Interview with Catherine Merritt and Emma Costello, founders of mecolife

Engineered from silicone (think bakeware) mecolife is the real ‘bag for life’. It’s the brainchild of two Berkshire based women, Catherine Merritt and Emma Costello, who wanted more from their arm candy than a designer logo and hefty price tag. Here’s their story.

What’s your career background?

Catherine has a background in engineering and a career in the city as a risk manager. Emma has worked in global marketing for brands including Ministry of Sound, Disney, L’Oreal and Calvin Klein and runs her own business consultancy.

How did your career change after having children?

For both of us, it was no longer possible to give the 110% that was expected of us time-wise to our careers.

Both the financial sector and global advertising are pretty incompatible with the idea of flexible working and we both took a step back to re-evaluate where else we could direct our passions while devoting the time we wanted to family life.

Where did the idea for mecolife come from?

While on a skiing trip in Germany with our families we were watching our kids on the slopes. Emma put her handbag down to take a photo and only realised five minutes later that the snow had caused a watermark on her bag… it was a vintage Mulberry.

We got talking and decided to come up with a bag that would go from the office to the slopes to the beach and beyond. Little did we know where it would take us.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

Catherine had great contacts in China from her time working in Hong Kong – where all the silicone the UK uses in consumer products is manufactured – we found out very quickly there’s no capacity to make silicone moulded products anywhere in Europe.

Using Catherine’s contacts and Emma’s limited digital design skills, we worked to come up with first, a prototype, then samples and finally, our finished totes from a factory which has high standards of production and an ethical approach to its workforce.

What’s your USP?

We create products designed for life. The mecolife tote bag is hopefully just the first in a range of products which help people live smarter in our time-pressured world.

Who’s your target audience?

Anyone and everyone who appreciates a go-anywhere bag, but primarily mums who can’t switch bags as often as they switch roles and are fed up with their lives ruining their handbags!

How do you spread the word about what you do?

We started off in our local area at events like craft shows and village fetes to gain some really valuable feedback from potential customers about our bags.

We’re also really active on social media and find that both Twitter and Facebook work to help spread awareness about us, but our favourite is Instagram, where our bags showcase really well and we have met lots of likeminded vegan, ethical and live-smarter businesses.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Definitely building our social communities through creating relevant content our potential customers are interested in, along with co-promoting likeminded brands.

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

Ensuring we established a manufacturing process with the right partner suppliers who are able to understand and exceed our high quality requirements, without compromise.

And your proudest moment so far?

Receiving a call from The Telegraph requesting one of our bags for a piece the Travel Desk had commissioned on what to pack for a cruise.

Why is work so important to you?

We’re both very driven by things that inspires us and are lucky enough to be able to work in areas that we love. That’s where work stops being a job and becomes fun, so of course that’s very inspiring.

Who inspires you?

People making a difference to the way we live our lives; particularly startups that are disruptive or challenge the status quo – ones that help us change our behaviour for the better.

How do you balance your business with your family?

With difficulty; let’s be honest! The biggest challenge we have is making sure we take the time to get together regularly to review what we are doing and plan for the future of our business.

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

  1. Make sure your suppliers are credible, honest and prepared to work with you until you are happy.
  2. Be passionate about your idea or product. You’re going to need to spend long hours late at night working and sourcing opinions from those with more experience!
  3. Have fun.  If it’s not fun, don’t do it; you might as well be working for someone else.

You can find out more about mecolife on their website.