Meet Eddie Harrop - the stylish accessories designer, seasoned traveller, and mother who launched her eponymous premium luggage label after realising a gap in the market for fashion-forward travel bags. “I set up my label wanting to combine my love of handbags and travel and create chic travel bags that could match the style stakes of your handbag.”...
Building her business from Saigon during a four-year-stint in Vietnam was both inspiring and challenging for Harrop, “It was like living in a mixture of a Graham Greene novel and a Wes Anderson film…. the culture, the colours the craziness of it all. They were incredibly special years”, she recalls. “There is an amazing ‘can do’ attitude out there; it’s very entrepreneurial.”
Now based in London, with her husband and adorable nine-month-old daughter Xenia, Harrop has big plans for the already super successful brand. “We want to be the go-to label for cool carry on”, she says. Plans will need to be big, indeed, to top the growing list of highlights for this label on the rise – including the seventh season with Net-A-Porter, securing Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, being featured in British and French VOGUE and recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chrissy Teigen no less.
Harrop is ambitious yet realistic about the juggle for working mothers building businesses: “Juggling squashed bananas and global conference calls is a process and I’m new to it, but there are so many other inspirational working mothers out there going through similar experiences and I’m learning that you just have to jump on board and get on with it,” she says.
From working with the late, brilliant Isabella Blow, living a life well travelled, and launching a brand abroad, Eddie Harrop is definitely one to watch. We caught up with the Hong Kong-born, London-based mama, and talked new motherhood, the constant juggle, and her top tips for setting up a fashion business.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
I’m a believer.
What has motherhood taught you so far?
That the unconditional love you have for your child is so strong and powerful. Being a mother makes you very selfless, prioritising their being over yours. It makes you want to be a better person for them and to teach them how to love and enjoy life and to recognise the good in people and the world.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
I think the most challenging part of motherhood is managing the balance. I always used to hear about this before I had a child and it’s only now I can fully understand the extent of what people meant. The balance between work and home life is a constant juggle and I’m trying hard to organise things so I can give attention and energy to both areas of my life. Xenia is only nine-months-old so recently I have had a lovely nanny come to help for a couple of days a week. On those days I can go to the office and do a full days work which allows me to focus on being a mummy on other days. I want to be emotionally available to Xenia without constantly checking my phone, which I admit is hard.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the juggle and if so, what helps you feel better?
YES! Different things help depending on the time of day. Exercise is always a leveller to make one feel less overwhelmed otherwise a glass of wine in the evening always makes me feel better! I also find talking to my husband really helps. He’s incredible with Xenia so I am very lucky in that respect. Oh, and a bath – nothing beats the feeling when the baby is down and a lovely floral smell of bubbles and candlelight fill up your bathroom and you discover the new issue of VOGUE has just popped through the post.
What’s your approach to health and wellbeing – do you eat well/exercise?
I’m a big fan of running. Out in Asia, I did some lovely half marathons around the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and along the dirt tracks of Phu Quoc island off Vietnam which was really special actually… but ask me to do a downward dog and I’m useless. My big aim is to get better at yoga, which I am trying to do, but I still have that one Vinvassa flowing right at the back. I find Hot yoga the best, when you come out sweating you feel you’ve done a serious workout. Back in London, I’ve just got back into BMF (British Military Fitness.) After having Xenia I would certainly not have the motivation to do burpees in the rain if it wasn’t for a man in camouflage yelling at me to do so! I spent the beginning of the year in LA where my husband and I were regulars at Barrys Boot Camp in Venice Beach which was very cool. Those LA bods are something else though. I do try to eat well (well try being the key word there) and when I was pregnant I drank loads of healthy smoothies and juices, but I’ve got the curse of a sweet tooth so at some point in the day I have to reach the naughty shelf for a sugar hit!
What do you remember about your time spent working with Isabella Blow? How did it inspire a love of accessories in you?
Isabella Blow was amazing and would waltz into the office in all her finery and hats. She was unworldly, such a character and so inspiring to be around. She was once given a vase by a PR for Christmas and remarked how revolting it was. In Latin, she said ‘Quis’ and I remember from playground days to say ‘Ego’ afterwards when it was something you wanted to giveaway… so that Christmas my Granny got Isabella’s ‘revolting’ vase. I would often be asked to call in fabulous hats from Philip Tracey and Alexander Mcqueen was her favourite designer so we’d regularly call in all the latest looks from his collection. She might wear these pieces to dress for dinner as well as using them throughout her incredible editorial. It was interesting to see the power of an accessory and how they could add a totally different emotion to an outfit. I was fascinated by all the bags we used to see and I think that’s where my appreciation for high-quality and craftsmanship came into play.
