My Early Hour: Jem and Bea, designer changing bags

“Our own changing bag frustrations spurred us to make a range of bags that we hoped other mums would actually want to carry.” They are now stocked in John Lewis and Selfridges. Meet Dominique and Rebecca – the founders of Jem and Bea…

Dominique Hughes, 36, lives in a village in East Sussex near Tunbridge Wells with her three children Lola, six, Alfred, five, and Jemima, three. Rebecca Da Silva Lima, 36, lives in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, with her partner, daughter Beatrice, three. She’s expecting her second child. They met at secondary school and have been friends for the past 20 years.

What’s your home like?
D: I live in a converted barn in the countryside; it’s very much a family home overrun with toys. The sitting room and my bedroom are the only ‘child free’ zones.
R: I live in a Victorian semi that is pretty chaotic at the moment as we are decorating!

What time are you up in the morning?
R: Between 5.00 – 6.00am, depending on Beatrice.
D: Usually around 6.30am.

What wakes you up?
R: That’s easy – my daughter Beatrice jumping into bed full of beans.
D: The sun. I sleep with my windows and curtains open so I can wake up naturally. I hate alarms.

How do you feel?
R: Usually exhausted but once I’ve had a coffee I’m usually raring to go.
D: Tired or excited depending on the meetings/day ahead of us.

What do you do first thing?
D: Make a large mug of lemon tea and check my emails.
R: Make tea and check my phone/Instagram/emails.

In three words, describe mornings in your home?
D: Noisy, challenging and rushed
R: Active, busy, mission


What’s for breakfast?
R: Egg on toast at home and a then a flat white take out.
D: Smoothie and fruit for me, cereal and toast for the kids.

How might the rest of your day pan out?
R: After nursery drop off I come back home, open my laptop and crack on, working through ‘the mega list’. I’m big on lists, lists for everything – my lists have sub-lists! Normally I finish the day running around like crazy trying to squeeze in some household bits and pieces before picking up Bea from nursery. Finally, I collapse in a heap with food and maybe a small glass of wine, my pregnancy ration!

D: After school/nursery drop off it’s straight to my desk to work, I have to fit in a day’s work between 9am – 3pm. The kids do a different sport club everyday after school so it is always a bit hectic after 3pm until the kids go to bed, then I settle down to finish off any work or relax with some nice food and a glass of wine.

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What’s your workspace like?
R: Right now I am in our dining room, surrounded by samples, boxes and paperwork. I’m in the process of building a work/studio office in the garden so hopefully soon I’ll have the work zen I’ve been longing for!
D: I have converted a space in my house into an office area, although it’s always piled high with samples and paperwork so I usually end up on the kitchen table with my laptop.

Where are the kids when you’re working?
D: School or nursery. I have my youngest at home with me on Mondays and Fridays.
R: Nursery. But Granny also steps in now and then to help if I’m really busy.

Tell us about your business: when did you launch, and how/why did it come about?
D&R: We launched officially a year ago, in September 2015. Our own changing bag frustrations spurred us to make a range of bags that we hoped other mums would actually want to carry. Having both had children and knowing what we wanted from a changing bag, the ideas quickly flowed.

Rebecca had previously designed luxury handbags and accessories for Anya Hindmarch, Mulberry and Burberry so knows a thing or two about bags. And Dominique is a handbag lover with an eye for detail.

So after deciding to work together, we went to the Baby Show – not to exhibit just to get a feel for a tradeshow – and there we got chatting to a small exhibitor who suggested we try Harrogate; a trade-only tradeshow. Rumours that big department stores like John Lewis attended the show meant we knew we had to pull out all the stops to get there and showcase the range, even though it was happening the following month! The pressure was on. And aside from the bags, we still needed to finalise our branding, logo – everything.

But it went really well, better then we could ever have hoped. And it was there on our teeny tiny stand, which we’d furnished on a total shoestring budget that we met many of our lovely suppliers that stock us today – including John Lewis.

There is no right answer as to what makes it work. You just have to try to balance everything. Sometimes things fall so I’m learning how to not feel guilty about that

When it comes to the designing of the bags, we brainstorm together and develop the bags from start to finish. Every bag is thoughtfully designed to be both stunning and covetable yet super functional.

What’s the greatest challenge when running your own business?
D: Time, definitely time. And learning to switch off.
R: Yep squeezing everything into the day and juggling childcare is very challenging.

What makes it all worthwhile?
R: We still pinch ourselves when we see the bags on the shelves of Selfridges and John Lewis, it makes all the sleepless nights and long days worthwhile. We feel fortunate to be able to work for ourselves on something we feel passionate about. And that we can be fairly flexible around our children is also great as often it’s just too difficult for women to achieve this in traditional corporate work environments.

D: Happy emails from customers, seeing our bags in the press and knowing we are setting a good work ethic example to our children.

Are there aspects of the production that you delegate to others?
R&D: We have an accountant and bookkeeper. This is essential for us as we are still learning all about the financial management of the business. We also have an amazing PR team who help us with that side of things.

Are you a happy lone worker, or do you enjoy the buzz of a shared workspace?
D: I definitely get more done when I have my list in front of me, and peace and quiet. We seem to have our most creative moments when we are together, which is great as this is the most fun bit.

R: I like a bit of quiet time to plough through things that need my concentration, normally the admin side of things. But when it comes to planning the range and coming up with new ideas we’re definitely better together. And of course we enjoy this bit the most.

What’s the secret to career success?
R: Working on something you’re passionate about and lots of elbow grease.
D: Doing something that makes me happy and excited everyday.

Is the juggle real for you… do you find it difficult balancing motherhood/relationship/me-time/time for friends/career?
D: It’s very real. And there is no right answer as to what makes it work. You just have to try to balance everything. Sometimes things fall so I’m learning how to not feel guilty about that.

R: Of course, but I think that’s the same with most people with children… Things will always get pushed out to make way for other things – normally the ‘me-time’ gets pushed right to the back! But at least when you finally do carve out this time, you really enjoy it.

Describe an ideal weekend…
R: Family breakfast at home all together at the table, then out into the countryside if the weather is good, just the simple stuff and nice to get away from a week of screen-time and work.

D: Pretty much the same. Lazy, no clubs, long breakfasts and lunches and the children being nice to each other (haha).

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
D: Maybe in a villa, opening my French doors to an infinity pool over-looking the Amalfi coast… but I’m pretty happy with what I have so I’m not complaining if that doesn’t happen.

R: Right now it could be anywhere on earth, just as long as I’d had eight hours uninterrupted sleep!