[5 MINUTE READ]
Happy Friday everyone! We hope you had a wonderful International Women’s day this past Tuesday. We celebrated by attending an event held by one of our past interviewees; networking with women, talking skincare, and personal growth. It couldn’t have been more perfect!
However, championing women is not just about doing something one day each year, it is about doing the work all year round. That is why we do our Friday Founder interview series, which aims to uplift, showcase, and inspire women in business, and this week is no exception.
Earlier this week, we chatted to Aqila Agha, Founder, and CEO of Papillonkia. The concept behind Papillonkia is truly unique: to sell pre-loved designer handbags and accessories at affordable prices.
In today’s interview, Aquila talks about her previous career path, how she got the idea for Papillonkia, and shares her sources of inspiration.
So, grab your favourite morning beverage and get yourself comfortable. Here is our conversation with Aqila Agha…
"I’m one of 7 girls and as number 6, I received all of the hand-me-downs!"
Good morning Aqila! Let’s start with your background. How do you feel it has influenced who you are today?
My background was in Banking and Finance, and it was whilst I was on a career break after having my second child that I decided to venture alone and set up my business. Papillonkia is a brand selling authentic preloved designer handbags.
I started a trial in my study. I sold items on Ebay as they had the best marketplace at the time and they have a global reach. During the first 3 months, we became a top seller with a 100% feedback score. The business outgrew my study and so the next stage was to build our own e-commerce website and rent some office space. That was when I realised that Papillonkia was a viable business. It has always been our mission not to have retail shops as we want to keep costs down so that the end-user, our clients, will benefit.
That makes a lot of sense! Did you always have aspirations to enter the fashion and accessories industry?
I have been purchasing luxury handbags for my personal use for over 35 years. It was whilst I was on maternity leave from my role in an Investment Bank that I decided I should open my own business. I knew it had to be an e-business as I truly believed that was the future.
After having children, my priorities had changed and I couldn't just nip out on my lunch break to buy whatever I wanted from the Gucci Store in the City. I started to look into the pre-loved luxury designer handbag market and felt that there was an opportunity to develop a business in this area, as buying new was becoming less accessible in terms of price and affordability for many people. Additionally, I felt that there needed to be a process in place where sellers could sell their used items to buy new - aka The Circular Economy where one product has many users in its lifecycle. All of this thinking resulted in the launch of Papillonkia in 2014.
I definitely think you tapped into something consumers were looking for. How does sustainability factor into Papillonkia as a business?
My business is entirely based on sustainability and supporting the circular economy. I’m one of 7 girls and as number 6, I received all of the hand-me-downs! Being aware of our carbon footprint and the impact our decisions have on the planet is an important issue that was certainly talked about in our household. I take pride in educating and changing people's mindsets about the Circular Economy.
That is so important. I, like you, have been the recipient of many hand-me-downs and I love it! Do you think people are more conscious of the materials in their accessories nowadays?
They are, to an extent. However, the bags that we sell have lasted a long time and are ready for the next person to use. Leather is very sturdy and lasts for many years. I am skeptical of some of these newer, sustainable materials like mushrooms. Time will tell if the accessories last!
Absolutely. And in terms of actually setting up Papillonkia, what were your biggest challenges?
Without a doubt, it has been the issue of authenticity. We now have in-house authenticators and we have also partnered with a company called Entrupy, which uses AI to authenticate our products. All of the items we sell are authenticated before they are listed on the website. That way, our clients can feel safe and protected that they are purchasing authentic items.
That sort of transparency is what really makes Papillonkia stand out. What other strategies do you think have been key to the success of your business?
Making designer handbags accessible and affordable to people who never thought they could own one. We provide a safe environment to buy preloved luxury items.
That is wonderful, and must be pretty rewarding! What is your favourite thing about your job?
The flexibility I have allows me to balance my home and family life with work, which is invaluable. Of course, I also love receiving lovely bags every day. I still get very excited about every bag that arrives.
Gosh, I would too! Could you describe what an average day looks like for you?
I drop my girls at 2 different schools in the morning and get back to the office by 9 am. As a CEO, I have many hats to wear and enjoy working with all the people in my team, although it is mostly remote now. Normally, I will skip lunch as I just don't have the time and then leave work at 3:30 pm to do the afternoon school run. Quite often I will come back to the office in the evening and work right through until midnight
Wow, that’s really impressive! Do you think you have a work/life balance?
Creating and maintaining a work/life balance for my family is extremely important to me. Although the hours tend to be longer than a normal 9-5 job, I don’t mind because it’s my business that I am 100% committed to.
"Being an advocate of using and selling preloved items is incredibly important to me, so expanding the business and spreading the word to consumers makes me very proud."
That’s understandable. And moving back to fashion for a moment, which is your favourite piece that you’ve ever bought?
This would have to be a Gucci bag which I purchased 35 years ago. I still have it to this day and won’t part with it. It is a reminder of how hard I worked to be able to buy my first luxury brand handbag.
It’s always the story behind the purchase that makes it special, isn’t it? What else do you think is important to let people know about your business Papillonkia?
My business is customer-friendly, transparent, and is at the forefront of the preloved luxury market. I want to make luxury affordable and accessible to all, regardless of background and wealth. I am also 100% supportive of the Circular Economy and Diversity.
We support those values here too! And what would you say has been your biggest “pinch-me” moment since starting Papillonkia?
It has to be watching the business grow from where I started into the success it is today. I still pinch myself sometimes! Being an advocate of using and selling preloved items is incredibly important to me, so expanding the business and spreading the word to consumers makes me very proud.
You absolutely should be! What inspires you?
The designs, quality, and luxurious leather used in our accessories. The fact that luxury handbags can last for a lifetime (although some don’t) is inspiring. The designs are often innovative - depending on the creative director - but usually, they are timeless. I believe that both handbags and jewellery are an investment. They hardly lose their value over time, especially brands such as Chanel, Hermes, Cartier, and VCA.
I completely agree. My mother has passed down handbags to my sister and I over the years and they are still pristine! What words do you live by?
Buy, use and sell preloved luxury.
Yes! Finally, what is next for Papillonkia?
I want to build the business to the next level so that one day in the future I can go public and list on the Stock Exchange. That is a dream I will always strive for until I succeed.