A bold young entrepreneur has made every woman’s must-have accessory his latest business focus.

It’s all in the bag

14:43:PM 23/06/2011
Jane Rocca

A bold young entrepreneur has made every womans must-have accessory his latest business focus.
A bold young entrepreneur has made every woman’s must-have accessory his latest business focus.
A few years ago, Australian author Kathryn Eisman wrote a book called How to Tell a Woman by Her Handbag. Her mission: to establish a woman’s personality according to the bag she chose to carry, be it day or night.

It was an interesting approach and entertaining, to say the least. Eisman focused on 70 styles and ran through what they meant with a charming wit – from the Hermes Kelly to the designer fake.

Who would have thought that a bag could reveal so much about oneself? Well, now with the arrival of Who is Hue, a boutique handbag shop in Melbourne Central, the question of who you are is thrown back in the mix.

Who is Hue wants women to start thinking about the value of owning a good bag; one that won’t break your bank balance but gives you plenty of kudos and keeps you in touch with fashion. And if, as Eisman says, a handbag reflects a woman’s intentions, then approaching a job interview, going on a date or what you carry to work says a lot more about you than you might care to think.

Oliver Tilsley, the owner of Who is Hue, is no amateur when it comes to business. He might be only 26, but when he put his thinking cap on to tap into the women’s handbag market, he clearly had a youth audience in mind.

He was thinking of women who might be starting their first job, about to finish university or any 20-something-year-old who wanted to make a womanly statement but couldn’t afford a luxury item.

Who is Hue opened just last month and sells bags (all leather – no plastic or PVC) that range from $100 to $300. The emphasis is on the uber chic – think soft-leather duffle bags in soft caramel, shoulder bags in canary-yellow leather and mini clutches with rock embellishments (the rock’n’roll kind) and more delicate formal or racing-carnival accessory handbags, too.

There’s no replicating the big labels here; it’s all about an independent twist on classics, modern detailing and something edgy and new.

Tilsley made his fortune when he and then business partner Andrea Vidal started T-Bar, a T-shirt retail chain that took off in Melbourne and Sydney and was positioned in prime spots in shopping centres.

They sold that concept to Cotton On in 2009 and Tilsley stayed with the company for six months during the handover process. According to the entrepreneur, the shop was Melbourne Central’s best sales performer per square metre in the youth category since the day it opened.

The aspiring RMIT business graduate wasn’t satisfied with leaving retail just yet. After all, he’d just started. Hence the arrival of Who is Hue.

“I wanted to do something new again, but I also needed some time to do that,” explains Tilsley.

“I was looking at an area of retail that hasn’t had a major shift in it, and it was a matter of asking where is the customer being left out. I felt there was a real price gap with handbags. There were plenty of entry-level bags, top-end bags but nothing of quality in between.”

Tilsley is a big believer that a woman’s wardrobe is often chock-full of wrong purchases – lots of items in there, but nothing that really stands the test of time in terms of durability. He knows women will buy a bag in his shop and won’t be let down by quality.

“We’re about investing in a good piece and coming back again,” he says knowingly.

“We wanted a strong product in the shop and it was complemented by a fun space. We didn’t want a traditional environment for handbags, we wanted the pieces to float and appear more like an art space.”

The leather bags come from the same tanneries as the big brands, so as a consumer you’re in good hands.

“We are not about replicating what international designers do. We want to create new items, new styles and give leather new treatments you won’t see everywhere,” says Tilsley. “We don’t want to run parallel with anybody already running in Australia, we want to create our own identity.”

» www.whoishue.com

» Who is Hue Ground Floor, Melbourne Central, 211 La Trobe Street, Melbourne. 9650 0559 (also at Chadstone Shopping Centre)

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