13 Questions with Charlie West, Founder of Azurina

We caught up with Charlie, founder of accessories brand Azurina, to find out how she got started, what's on trend this summer, and why paying it forward is so important.

First off, how are you and how is your 2021 going? 

Well it’s not been the greatest of years that’s for sure, but would I change it for the world? Absolutely not. I’ve faced challenge after challenge this year, I’ve fallen and failed a lot but as with anything in life it matters not that you fell but how quickly you get up off the mat. There have been days this year where that has been much tougher than others but I’ve found in sharing those experiences with the team and with those around me I’ve felt all the better for it. If this year has taught me anything it’s that you can never be too kind or too vulnerable. There will always be someone there to help break the fall, even if it’s a stranger in the park. 

Can you tell us about Azurina as a brand and what you stand for?

The Azurinaverse is a place where the world has been flipped upside down and women are the ones in charge. We’re creating a workplace that is not only commercially productive and successful but works for us as women trying to balance work, our other interests, passions & hobbies, friends and family with our own wellbeing. Anything is up for grabs as we review all that we’ve ever known and set about creating a workplace that works for us. 

Our only aim is to keep bringing you beautiful things that help make the day to day a little more boujie!Charlie West

And as a brand, our only aim is to keep bringing you beautiful things that you’ll love for a long time. Things that help make the day to day a little more boujie. We started with personalised accessories at a time when that wasn’t available to every woman on every budget and it will always be a part of who we are but I have my sights set on a lot more and 2020 really gave me the space to get clear on what that is. Now we’re just in the process of getting it to our lovely customers. First up is our Made in Italy range crafted in Nappa leather in Tuscany, all dupes of iconic bags that are so expensive we can only dream of them, then Home, Wellbeing, Clothing & Footwear. It’s been a busy year. 

How did the brand start and why? 

I cut my teeth in online retail at Boohoo. I started there as an E-commerce Assistant back from my Gap Year having read Law at Sheffield University and longing to work in Buying. In truth, I don’t think I even knew what an ecomm assistant did, I just knew I had to be in there and I’d make it work and I’d hustle my way to my dream job as a buyer. I was in the buying team within 6 months, I left 8 years later as the Head of Buying, helping to oversee a team of 84 people and millions a week in sales and with some serious experience under my belt. 

So just because of the person I am I guess it was inevitable that I would always want to go on and do this for myself, to take what I had learnt in the best training ground imaginable in terms of business success stories in the UK over the last 10 years and instead this time I get to shape not just the product but the whole company culture. I spotted a gap in the market of low-cost personalised accessories and I went after it as a side hustle because I just couldn’t risk leaving a great job for something that wasn’t guaranteed. So after a long bout of sickness and vowing to slow down from my crazy lifestyle, I launched a secret business with a team and an office…. whilst I was across town working in another. We consistently grew and so a year later I handed in my notice. 

When I look back I think I must have been absolutely mental! 😂 

Can you tell us about your spring/summer drop? 

Spring Summer for us is about showing you the start of what we’ve been brewing in our witches cauldron in 2020. We‘ll be soft-launching our sister brand Alunar Crystals, a brand born out of my sister (by choice and not by birth) Sophia’s love for pretty rocks and their incredible energy. Within that, we’ll also be launching homeware for both the home and for you. 

A lot of Azurina products can be personalised, why do you think personalisation means so much to people?

In a world where most high streets in Britain have become carbon copies of each other I think personalised products give our lovely customers the chance to feel like their item really belongs to them. It was until very recently an experience that was preserved just for those that could afford it and I’m proud that brands like Azurina have helped democratise that so every woman can get a bag made especially for her. As we think everyone not only has the desire but also deserves to feel unique. 

We think Azurina products make perfect gifts, can you pull out some of the best things to give to family or friends?

Well thank you, it’s always an honour when people spend their hard-earned money with us to gift their loved ones. The highest praise in my book. 

It’s always an honour when people spend their hard-earned money with us to gift their loved ones.Charlie West

So for me our original cardholder is something that will always get used, they’re a great unisex gift and come in a tonne of colours and finishes so that you can really tailor it to who you’re gifting to. Plus at £18 its the perfect price for a birthday treat for a friend and with next day delivery it’s ideal for a thoughtful last-minute gift that doesn’t feel last minute. 

