Inspirational Woman: Brenda Macleod | Creator and founder of BRENDA MACLEOD

brenda macleodMy name is Brenda Macleod and I am the creator/founder of BRENDA MACLEOD, an independent leather accessories brand that designs handmade, smart and elegant handbags in an array of colors for working and professional women. Each bag has been designed to help the busy woman organize and manage her everyday essentials.

 I started my career in Finance, managing budgets and preparing accounts for a multi-national company and a government office. I was young, bright and very ambitious to rise through the ranks. I loved my job and did it extremely well, but deep down inside, I felt bored, unfulfilled and uninspired.

I always had a passion for creativity, I love to draw, and I love to design things. I am particularly passionate about shoes and handbags, how they can change the look of an entire outfit. They say life is too short spending it doing the things that you don’t love. So out of my desire for self-fulfillment, I decided to change my focus and direction to follow my passion and make a living out of it.

Although I have been living in Scotland for the past ten years, I grew up in Nigeria, Africa, in a culture and family that taught me to work exceptionally hard, stay focused and take nothing for granted. Little did I know that these three values would be the bedrock in helping me set up my business.

The designs of my handbag collection are a fusion of my colorful African roots and the simplicity and elegance of my Scottish heritage.

What inspired you to start a business?

In my elementary school, my two favorite subjects were mathematics and Fine Arts. When it was time to go to college, I couldn’t see what type of career I would have as an artist, and so I choose to study Accounting. I graduated and started a life in Finance monitoring and managing budgets for an American owned multi-national company. I quickly grew up the ranks to become an Assistant Accountant. In spite of the beautiful perks that came with my job, I felt very unfulfilled.

Over the years, I changed jobs and went to work for a government office. It was while there that I noticed that a lot of women carried the same handbag and a work bag for their laptops and work files, and they were mostly black or brown. It got my curiosity up and I began to watch working women in other offices, including accounting and law firms – my discovery, it was the very same trend.

What would happen if each of these women had one handbag spacious enough to hold both their work and personal essentials, a bag that is stylish and beautiful just like the women carrying them? That’s when I decided to revive my fine arts skills, rediscover myself and follow my passion by creating a collection of beautiful, elegant and colorful handbags practical to the needs of a busy working and professional woman. To give myself a good start, I used my annual leave days to attend a short course in handbag design and running your own business at the London College of Fashion. Armed with contacts and direction from the college, I travelled to Italy attending tradeshows to source for good quality leather, settling for natural vegetable tanned leather because of its quality, durability and beauty to launch my capsule collection. My initial collection was well received, and it allowed me to reduce my permanent contract to a part time contract to give me time to focus on growing and building my business. It’s nearly two years now and we are still growing.

What is the greatest challenge and greatest reward in being your own boss?

The greatest challenge in being my own boss has been loneliness. I live in a small city in Scotland where there are very little networking opportunities relating to fashion. At the start up phase, I found it quite challenging to maintain a social life with my friends because to me, there were not enough hours in the day to get things done. However, as things progress and I am able to outsource some of my responsibilities, it frees time for me to socialize more with my family and friends, as well as travel to bigger cities for networking events.

My greatest reward of being my own boss has been the freedom to follow my passion, and choose when and how I work. It has allowed me to live life on my own terms. It’s given me the opportunity to create beautiful bags bought and loved by women all around the world. Receiving excellent feedback from my customers is so rewarding and makes my job so worthwhile.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?

Having spent so many years working in finance creating accounts and managing budgets, you would think that running my own business will be a walk in the path for me. It’s rather the contrary, starting up has been very challenging in terms of managing my time and resources to achieve my daily goals. Every morning when I wake up, I have to decide what role to assume for the day in order to move my business forward; will I be the CEO, Social Media manager, finance manager, marketing officer, sales rep, PR consultant, production & logistic coordinator or the receptionist answering the phones? Managing these different roles everyday has been very challenging, but I have learnt to control and manage them by prioritizing my time and resources, dealing with what is most important that I can handle myself, and outsourcing to professionals the roles that I have no expertise on.

For the first couple of months when I started out, I tried to do everything myself and quickly burnt out, loosing focus and direction but I have learnt from my mistakes and so do things differently now. Every day now, I work within a set strategy, it helps me maintain my focus and make adjustments as at when necessary. I can see results everyday and it’s fantastic.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

My biggest achievement has been having the courage, resilience and drive to start up my handbag business in a highly competitive and crowded market. The response we have received since inception to date has been very humbling. We’ve even had the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon recognize one of our bags, the Jane Tote as luxurious and very practical to the needs of any working woman, as she enjoys using her very own Jane Tote.

What inspired you to give back and support A Bag, A Home?

A Bag, A Home is a personal project that is very close to my heart. I spent my early years growing up in Nigeria, Africa where there is a lot of hardship. A lot of young children grow up without loving families and basic care of food, clothing and shelter (basic things that we take for granted). I was one of the fortunate few to have a loving family and home and good education but most of these children are not so fortunate. Even as a child, my mother taught me to always give out some of my clothes and food to children in my neighborhood, I knew then that one day I would do something to help as many children as I can to grow up in a loving home and live a life with meaning and purpose, just as I did.

As an adult, running my own business and making my own decisions, it became natural for me to give back by creating A Bag, A Home, a project that supports charities that take young children off the streets into a home with love and provides them with education and vocational training to allow them lead meaningful and happy lives. For every bag we sell, we donate a percentage of each sale monthly to support our chosen charities. The charities we support are OMF Zambia and SOS Children’s village in Nigeria.

What does the future hold for you?

You can never be too certain about the future, however, I am a great believer that if you plan well for the future, measuring your performance year on year, and adjusting it when the need arises, then you can embrace the future with some level of certainty. For my business, I have set strategies and objectives to achieve, with key performance indicators to measure and evaluate our performance over a five-year period. I think it is important to work within a periodic timeframe to give yourself room to grow, allow for errors, and move forward with certainty.

Over the next five years, my major goal is to grow BRENDA MACLEOD to become a favorite destination both online and offline for good quality, elegant and beautiful leather accessories for working and professional women all over the world. We want to expand and increase our presence not just in the UK but also in global markets in the USA and Asia.

 You can find out more about Brenda and her work here or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter

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