason I set up the business, as I had already been bitten by the cycling bug and had realised that stylish bags were lacking, maybe subconsciously there was a connection.”

You dreamed up Hill & Ellis because you couldn’t find a stylish pannier bag to carry a laptop, notebook and heels together. How compatible are biking and busy lives?
They’re wonderfully compatible. Cycling saves me a lot of time and money, and it’s so reliable. When I leave home I know exactly what time I will arrive at my destination, give or take a couple of red lights. It also allows me to exercise in what would otherwise be wasted time, and it’s a great way to relax as I often start my journey full of stress.

Hill & Ellis BIRKDALE SIDE BACK

Which products have proved your most popular?
The Bradley, the first of my British-crafted bike bags, in bold yellow leather with grey detailing, is extremely popular. It’s been featured in the Evening Standard, ShortList, Urban Cyclist and even OK! Magazine. I fell in love with it when I saw the finished product, so it’s very exciting my customers have fallen in love with it too.

Where do you take inspiration from when it comes to the design?
My recent collection was inspired by my favourite colours: a bold canary yellow, an Oxford Blue, a minty Cambridge Blue, plus a bright pillar box red. My next range is inspired by nature and uses natural fibre fabrics for an ‘earthier’ look and feel. The practicalities of the bag come from my experience as a cyclist; I developed reversible reflective material as I knew it was crucial for the bag to have high visibility without cheapening the look. The waterproof jacket felt necessary for those rainy rides, and the hook systems were developed as a marriage of discretion and function.

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What is Hill & Ellis’ unique selling point?
The products are designed to look and work as stylishly crafted bags; they just happen to attach to your bike. So many panniers work beautifully on the bike but not as bags for anything else, so my panniers are designed to fix that.

How important is it to be seen as a British brand?
I want Hill & Ellis to be a great British brand. All the bags are designed in the UK and I have just launched a new range, which is all made in Britain. Ideally I want my production to stay in the UK now, and I love the idea of the bags having the smallest carbon footprint possible.

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Is there a clear division between the types of pannier bags men and women go for?
I thought there would be, but I’m finding that both sexes are equally attracted to most of the range. I think women like a traditionally ‘masculine’ geometric style and men have bought all the bags in the range, with the exception of the Dorothy. I do listen to what customers ask for, and try and incorporate requests into new designs to make sure I am catering for everyone.

What have been the biggest highlights so far for Hill & Ellis, and where are your goals taking you next?
Having Jon Snow from Channel 4 News fall in love with one of my favourite bags: the Duke. I saw it on the news the other night when he got off his bike to go into the BBC for an interview. As far as where goals are taking me… obviously New York, Milan and Paris!

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