Hills & Ellis Bike bag founder reveals how two famous faces inspired her business idea

Catherine Ellis, 42, founded the Hill & Ellis range of chic bicycle bags in 2013. She lives in London with her partner Andrew.

It was Ant and Dec who inspired my business. No, really. It was.

I first started cycling while at the University of York. I got a second-hand bike from my mum’s friend.

When I moved to London to work in TV production, I got a new bike and found cycling home was a great way to de-stress after a hard day.

Catherine Ellis, 42, (pictured) who founded the Hill & Ellis range of chic bicycle bags in 2013, said that the inspiration to quiet her job in TV production and pursue her business venture came after sharing a lift with Ant and Dec

Catherine Ellis, 42, (pictured) who founded the Hill & Ellis range of chic bicycle bags in 2013, said that the inspiration to quiet her job in TV production and pursue her business venture came after sharing a lift with Ant and Dec

The trouble was, I could never find a fashionable bag to put on my bike. I didn’t want to wear a rucksack, because I am prone to back problems.

But all the panniers — bags which fit on the side of the bike — were so boring. I settled for a horrible black PVC one.

One morning, in 2012, I was on my way into work at ITV when Ant and Dec got into the lift with me. I was standing there with my ugly black sack, and was so embarrassed that I hid it behind my back.

That was my lightbulb moment. I realised there was a gap in the market for stylish bike bags. I spent the next few months developing designs, and got the first samples made in early 2013.

When I tested them out, I knew I was on to something, as cyclists started shouting out to ask where I’d got my bag from. A man even chased me down a street, to tell me his wife wanted one!

I launched Hill & Ellis in July 2013 with a black handbag, a briefcase and a red holdall. They had hooks so you could attach them to the bike, and detachable straps so you can carry them.

I funded the first collection with £3,000 of my own savings, which covered the stock and a basic website. I kept my freelancing job until last year.

Catherine launched Hill & Ellis in 2013 using £3,000 of her own savings

She now makes an annual turnover of more than £70,000

Catherine launched Hill & Ellis in 2013 using £3,000 of her own savings and she now makes an annual turnover of more than £70,000

We now stock satchels, panniers, vegan canvas bags, Brompton compatible bag frames, non-cycle bags and personalised baskets. Bag prices start at £88 and go up to £220. 

We sell online and through independent bike stores in the UK, Europe and America. Our turnover is more than £70,000 a year.

We also plant a tree for every bag sold, in partnership with the charity Ecologi. The bags are packed in covers made from biodegradable plant cellulose, and our aim is to be plastic-free by 2021.

During the first lockdown we did a 50 per cent NHS discount for a few months, and now we’re doing better than pre-Covid levels. 

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