Marie Claire's Inspire & Mentor campaign gave me my big break

by Lucy Halfhead

BoBelle - News - Marie Claire

An exciting young entrepreneur launched her range of ethical handbags in M&S last year after having taken part in Marie Claire's Inspire & Mentor campaign, in association with The Prince’s Trust.

Claire Watt-Smith, 27, was chosen from hundreds of candidates who applied to be mentored by Kate Bostock, executive director of general merchandise at Marks & Spencer.

As founder and managing director of BoBelle Ltd, an accessories company that manufactures fair-trade products using recycled and organic materials, Claire made her mark by mixing ethical business with fashion in a stylish and unique way.

The handbags were, unusually, made out of eel skin, which is a by-product of the Asian food industry. Many Asian countries eat eels, but discard the skins, which are softer, yet stronger, than traditional leather.

Claire worked for an accessory firm before deciding to go it alone. After creating a successful company under her own steam she was wondering how to take it to the next level and applied to take part in our mentoring programme.

‘Before I met Kate I was struggling to establish an ethical warehouse, and panicking about financing and keeping things fresh for Christmas because it’s such a crucial time of year,’ she says. ‘At times I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall.’

Claire met up with Kate at M&S HQ for hour-long mentoring sessions, during which Kate advises on styles and graphics and suggests ways to help the brand grow.

‘Kate has helped me so, so much and opened up a whole new world for me,' said Claire. 'She hasn't just supported me with the BoBelle for M&S Autograph launch, but also helped with finding and auditing the factory, securing a certificate authenticating the ethical side of things, putting me in contact with press, and helping with online sales.

'She's been like my fairy godmother and I could not have asked for a better mentor. She is incredibly warm natured, friendly yet a tough businesswoman – a true inspiration.’

BoBelle London for M&S Autograph is in store now. See www.bobelle.co.uk for more information.

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