For the Love of Photography

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In the late 90’s I escaped my hometown to study digital imaging; think early digital cameras, X-Rays, MRI scans, astronomy, medical photos… all good stuff.

As it happens, the sights and sounds of London were a tad more alluring than the maths and physics of a technical BSc… and my life ended up taking a different path.

Fast forward to today, Google says 28 billion images and videos are uploaded to it’s cloud services each day, we have all embraced a new technology in just over 20 years.

I love that photography has the ability to record anything we do without the limits of film. Ignoring privacy and big brother, I love that I can check a map to see where and what I’ve eaten and with whom. I love seeing a record of what has been my life.

And this is how we come to reminisce and tell a story of Cora + Spink’s development from concept to reality… it’s easy to forget the steps you take on a long journey, but digital photography has helped keep a record of nearly every step… plus I found some really old photos I just had to share.

The first ever Cora + Spink Backpack
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The actual first Cora + Spink backpack. (2014)

The backpack that never got a name. This is not only the first backpack I developed for Cora + Spink, but marked the start of the business. This backpack together with other samples cost £500. They arrived soon after this photo was taken, and immediately had to be stored in the garden shed. The style was good, but the smell of the goat leather and reclaimed canvas was utterly unbearable. They were laundered, washed and bleached, but the stench never left…. after much consideration, I decided to move development out of India to Pakistan.

the Pakistan developments

The first real Cora + Spink bags. (2015)

After the somewhat troubling experience with unacceptable levels of smell, we jumped borders to start working with a small workshop is Pakistan. This is really when things started to take shape. We were suddenly able to produce waxed canvas in the colours we wanted, and there was little to no odour. 

the first deliveries

Flo managing the first production.

After samples had been approved we placed an order for the first ever production. This photo tells me we received about 3 large cartons of bags. At the time it felt an enormous undertaking. And all of my cash. The take over of the house started.

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Packing and sorting on a bed.

Picking and packing orders, that mostly came from Etsy, were all done on a small sideboard, or the bed (that I slept in)…

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Photography in a bathroom. (2017)

It was quite a revelation to learn the one brilliant white room, of the house also had a bath… we spent hours here as our studio. Until I met Ayesha. Ayesha in a nutshell has been a muse, confident and inspiration for many of the decisions we had to make in the early days. She is a supremely creative person at heart, and brought an element of style to the early development of C+S. The photo below is our second ever meeting, and first with Darren, who would later become indispensable when it came to PR (and a very good friend).

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Photography in a porn studio. (2017)

Always looking for a bargain, business was doing well enough for me to move on from shoots in the bathroom at my parents house. I managed to find a local studio who was willing to rent us some space and lighting to conduct our first ever professional shoot. On arrival we learned the space was commonly used for photography of a different kind. But did I say it was cheap? I carried on using the studio… Ayesha was so easily convinced.

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Models on a roof. (2017)

One of our first stockists, Reefs in Worcester had a secret rooftop that gave excellent lighting and a good view of the city of Worcester. At this stage we’d started to be able to bring in professional models, Anna being our first.

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The many many cars. (2017)

Handling the import of goods without paying for transport is possible, especially when you’re not too far from the airport. This rather inappropriate car took us all over the place, and acted as a van on many occasions. I miss this old rust bucket.

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The Kickstarter (2017)

Business was starting to take shape. We’d managed to convince a couple of new shops to stock the backpacks, and the website was doing well. But, we needed a boost, and so decided to trial a kickstarter campaign. The video featured me on various hay bales, in a corn field and of course an animated UFO. We attracted quite a bit of attention for the campaign, and gained new customers. It acted in a way to show us that marketing was really important, and was therefore quite a pivotal moment. It was Jo’s (pictured below left) first and last video, I think I broke her.

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The big discovery. (2018)

I started C+S with a goal to making really good backpacks. This was to extend to the people making the bags as well as the end users. In 2018 Ayesha went to Bangladesh and India to see family and friends. It was at the same time we were exploring the use and history of Khadi, or handwoven reclaimed cotton.  

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The Farm revolution (2019)

By 2019 business was really starting to move. I had successfully taken over 99% of a three bed house with boxes of stock. I say successfully, operating from every room of a house is physically difficult. Although the cats did love it. There was nothing more to do than to rent our first warehouse space. Which we found like most things, through my dad. Ever on the look out for something affordable (cheap) we rented a mezzanine floor of a barn. We could finally easily do stock checks and pack orders on a real packing table.  

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Cora and Spink Nec Jan 2020

Trade shows and a whole lot of shops (2019 – 2020)

During 2019 business was growing really well, the product was exceptionally well received and there was a choice of what to do next. My personal business experience was more aligned to directly supply shops. And so, in late 2019 we did our first trade show at Birmingham’s NEC. See pictures above. The first show went so well we returned four months later in January 2020. Just before the first lockdown of the pandemic. Timing is key folks.  

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A new studio. (2020)

Just as we finished writing the last orders at the NEC show we were also signing papers for a move to our brand new studio. We moved the stock from the farm, and for the first time had a purpose built studio space, with a decent sized stockroom all under one roof. We were still doing the post office runs, in a slightly less than perfect mini cooper. But it was so much more efficient.

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A warehouse with it all. (2021)

Picking and packing orders is one of my favourite jobs. It means what you’re doing is actually working. But it takes forever… by 2021 we had grown to have over seventy UK stockists, and each order was taking over an hour to fulfill. It was a difficult decision to make, mostly as it’s expensive, but in the middle of 2021 it was decided to take on a warehouse. 

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Europe and beyond (2021)

Our own factory set up. The next step was to establish routes back to Europe. In August 2021 we were finally able to get back to France, after over 18 months of being blocked from travel. Following Brexit and the pandemic it’s been difficult to look at expansion, but we had already started talking with lots of shops who wanted to stock C+S – we just couldn’t supply them! Finally in December 2021 we made the bold decision set up in The Netherlands, from where we can supply the whole of Europe.

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Next (2022)

2022 sees multiple new challenges, from getting our factory up and running efficiently, to the warehouse in the Netherlands working smoothly, we have a lot on our plates. Lord knows how we’ll be able to do it. Sorting through these photos has been exhausting. But I am sure we will. And whilst we do it, you can be sure I’ll be snapping away as we go.

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