Tell us about what it was like living in Saigon?
I lived out in Saigon for four years. It was like living in a mixture of a Graham Greene novel and a Wes Anderson film… the culture, the colours the craziness of it all. They were incredibly special years. I was lucky enough to live with the coolest couple who are now Xenia’s godparents. They own the best restaurant out there called the Deck, which everyone must check out if they visit Saigon. They also own a wonderful hotel called Mango Bay and the Cove in Phuket. I think living there inspired my love for travel as it was totally normal to jet off for the weekend to exotic locations and everyone was doing something interesting or creative whether they owned a furniture business, a bar or a fashion label. There is an amazing ‘can do’ attitude out there; it’s very entrepreneurial.
What inspires your collections and keeps you so motivated?
A constant need to create keeps me motivated. I imagine it’s like being an artist – you just can’t stop. I definitely think when Xenia’s old enough I’m going to have a house full of glitter and ribbons. If she’s anything like me she’s going to want to make things all the time. I am very motivated about Eddie Harrop and where I want to push it. There is so much I want to achieve with the brand. We are a travel accessories label so alongside our Voyager travel bags we are launching beach bags and smaller travel accessories like travel wallets and luggage tags. We want to be the go to label for cool carry on.
Tell us about some significant career highlights since you started your brand?
We are now on our seventh season with Net-A-Porter which has given us amazing exposure globally and they have been amazing at nurturing us. We’ve just done an initiative with them to launch their new vacation shop #jetaporter by which their top travel influencers are now jetting around the world with personalised Eddie Harrop travel bags. Securing Selfridges and Harvey Nichols have also been huge highlights. Being featured in British and French VOGUE and soon after being recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chrissy Teigen.
How do you manage travelling to Vietnam with Xenia – any tips for travelling with kids?
I haven’t actually yet been to Vietnam with Xenia as I am now always using Skype and WeChat, the Asian WhatsApp with my workshop. I’d love to take Xenia over there soon though and I have lots of friends who would love to have a squidge! We’ve recently come back from LA which was a really exciting time for the brand as we are expanding our America market. I was lucky that Xenia was small enough to sleep a lot during the flight. After LA we flew to Miami and then onto Bequia in the Caribbean. That was quite an intrepid trip for a baby which basically involved strapping her on and heading out on a big fishing trawler to get to the island – she’s already turning into a little adventurer! One tip that I found useful was making sure I’d fed her taking off and coming down on the plane to help her ears with the pressure. We took her sleepyhead mattress with us so even if we were staying in different places she had something familiar to fall asleep on.
Talk us through your morning routine?
I get up around 6:30am with Xenia’s cry now being my new alarm clock and I feed her morning milk. I then try and squeeze a run in while my husband looks after her. She’s very chatty in the morning with lots of funny baby sounds and I think she’s going to be a real chatterbox when she’s older. At 8ish she’ll have breakfast and at around 9am she goes down for a morning nap. That’s when I can finally get onto my emails and catch up with our Asian production as they are eight hours in front. On the days I have a nanny, she will take her from there for the rest of the day and she goes on lots of playdates with other babies whilst I head to the office which is only 10 minutes away from my house. I work with my brother so thankfully if I’m a little late in due to baby admin he’s OK with it.
What about nightly routine – what time are you home/do you work at night etc?
Around 5pm Xenia will have tea, at around 7pm she has her bath and then she’s in bed by 7:30pm. In the winter I used to try and put her down earlier but in the summer it’s hard to get her down. With all the sunshine, she looks up at me and I know she’s thinking, ‘Don’t put me down yet!’ I try to get all my work done in the daytime so then I have some QT with my husband, but saying that, if there is anything important, I will always respond and quite often I will have my business partner WhatsApping me at all hours. I think that’s the nature of having your own company it’s hard to totally switch off.
How has the digital revolution helped your business grow?
I think it’s never been a better time to start up your own business and market it yourself without having to have huge budgets. Social media has certainly helped our brand grow organically and it’s nice because your followers are choosing to follow you and I think there is something lovely and personal about that. It’s also a great way to team up with other like-minded brands and work on collaborations and channel it through your social platforms. We’re lucky as travel is core to our brand message so you can have a lot of fun visually with travel. Plus when I am travelling I get to call it work! We are not yet on Snapchat, but I must get on top of that as I feel that the millennials and upcoming generation will want more moving images than still ones.
What are some vivid memories of your childhood?
