MAXINE GORDON finds out how a York entrepreneur turned his mother's hobby into a multi-million pound handbag business

FATE works in mysterious ways – and William Forshaw can testify to the power of serendipity.

His mum Jacqueline, from Darlington, imported leather handbags from Italy as a hobby to sell to friends. She was invited to run a 'handbag party' at JP Morgan in London. William, who was working in marketing and PR in London at the time, had the day off so went along to help her.

"It was fortuitous that I wasn't working that day, so I went along to help with carrying these huge bags," he said.

"Leather is such a lovely product; it's so tactile and natural – a very nice product. I took a shine to them."

He suggested his mum start importing briefcases and wallets for men, but she wasn't interested. Then the idea hit him: he could do it himself.

And so his luxury leather goods business Maxwell-Scott was born.

Initially William, who now lives in York and runs the business from Dunnington, imported leather goods for men from Italy, but within six months he was designing them himself using the finest Italian leather and manufacturers.

"It all came from the idea that I wanted to make a product for myself and my friends."

It turned out William had a knack for design and developing a high-end brand. Today, Maxwell-Scott has a global reach, with a turnover of £3.5 million, websites across Europe, the US and Australia, and sells around 20,000 items a year, including women's bags, wallets and purses. The team of 18 based at the Yorkshire HQ are multi-national and concentrate on sales and marketing across all markets. Stock is held in York but also at warehouses throughout Europe – something that will come in handy should Britain end up in a hard Brexit, adds William.

A few years ago, Maxwell-Scott began selling women's bags.

"We realised that 50 per cent of our website sales were from women who were buying presents and liking the products for their husbands and partners. We knew they were coming on the website so we needed to incentivise them to purchase for themselves. We had to make sure we had both offerings," explained William.

The first female collection was designed by William, but the new one – out for autumn – has been created by Catriona Forsyth, a leading designer who has worked with prestigious brands such as Pringle of Scotland, McQueen by Alexander McQueen and Calvin Klein.

Her designs incorporate styles including sleek briefcase-like bags for everyday (perfect for carrying laptops) to items suitable for evening and weekend use. The range features everything from the tote to the cross-body and the compact "chain bag" named after its chain handle. Most designs come in small and large sizes.

Different leathers have been used this year for the first time – nubuck, suede and mock-croc. The colour palette has been extended also to include taupe, French navy, croc-black and wine red.

The result has more of a nod to fashion, said William, while retaining the ethos of the brand which is all about quality, timelessness and longevity (bags come with a 25 year warranty). Prices reflect the quality of the product; the new collection ranges from £290 to £710.

William said: "We are not aiming at someone who wants to buy a bag every six months or who is looking for the latest fashion bag." He likens buying a Maxwell-Scott to investing in a Hermes or Chanel piece. "We want to create bags that people feel confident using in three or four years' time – like an old faithful. I am not into throw-away fashion and don't get that market at all."

The new collection will be available from August but has already been winning rave reviews. The company previewed the collection for a group of bloggers during Berlin Fashion Week (Germany is its second biggest market outside of the UK). Closer to home, it held a launch at The Grand Hotel, York.

The business has moved into sponsorship too and this season connected with Saracens rugby club, current European champions. "We are their official supplier. They stock our products in their shop and at events and the team have our holdalls and washbags," said William. The company is trying to replicate that in the US by linking up with players in the NFL.

Looking ahead, William would like to see the business continue to grow and double or triple turnover in the next five years.

He said: "That would make us quite a big company for bags in the UK. If we had a £8-10 million turnover we would be among the top 20 bag manufacturers in the UK."

And all thanks to that fortuitous day out with Mum.