I started making handbags in Mum's kitchen at 24 – by 26 I was at Fashion Week

I never thought that people like me set up fashion houses. 

People with famous names and faces, or those born into money were clothes designers – not small town girls from South Wales in their mid-twenties. 

But I’ve wanted to be a fashion designer since I was 12. I remember being on holiday in Rome, and seeing billboards of Alexander McQueen’s Plato’s Atlantis line.

The campaign was a hybrid of the human and the sea creature, and reminded me of Disney’s The Little Mermaid – my favourite film growing up.

It’s difficult to explain, but I knew then – deep down in my heart – that my life was about to change forever.

From the age of 13, my mum started buying me copies of Vogue magazine. I skipped school to head down to my local beach, where I poured over its glossy pages. The beach was my favourite place, and I spent hours mesmerised, tracing silhouettes of high-end couture with my fingers.

Inspired, I started drawing and sketching designs – dresses, bags, patterns. Anything that would come to mind.

My mum worked hard for me to spend summers at Central Saint Martins’ summer school in London to study fashion styling, and was supportive of my dream. 

Except, I have dyspraxia and, at 16, I was told I shouldn’t even apply for art school because of it. As a result, I never expected it to progress past more than just a fun hobby that I loved, that gave me release. 

Still, I went to Brighton to study print design, and then moved to Los Angeles, aged 23, to stay with my family. I spent most of my time in Venice Beach – sketching designs on my iPad, hoping that I could eventually create a career out of something I truly loved. 

Every night I went to bed imagining my drawings on the billboards I’d seen in Rome, and on the catwalks of fashion weeks across the world. 

I dreamed of making my lifetime of sketching more than just a hobby. 

In January 2020, I moved back to South Wales, and broke the news to my mum that I wanted to be a fashion designer. 

My mum was my biggest cheerleader and supporter of my life goals – sadly, I think many other parents would’ve freaked out, told me to stop drawing and ‘get a real job’. 

But the next night, she burst into my bedroom, waking me up with her excitement. I thought someone had died, but she’d discovered something called fish leather – told me it would be a perfect alternative for a handbag range. 

Fish leather is a byproduct of the fishing industry that often gets sent straight to landfill. Instead, I give it a new life. Now, I use discarded Scottish salmon skin, which comes with a natural, fish-scale pattern already, and I use a range of vegetable dyes to transform it into a series of different colours.

When the pandemic hit, I set up my own workshop at Mum’s kitchen table, and drew my first ever handbag patterns – aged 24.

Then, after my mum loaned me the money, I managed to secure a factory in Somerset that was willing to transform my patterns and ideas into a real-life handbag – and so my brand, Moray Luke, was born.

I even learnt how to be a photographer, photographing my first campaign in my back garden – which, honestly, was a nightmare!

I used a vintage Super 8 camera, despite only having experience taking selfies. I ended up using cherries to resemble caviar and get the conversation going about fish leather – rather than going for ‘pretty’. 

A twenty-something girl from a tiny town had made it to London Fashion Week. Safe to say, I couldn’t stop crying

The house was a mess, with pots of cherries and a fly infestation! 

I took advantage of major fashion brand founders being at home during lockdown, too, so, in June 2020, I messaged every CEO and designer I could think of on LinkedIn. I sent them a picture of my designs and a spiel about me – desperate to get noticed.

Within an hour, my jaw dropped when I saw that I had a personal phone number for the head of The UK Fashion & Textile Association, Paul Alger MBE, in my inbox. He then coached me on how to get to London Fashion Week, recommending my now-agent, Angela – who’d mentored Alexander McQueen, and now is like family to me. 

Before I knew it, Angela was booking me trains to London as she’d managed to secure my first ever catwalk show.

Models would be carrying my very own designs.

On the morning of Fashion Week in September 2021, I ran to the beach to take it all in – the place where it all began. This was it. The moment I’d been waiting for my whole life – it was finally here. 

A twenty-something girl from a tiny town had made it to London Fashion Week. Safe to say, I couldn’t stop crying.

Within five hours, I was in London in the same room as Anna Wintour – being photographed showing off my bags to the world.

Models were holding my bags on the runway, and then were on display in a showroom throughout Fashion Week.

It was the biggest – and best – moment of my life. And, truthfully, I haven’t really slept since!

I can’t deny that it’s been hard, though. Sometimes, because of my age, I’ve been brushed aside by designers, retailers and major fashion players – it hurts, but I try to remember that they’re all only human. That I’ve worked just as hard as they have.

At first, sales were slow, and it was frustrating, too. But, aged 26, I appeared on Dragon’s Den – and, while I didn’t get an investment, I received £9,000 of orders in 24 hours after the show aired. 

I’ve also had my line of £595 bags featured in a range of colours at three more fashion weeks across the world, am pitching to department stores, and I’m in the middle of booking Copenhagen Fashion Week for this August.

Finally, I’m starting to make a living from my hobby, my dream – and I’m even hoping to set up an office, and hire staff to help me out as things are pretty busy. In fact, demand has become so high that, in August, I am moving to Portugal to set up a European office.

Customers have told me that they own iconic, priceless Chanel handbags, and that my designs sit alongside them in their wardrobes. Honestly, I have to pinch myself sometimes – it’s such an overwhelming, surreal feeling.

My advice to any little girl who has a dream, is: Put in the ground work. Be fiery, fierce and never give up. 

Your age means nothing, though it might wrongly matter to someone else. Keep pushing, and remember that every single person is human and started out exactly like you did.

On a kitchen table in their mum’s house, sketching from the heart.

For more information, visit https://morayluke.com/

Age is Just a Number

Welcome to Age is Just a Number, a Metro.co.uk series aiming to show that, when it comes to living your life, achieving your dreams, and being who you want to be, the date on your birth certificate means nothing.

Each week, prepare to meet amazing people doing stereotype-defying things, at all stages of life.

If you have a story to share, email [email protected]

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