One of my first memories is playing in my Granny’s dressing up box in Ireland, it was full of the most fabulous clothes and funnily enough some items I have recycled and worn to parties later on in life. They lived in an amazing house in Ireland looking over the Mourne mountains with a huge lake and whilst my father was in the army I went to school there. I was born in Hong Kong, but sadly I don’t remember that much of it as I was so young but it certainly inspired me to move back to Asia and I have felt very connected to it when I have visited it later on in life. Hong Kong has an amazing energy. It’s a great place to party too and I’ve had some wild times there with the best people, pre-Xenia. I can get very nostalgic for those times especially when I am wiping up baby sick!
What’s your approach to fashion?
My approach to fashion has changed since having a baby. I think I am more into key pieces that I will purchase online rather than having time to browse and shop like I used to. I normally wear sportswear in the daytime as its super comfortable and easy to run around in, but if I have a meeting I will put on something smarter. At the moment I love Alice Temperley’s mid-length skirts and Gucci do some great ones too. I normally wear quite colourful and bright clothes and I love that ethnic look of Dodo Bar Or’s style especially their tassel tops. I also love to wear a pair of trainers, I’m a Golden Goose girl but recently I purchased the YSL star trainers which I absolutely adore. I don’t really wear heels that often but if I do, I love a pair of Castañer wedges and I do have my eye on a great red fabric Prada pair this season.
How do you juggle being a mother to Xenia with work?
I’m still learning, it’s definitely still a process, which I admit I do struggle with. It’s hard at the beginning to relinquish control and I have found it difficult to let other people look after her. I think when you get more confident with childcare, it becomes easier and you become more familiar with someone else looking after your baby. I have tried to split my work week so I get two days to concentrate on Xenia and be present with her. My mum is also great with her, but she doesn’t live in London although she is travelling up more these days which is amazing. I feel very relaxed when she looks after her.
What makes you laugh?
Family definitely, there is a certain humour and leg pulling when we’re all together which can make us all cry with laughter. My husband is also very funny and he makes me laugh a lot. Also my new go to LOL is watching back videos of Xenia, it wouldn’t be funny to anyone else when she’s hiccupping and shaking her head but it makes me chuckle.
What makes you feel stressed?
I think juggling everything does at times make me feel stressed. Production can also be very stressful when things get lost in translation. I’ve learnt to tackle problems with an element of zen and breathe through it. Very often getting stressed does no good and if you address the problem at an emotional distance, I find you can solve it better than blowing a fuse over it. Having my own business has helped me follow through with this attitude into my home life too, I try to think about the bigger picture when something small goes wrong. I’m grateful and fortunate to be in this position, it’s such a scary world out there with many people far less fortunate.
Describe your inbox…
Full! There was actually an article the other day about whether or not you’re a deleter or a keeper of emails and I have to say I’m a keeper. They are not perfectly filed like my business partner’s but there is an organised chaos to them.
How would you describe your approach to parenting?
I sit half and half on this. I try to keep Xenia to a routine, but I understand she’s still only a nine-month-old baby so things aren’t always going to run smoothly or on time. I allow for flexibility, but the guidelines of a routine have helped me make sure she’s getting enough food and sleep – and if she’s doing that, I can make sure she’s content and it guarantees those adorable giggles!
Top three business lessons for mothers looking to launch a fashion business…
Never give up even when the going gets tough.
Accept the mistakes, they are there to teach you.
Be passionate and don’t be held back by the fact that you’re a mother. You’re only doing it for a reason and often for their future so keep calm and carry on!
Is there anything you would have done differently if you had your time again?
Never live life with regrets… but I’m sure they’ve been a few!
The future of social media is...
On one hand exciting but on the other quite scary. It’s funny to think Xenia will grow up in a selfie obsessed era which I find worrying for young girls. However it’s been a useful tool for my business so I have a real love/hate thing for it at times.
What do you love about raising a child in London?
London has the most incredible parks. I always take Xenia to Kensington gardens as it’s our nearest – it’s lovely as you can walk through to Hyde Park and all that greenery is beautiful. One place which I never discovered before I had Xenia is the fantastic Orangery there. It’s a wonderful space with super high ceilings where you can have an amazing light lunch. It’s so quiet and peaceful and a great pit stop during a big loop around the park.
What are your carry-on essentials you take inside your bag?
Aurelia face spray.
Madeleine Thompson cashmere throw.
Lancôme face cream.
My book at the time.
And now with Xenia I have to add all the baby stuff to that list, lucky my Eddie Harrop Voyager bag can fit them all in!