Backstory Behind the Bags: Radley

When I think about the things that sum up Britain in a nutshell, popular British label, Radley comes out almost on top. Of course, there's the iconic fish and chips, an entire back catalogue of James Bond's, but once you've cast aside the glaringly obvious British symbols, the fashion brand Radley is quintessentially English.

Founded by Australian designer Lowell Harder, Radley, just like so many of the big name’s brands, came from humble beginnings. For the multimillion British label, it's story began in Camden market in 1984, where Harder, a hardworking business woman, began selling men's accessories under the name Hidesign.

As a trained architect, Harder started by selling accessories on the weekend, working around a busy lifestyle. The Hidesign products that she sold were sourced from India and so created the gap in the market that the accessory world was looking for. With the demand for Hidesign increasing rapidly, it wasn't long before Harder found the label had outgrown Camden Market and with backing from Tula Group in 1991, the London based designer was arguably given her big break into the fashion world.

So when did Radley come into the mix? Well in 1997 Harder, alongside business partners, created the women's accessory brand that would go on to stand out from the crowd in British fashion for it's sophisticated designs. Speaking about her decision to launch a female orientated accessory brand to Daper Magazine in 2000, Harder said that she chose to create Radley as she was "fed up" with seeing bags in the same navy and blacks. Essentially, Harder was looking to bring women a sophisticated range of handbags that were available in a variety of colours, and as we can see across the fashion world today labels are not afraid to use colour when it comes to women's accessories.

However, the most iconic feature of Radley handbag designs is perhaps the label's scottie dog, which features on majority of designs today. The west highland white terrier was initially found in the Autumn/Winter 2000 collection and was only featured on a small number of the handbags. The decision to include the now famed scottie dog was as a result of a experimenting process where one of the creative team put forward the idea of using a small terrier in their designs.

Through popular demand, the iconic scottie dog became a regular feature very quickly, and by 2001 the west highland white was included on nearly all of the accessories within Radley's collection.

Despite having already experienced triumphs with Hidesign, Harder found that Radley's success did not come overnight, and sales for the female orientated accessory brand were certainly slow to begin with.

However, with a relationship that had already been formed with John Lewis through previous sales of Hidesign, the long-standing British department store agreed to stock a number of Harder's Radley Designs. As fans of Radley will know, John Lewis, are still selling the London based label's designs, yet they are not the only department store stocking the popular women's accessories today but one of many, as Debenhams and House of Fraser are also known stockists too.

Yet if you're looking to treat the lady in your life to a Radley handbag, the label is not only found in UK department stores but is also sold in their 19 stores and 14 outlet stores, this includes their original store on London's King's Road, which was opened in 2005. Radley has also received international success as it is sold across the globe, and currently has stores in Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, Russia, Japan and New Zealand.

Harder, who is now the company's Creative Consultant, has always promoted the Radley brand as the small leather female accessory label which is practical and sophisticated in equal measures. Despite having evolved as a company and a fashion brand over the decades, it is fair to say that Radley brand has stayed true to its intentions and will no doubt be a staple in women's wardrobes for many decades to come.

By Stephanie Jade Sleaford.

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