From haulage to handbags…launch of Nellie-Jane sparks career change for Derbyshire woman

After a career that has taken her from transport and logistics, and via one of the East Midlands’ oldest bakeries, Helen Yates is now on the road with a new enterprise following the launch of handbag retailer Nellie-Jane.

Helen, who was previously MD at Sherwood Truck & Van before becoming a director at Luke Evans Bakery, is fulfilling a dream to own her own business.

And the idea came to her during her summer holiday as she wandered the streets of Venice and chanced upon a shop selling beautifully designed, quality handbags.

“I thought to myself ‘these are such lovely bags, made by individual designers and manufacturers’ and I wanted to be able to share them with women who love handbags as much as I do,” said Helen, who lives in Shirland, near Alfreton.

“Many of the small businesses that produce handbags in Italy are third and fourth generation, and they source their raw materials locally. I wanted to offer handbags of top notch quality that you can’t buy on the British High Street, but are still within the price range of many women, that are distinctive enough in the style and quality, that they become a talking point”.

With the idea sparked in her mind, Helen returned home from her holiday in July 2014 and immediately began putting into place plans to launch an online handbag retailer, Nellie-Jane. She enrolled on a week-long handbag design course at the London College of Fashion run by accessories designer Ann Saunders, who specialises in handbags, and followed it up with a week’s course in Padua in Italy.

Since then she’s sourced handbags from eight designers in Italy, Germany and Spain and has recently opened online retailer Nellie-Jane at selling shoulder bags, clutch bags, totes, duffle bags and backpacks. She’s currently sourcing additional designers and styles to add to the collection.

It’s a far cry from the logistics and transport career she first went into with TNT and Hays Logistics before then moving to Nottinghamshire-based Sherwood Truck & Van, which had been launched by her father many years previously.

Three years ago she switched routes to join David Yates, now her husband, at Riddings-based bakery Luke Evans.

“My passion was always transport, trucks and lorries, but I enjoy being part of the bakery. However, I have always wanted to run my own business – it just took me a while to hit on the direction to take,” said Helen.

“I’m now dividing my time between Luke Evans Bakery and Nellie-Jane and I love the variety. It’s a massive learning curve, but I’m finding it quite exciting. I love being able to passionately talk about the handbags to the women I’m meeting.”

Helen has been raising awareness about Nellie-Jane via networking, charity and pop-up events, and plans to attend a range of events in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire between now and Christmas. 

Her website features the back story behind each designer and brand, giving customers details about where and how the leather bags are put together before she imports them.

“I will only buy up to ten of each one. I look for bags that are really good quality but have a quirkiness that you wouldn’t see elsewhere in the UK,” added Helen.

“What’s important to me is the sourcing. I need to guarantee that there’s no child labour involved and that the animals are treated well. The business is about the quality of the bags but the ethics behind it are also important to me.”

Prices range from £65 to about £350 for a bag, with discounts in operation during the early weeks of the enterprise.

“Running your own business is very different to what I’ve done previously,” said Helen. “I’m used to having a team around me and now I don’t have that. On the other hand, I don’t have to think of anyone else when I’m making a decision. I like working with young people. What I’d like to be able to do is to bring young people into the business as it grows.”

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