Interview with Aqila Agha, founder of PapillonKia

Find out how her own love of luxury handbags inspired former banker Aqila Agha to launch PapillonKia, an e-commerce site that offers designer handbags and accessories at affordable prices.

What’s your career background?

My background is in banking and finance, and it was whilst on a career break after my second child that I decided to venture alone and set up my business PapillonKia – a business selling authentic preloved designer handbags.

Where did the idea for PapillonKia come from?

I have been purchasing luxury handbags for my personal use for over 35 years. It was whilst I was on maternity leave from my role in an investment bank that I decided I should open my own business and it had to be an e-business as I truly believed that was the future.

My priorities had changed and I couldn’t just nip out on my lunch break and buy whatever I wanted from the Gucci store in the city, so I looked into the pre-loved luxury designer handbag market and could see this was an opportunity to develop a business around this area, as buying new was becoming less accessible in terms of price and affordability for a lot of people.

In addition, there needed to be a process where sellers could sell their used items to buy new – the circular economy where one product had many users in its lifecycle. This resulted in the launch of PapillonKia in 2014.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I started a trial in my study in my house. I sold items on eBay as they had the best marketplace at the time and their reach of customers is worldwide. During the first three months, we became a top seller with a 100% feedback score.

The business outgrew my study and so the next stage was to have our own e-commerce website and office space. That’s when I knew this was a viable business. It’s always been our mission not to have retail shops as we want to keep costs down so that the end user, our clients, will benefit.

What’s your USP?

ALL our items are authenticated before they are listed on the website. Our clients feel safe and protected that they are purchasing authentic items. 

Who’s your target audience?

Mainly women aged 25-55 (although we do also send to our fair share of men! These women are luxury bag lovers and have an appreciation for the circular economy and buying sustainably.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

We do a lot of work on all of our social media channels including Instagram (where we do livestream shopping every Sunday), Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. We also have private Facebook groups and a private WhatsApp group, which allows customers on our waiting list to see product before it launches on the website. 

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Having Influencers talking about our story and what we do regarding the circular economy has been incredibly successful for us. The wonderful influencers we find don’t just do quick shout outs, but they talk about our brand and explain what preloved is all about.

We have also just started working on our PR strategy which has been very successful. In fact, we’ve just seen Vick Hope wearing one of our vintage Louis Vuitton rings on the red carpet at the National Television Awards.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Without a doubt it’s been authenticity. We now have in-house authenticators and we have also partnered with a company called Entrupy, who use AI to authenticate our products.

And your proudest moment so far?

It has to be watching the business grow from where I started in to the success it is today. I still want to pinch myself sometimes! Being an advocate of using and selling preloved items is incredibly important to me so expanding the business and spreading the word to consumers makes me very proud.

Why is work so important to you?

It keeps me sane in this hectic world we live in! I try to be a good role model for my daughters and also, all those women out there who want to set up their own business.

Who inspires you?

There are a few female entrepreneurs that I find incredibly inspirations. People such as Huda, Ellen MacArthur, Deborah Meadon, Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton

How do you balance your work with your family?

My husband is incredibly helpful – we are very much a team with Papillonkia, even though he has his own career and profession. I won’t lie when I say it’s hard, but you have to just take each day at a time and just juggle as best you can.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar? 

  1. Do your research in the market you want to enter. There is no point launching something  if there is no demand in your chosen industry. However, if there is a gap in the market then that’s where you need to concentrate your efforts.
  2. Make sure you have a good accountant and bank manager on board who can advise you on set up all the way and from day one.
  3. Prepare to work 24-7 as that’s what you will need to do in the early stages of business. 

Find out more about PapillonKia.