If I was gifting a sister and wanted to spend a little more, Our Munich Pouches are great. They come in three sizes, largemedium and pencil case. They’re ideal to put all your bag crap in one place and I often just grab that when I’m jumping in the car to pop to the shops or for a tea. You can buy the set or one size and kickstart someone’s Azurina collection.

We loved your Azurina Angel Investor initiative, how did it come about and why?

Micro-financing small business is something I’ve been interested and involved in for a long time but until now I’ve done it through a great charity called Lend With Care who connect you with small business owners across the globe. I love that I can see the immediate impact of the loans, in the businesses grown, the jobs created and the kids supported.

Then the penny dropped for me this year, that when you have your own business you can actually just do what you want (within reason of course 😂) and so we came up with the idea for me to invest in someone’s side hustle. The money is a gift, as is our time and support. It’s really just my way of paying it forward plus I get the chance to be involved in amazing businesses run by amazing women. For me, it’s a no brainier. I’m still wading through all our entries as I want to give them the time and energy they deserve so apologies to all the entrants for the delay! 

What is the process like for creating a brand-new product?

In truth, nothing I design is ever brand new. I’ve pulled inspo from a tear, from a vintage piece I’ve found in a bargain bin in Seoul, an iconic outfit from a movie or an everyday essential that just needs the perfect tweaks. I take inspiration from everywhere and pull them together to create beautiful things with functionality layered on top. Of course, I want a beautiful printed pleated pantsuit that is reminiscent of my Issey Miyake Pleats Please Japanese dreams but I want shapes that flatter my figure and subtly enhance my femininity rather than disguise it. I’m just hoping you all think like me, which given I’m a bit woo woo might be a bit of a stretch but fingers crossed. 

What are you currently working on?

So as I think you can probably tell it’s been a busy year of crafting our new product ranges and whilst those collections are taking shape we’re working on creating our Slab. The core values of the brand and what we stand for that won’t ever change. We’re also in the process of deciding what back to work looks like for us as a team and really nailing down the company culture and policies so that as we grow we don’t lose the essence of who we are. 

How do you see the brand changing now we can head out the house and socialise more?

We’re hoping so many of our lovely customers will be dusting off their Azurina faves from a year of enforced storage. We can’t wait to see all our bags back out in the wild again, enjoying themselves, as they should be! And our clothing launches are designed to gently take your hand and guide you out of your old loungewear into your PC (post-Covid) self. 

What does a Friday afternoon look like in the Azurina office? 

Well currently the team are still WFH the majority of the week and Friday is our day ‘off comms’ to get everything wrapped up for the week. We’re actually looking to implement an optional four-day working week so that the A-Team members who are side hustling, mostly as creatives, have the flexibility to fit it all in. So Thursday night is pub night for us and we hope the office always has a Friday afternoon vibe. Of course, building a business from the ground up can be stressful but we’re also all doing what we love so for me it should be fun every day. 

What are some of your highly anticipated trends for AW21? 

O gosh, the girls will tell you I’m so excited for all the trends bubbling through at the moment as there just seems to be so many. Nostalgia really seems to be the key theme inspired heavily by pop culture. More than anything I’m just seeing an explosion of colour. And head to toe colour at that. Whether it’s new neutrals or brights there is just so much emphasis on colour and I’m beyond excited.

There are times when head to toe black is the chicest look of all but day-to-day I love to play with colour.Charlie West

I really try to avoid wearing black these days, after hiding in it for years, wearing colour just totally lifts my mood and I love seeing other women in bold choices. Of course, there are times when head to toe black is the chicest look of all but day-to-day I love to play with colour and just having fun with what I wear whilst feeling comfortable and myself. 

What is one positive piece of advice you could give to our audience?

Look after yourself first. As women, we seem to feel that putting our needs before others is selfish, that we must bend and mould ourselves around people without any personal boundaries. I mean I had no idea what a boundary even was until I was recommended a book by a friend on the subject last year, my mind was blown. I was allowed to say no to stuff without feeling guilty. I was allowed to prioritise myself and my happiness in all aspects of my life. And I’ve found that as we put ourselves and our own wellbeing first we can start showing up better for those around us and then the magic really happens.