Interview with Tina Lipfriend, Founder of BagButler

Love designer handbags and the concept of sustainable fashion? Find out how and why Tina Lipfriend launched BagButler, a luxury handbag and accessories rental company.

What’s your career background?

Originally I was in decorative antiques and had a shop in London. As well as selling to regular customers I loaned to Home magazines and also was paid to provide props for brands such as Laura Ashley who used my things to add depth and authenticity to their own product catalogues.

How did your career change after having children?

After having my two daughters now 17 and 20 I didn’t initially work as my husband and I decided to raise the girls without any childcare or nursery help. In the years leading up to launching BagButler I had a couple of charity interests one of which was a little book group which I ran in a school at lunchtime. I also worked at a foodbank.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

My business idea came whist brainstorming “What the hell do I do now?” Having always loved handbags and been the lucky recipient of a few as gifts I literally just thought “I know I will rent handbags.” At that time I was midway through a two year battle with breast cancer.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I had some savings and while I was having daily radiotherapy (much less gruelling than all the chemo I had) I started buying handbags and then began adding in jewellery. My treatments took place in central London so it was a great diversion to be able to come out of a hospital and go and look at designer handbags.

That was it! I didn’t over think it and I certainly didn’t research it so I may never make a good mentor. I like to say that I jump and grow wings on the way. I am not sure this is sensible but at 56 with a cancer diagnosis you do weird things!

What’s your USP?

Two things. The stock is all purchased new by me in the normal stores. This guarantees great condition and authenticity, so important with luxury goods. Also I am quite obsessed with not letting people down and therefore customer service is absolutely everything to me.

Who’s your target audience?

I am still working this out as of course we have been in lockdown for most of the life of my business which I started in October 2019. There isn’t any research about this line of business as it is a new concept in the UK. This I now know, although when I started as I said I did so without research.

I think we speak mainly to city dwelling women who are career driven and who run quite a sophisticated social life. They are doing well in their career and feel that their appearance matters. They are coming round to the idea of consuming more consciously and for some the idea of ownership has ceased to be the aim in life. They are more motivated by experiences and therefore are open to the idea of renting a handbag as opposed to owning one.

The service also works for events such as weddings, the races etc. and for those who might not be able to fork out £3,000+ for a Chanel bag but love the idea of carrying one for a few days.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

I use the company who built my website to run social media accounts for me and I personally assiduously engage with many of our followers and fans and work with a few influencers.

For a number of months I have also had the pleasure of working with Amanda Ferrari who handles our PR and has taken our exposure to another level including having BagButler featured on This Morning with Phil and Holly and placing our products with celebrities and their stylists as well as with the press.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Consistent engagement and maintaining a presence throughout lockdown all the while knowing no one needed a handbag without somewhere to go! Also with Amanda’s help we have focused more on the jewellery which has still been relevant even during lockdown.

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

I came to the early realisation that we are only as good as our courier. The world of couriers is a minefield. This is an area I think about daily and frankly I worry until I can track something as delivered. I will constantly revisit this aspect of the business to see where cost effective improvements can be made.

At the moment I have a good system with one of the major carriers and luckily I have a great relationship with my account manager who seems able to finesse most problems.

And your proudest moment so far?

It was lovely the first time one of our rental pieces was featured in a magazine (Platinum) and of course being on TV but actually the best thing by far is to have some repeat business especially at a time when we were very new indeed.

Why is work so important to you?

Work is important to me and doing it as well as I am able with people I like is essential but it will never be more important than my family even though the children are rather grown up now. I enjoy mixing with lovely people most of whom seem to be younger and more glamorous than I ever was!

Who inspires you?

My late mother taught me to be reliable and punctual and I am motivated to be both. My daughters inspire me to have a can do attitude and to maintain solid values and a healthy self esteem and my husband has taught me that it is okay to ask for help and so I do, often.

How do you balance your work with your family?

I work from home and am able to work things in around family life. Obviously with my girls being the age they are makes that quite easy. Also I do not aim to grow a large business or to be the biggest in my field but I do want to be the best at what we do and to be thought of as fair and decent.

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

  1. Don’t do any research or conversely do loads of research but don’t sit around deliberating or cogitating as the only way you really learn is on the job and of course by your mistakes.
  2. Don’t try to build a website yourself. I didn’t make this mistake but I know others who have.
  3. Think about the durability of every item before you buy it. Not all materials and fabrics are hardwearing. Rental is about extending the lifecycle of each and everything so this needs to be at the forefront of your mind when acquiring stock.

Learn more about BagButler.