In the first of our series highlighting some of the truly inspirational work being done by some incredible entrepreneurs and emerging brands I have had the pleasure of meeting along the way, Emily Cheetham of designer hand bag brand Elyse and i shares some of her insights, inspiration, and driving forces.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the creativity and freedom of expression in design the most – there is an unimaginable
joy in seeing your idea translated into a product, seeing that stocked on the shelf of a
beautiful store. The pride in a bag being featured in the press or admired and worn by
someone is immeasurable.
What’s your signature style?
My design signature style is what I hope by now, a recognisable handwriting and
something that sets me apart from other bags in the marketplace. Our hero bags – the Nell
and Suki – are a series of knot inspired bags, made with sculptural pipings of leather in
interlocking loops and knots. They are always present in the collection, with seasonal
variations to colour and materials and represent the heritage of the brand and continue to
be the most sought-after pieces. Our other bags compliment these anchor pieces but will
be different in silhouette, patterns, and finishes, perhaps more trend-based or simpler in their
aesthetic. Yet there is always an overarching unity in all of the designs which is stemmed in
a desire to marry each bag perfectly with textural excitement and utilitarian function – after
all we use a bag to carry all our clobber around, so it needs to work.
What inspired you to start your business?
Starting my business was very spontaneous and fueled by not having found my career
groove in my nine-to-five PR job. I had been making bags as a hobby and as I looked for a
new job, the demand for the bags grew so I figured while I was young, without dependents,
I would go for it and start the brand in earnest. It was over 10 years ago so I guess it was the
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever been given?
I was lucky enough to sit down with Roger Saul who founded Mulberry many years ago – I
literally sat down with him around his kitchen table, chatting to him about my business while
he ate left-over pheasant stew. At the time, I was having some production issues but my
priority was on sales and how to get in front of the right stores. He put things into simple
perspective – without the right product you won’t ever get into the stores or get any
customer loyalty so put production back at the top of the list. He was right. I flew overseas
the following week to rectify the production issue and have made sure that high quality and
on-time production are at the top of my priority list ever since.
Who or what inspires you?
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t spurred on by the success of others or inspired to get busy
when I see other bag brands being featured in the press or lining the shelves of stores I want
to be in! The spirt of competitiveness is human nature.
Recently I was very taken by what Elizabeth Gilbert author of ‘Eat, Love, Pray’ had to say in a
radio interview – in fact, I was shouting at the radio in agreement when she said “Creativity is
an engine within us waiting to be revved”.
For design inspiration I bank ideas every day – making notes on my phone or in a pad,
tearing out scraps of magazines or picking things up from stores – it could a note on anything
from a wonderfully structured chair, an art movement, piece of fabric, old fitting or a screen
grab of vintage purse. I recently went to the newly re-opened National Gallery of Singapore
and found some glorious botanical prints. I don’t know how they might feature in an
upcoming design but took photos to use an aide-memoire for the colours, vivacity of the
What are you reading at the moment?
Oh bad question – I am the world’s worst reader. I think my last book was 50 Shades
(shameful admission). I joke with friends that I’ll start a Box-set club rather than join a Book
Club. I read the FT at the weekend, BBC News and the New York Times on my phone via
their apps. Having said ALL of that, I have just ordered Ed Burstell’s book ‘At Liberty – from
Rehab to Front Row’ – I heard a BBC interview with him recently where he recalled how he
talked himself into getting a job on the shop floor at Macy’s after going through some
personal issues, then he worked his way up to being a buyer at Bergdorf Goodman and
Bloomingdales to his current role as MD of Liberty. He was so inspiring to listen – especially
from the perspective of a buyer and how intense and busy it is – so I can’t wait to read the
book as I think it will be really helpful for me in terms of understanding the pysche of a
Favourite piece of art that you own and one you would love to have?
I’m hankering after one of Piers Bourke’s pieces – he’s a British artist who resides in
Singapore and works with printing in a refreshing, unique way. I’m after one of his (brilliantly
titled) ’Lick My Rear’ pieces or one of the Malay Tigers. We have a blank wall waiting for it!
I’d also like to own one of my cousin, Claire Desjardins’ original canvasses – we
collaborated on the Thunder minaudière recently which is now sold in Anthropologie and it
would be amazing to have one hang on our wall. Her canvasses are so colourful with
energetic patterns and movement.
Celebrity you’d most like to find yourself sitting next to at dinner?
My inner teen says Rob Lowe or Ryan Gosling. My Monroe fascination says Marilyn. My
discerning answer might be Sheryl Sandberg. But I think I’m going to plummet for Ed
Burstell as I think I’d learn so much from his fascinating life – as well as unlocking the key to
being stocked at Liberty!
Your favourite handbag designer – other than yourself!
Oh I think Anya Hindmarch is brilliant. Her quirky, whimsical attitude is magnetic and her
designs so fearless.
And finally, extravagant necessity?
Regular pedicures, plentiful Nespresso capsules, Chanel make-up.