By Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
Katie France’s personality is infectious and so is the hype around her Love Bomb Bags. When we met over Zoom one rainy Wednesday morning, her cheery ‘Hello!’ and brief living room tour to show off her brightly coloured furnishings and huge collection of houseplants, all of which are named, I immediately felt her happiness radiating through the screen. From a slightly lost 20-something whose main aim was simply to ‘have fun’ while working through the slog; Katie’s life has become fuelled by her creativity and passion.
“I spent most of my twenties just trying to party as hard as I could,” she tells me. “I wasn't thinking about work, about the future. But when I saw people I'd met through my travels start building fun brands and having a great time with it, I thought ‘I want a bit of that.’”
After a few false starts, Katie decided to focus on what she knew best, herself. “I knew what I liked wearing and thought that other people must be like me too. So that’s where the journey began.” That journey led Katie back to her childhood love, hearts. “At school, I was always doodling hearts on all of my books, and I've got hearts tattooed all over me. With that as a base idea, I wondered where I could take it.”
“I’m not much of a designer, I'm a creator. I create the designs and my amazing team helps to bring that to fruition."
This transformed into her now iconic Love Bomb Heart Bags. “I have always been a magpie and liked shiny things and nice fabrics. I can always picture what I want something to look like. So I had the idea for these heart bags and the image of them was so clear in my mind it was like they already existed! I tried my hand at sewing one but I wasn't amazing at it. But I had the idea and that was a start!”
Katie pulled together a small team of freelance seamstresses to help transform her idea into reality. “I’m not much of a designer, I'm a creator. I create the designs and my amazing team helps to bring that to fruition. I'm really lucky I've got some amazing women around me that want to work with me. And [creating jobs] feels good. I like to know the people making the bags are happy and paid well. And they’re all women. I'd happily work with men too but I do love it that it is all women. I can feel the love in the bags we create.”
That love is what draws people to Katie France’s namesake brand. As well as hundreds of loyal customers and thousands more social media followers, one of Katie’s biggest supporters is author/Instagram influencer Florence Given. Katie is ever thankful for the spotlight she put on the brand, with Florence often spotted with the Love Bomb Heart Bag in her videos. But while her popularity has seemingly sky-rocketed overnight, Katie says, from behind the scenes, the growth from passion to business has felt incredibly natural and organic.
“I couldn't believe it when the bags took off but it’s been a natural growth and I think that’s because I’m passionate. I never got told to think about turning a passion into a business. I'm really really happy that I've just been able to be me throughout the whole process because I thought I always had to do something else in life to be successful, not just be me. But that’s what's made me do so well now. I've always loved getting dressed up and going shopping and creating things, and now I’ve turned that all into a job - I'm happy as Bloody Larry! I just can't believe this is my life at the minute. I've cried so many times because I can't believe that people want to buy what came out of my mad little brain!”
“Fashion for me is mood-based and I like to feel happy. Colour just brings me joy."
It's no surprise where Katie has come given her work ethic. “I just carried on going. I had an idea in my head of what I thought I wanted the brand to look like, but I felt very far away from that at the beginning and, to be honest, at times I still do feel far away from what I would like to be in the future. But that's growth and change. When things felt and still feel so far away, I just carry on chipping away at it little by little.”
Still, Katie had to learn a few things when it came to the challenges of design. “It's hard to choose fabrics. I used to go out with an idea in my head of what I wanted to find but I realised quickly that wasn't the way to do it. You have to find the fabric first and then get the trims and bits and bobs to go with it. So early on I had to reverse the way that I thought design worked. But now I love going out to the fabric shop and getting inspiration.”
“I especially love fabrics that you know you won’t get again. I buy a lot of vintage fabric from eBay and make a one-off design. I can make just a couple of bags in one fabric, but I can also have my regular designs that lots of people can have as well. That’s great for me because I still get to keep my really active creative brain busy and make new stuff all the time. For me, it’s really easy to play with making fresh new stuff. If I was just selling the same bags all the time, that wouldn’t be good for my heart. I have to keep myself happy too.”
“Colour! Happiness! Whatever is going to bring someone joy when they wear the piece,” are Katie’s main inspirations when creating new designs. “Fashion for me is mood-based and I like to feel happy. Colour just brings me joy. Don't get me wrong, I've got a couple of very nice black outfits that I can put on, but casual black clothes are just not for me. I had a bad day the other day and I knew I was going to have a bad day as soon as I put on this black hoodie with some new dark trousers I’d just bought.”
"They're little creations that I've made and I want them to make other people happy!”
Katie is keen to remind people that she can have bad days even when she’s dripping in colour. Her worst experience since launching Katie France London? Returns. “The most heart-breaking thing for me is having a bag sent back. It’s only happened twice but when a bag comes back to me with a problem, it breaks my heart because they've got my name all over them! I want all the bags to go out and have a nice time. And if there’s something wrong with one, it’s so sad! It's so personal. They're little creations that I've made and I want them to make other people happy!”
Her mission to spread happiness is still underway and Katie has big plans for the future of her brand. “I'd love to have a little shop with a little cafe, a space where people come and do nice things; Buy bags, dance while they shop, have a glass of champagne maybe, or a shot of ginger juice - whatever takes your fancy! I want it to feel like my living room. I'm a hostess at heart, I like making people have a nice time and a little store space would be wonderful.” The way Katie’s going, with her platform growing by the day, we’re sure we won’t be the only ones kicking off our shoes and necking ginger shots in her little spot of sunshine whenever the dream is realised.