My Early Hour: Julia Gash, founder of BIDBI tote bags

“I launched BIDBI [Bag it Don’t Bin it] in 2008 as an ethical and ecological solution to the environmental disaster that is plastic bags,” says designer of tote bags, environmentalist and entrepreneur Julia Gash. We talk mornings, cats and saving the planet…

 Julia Gash lives in Exmouth with her partner, John, my partner and their two cats: Bobby and Jimmy.

What’s your home like?
It’s a 1920s split-level bungalow, which looks out onto a huge landscaped garden and our own kitchen garden and mini orchard. We just moved from Yorkshire to Devon earlier this year and most of my free time is spent digging, weeding and knee deep in earth.

What time are you up in the morning and what wakes you up?
6.30am – woken by a hungry Jimmy without fail!

How do you feel?
Like Jimmy – when I get up it’s a new day and that’s an opportunity for anything to happen and I embrace it with as much positivity as I can summon, sadly this is usually less than Jimmy’s ever-bright personality. We are both morning people/cats, unlike John and Bobby who move very little in the morning but come to life later in the day.

What do you do first thing?
Put the kettle on and feed my cats.

In three words, describe mornings in your home?
My first hour is my hour. Having the best meal of the day: breakfast, catching up on emails that have come in overnight from Asia or the States and settling down to work by 8am. Then it just flies.

Tea or coffee?
Coffee – I need the caffeine!

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How might the rest of your day pan out?
A design or two (I create a range of map like illustrations called Cityscapes) but they are usually squeezed by admin duties that come from running four companies. It’s sometimes too much but I have a great team at BIDBI and Talented so we get through it together to fight another day.

What’s your office/workspace like?
Tiny as I am currently working out of the back bedroom so I have to keep it tidy but I get a beautiful view over the garden and out to the sea cliffs.

Tell us about your business…
I launched BIDBI in 2008 as an ethical and ecological solution to the environmental disaster that is plastic bags. BIDBI has since grown to become a major supplier of printed cotton and jute reusable bags in the UK and beyond and specialises in creative and complex solutions in this sector. Talented is an offshoot business: our own range of sustainable and stylish tote bags, which I design.

You’re clearly keen on green issues, where does this interest stem from?
I had a shop for six years and was aghast at the amount of wasteful packaging and the lack of interest in people taking responsibility for the environment. I decided that a solution had to be made easy, affordable and attractive: BIDBI was born out of this concern.

What’s the greatest challenge when running your own business?
Not enough time – and coping with a fast growth business with limited resources. Setting up at the beginning of a recession was like running a business with one hand tied behind my back.

What makes it all worthwhile?
The creativity of running a business and working with some great people. Also, seeing my artwork on bags all over the world.

Are there aspects of the production that you enjoy more than others; for instance, the creative side but not the accounts?
The creative process, marketing and selling is what interests me most. Operations gives me a headache.

Tell is about your team…
Around 30 people work for me in total across three companies. They are all hard working and so committed. I recruit through lots of different methods but look for the best fit and someone we can grow with the business.

Are you a happy lone worker, or do you enjoy the buzz of a shared workspace?
I am a happy lone worker when I design as I need to focus, focus, focus.

What’s the secret to career success?
Hard work and knowing when to take a calculated risk. Being on top of the numbers daily is key.

Is the juggle real for you… do you find it difficult balancing relationship/me-time/time for friends/career?
Yes, it never is easy.

Describe an ideal weekend?
A lovely brunch sat outside on our balcony, rooting around in my garden for a couple of hours, a walk along the beach, making something homemade for tea.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
By the sea.

Any other comments?
Business and life isn’t what you think it’s going to be but it is what you make it.

Check out BIDBI (Bag it Don’t Bin it) tote bags

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