4:43pm Thursday 7th June 2012
By Laura Jones
A designer of luxury handbags, who began creating her collection while living in shelters for the homeless in Oxford, is now talking to Selfridges about bringing her bags to the fashionable West End store.
Hayley Miller, 20, a former teenage model and Miss England contestant, founded her company last year — despite leaving home at 15 and living in hostels when her parents split up.
Living with alcoholics and drug addicts at the One Foot Forward hostel in Iffley Road, the teenager was determined not to follow the same downward spiral.
Instead she used the strong female rolemodels she came across to draw inspiration for her designs.
It paid off, and now Hayley Miller Designs, backed by an anonymous Oxfordshire investor, is set to launch her range of bags — each named after an important woman in her life — including her grandmother Janice and her partner’s mother, Sarah.
Miss Miller (pictured) said: “I am mainly self-taught. I did attend Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, but I had to leave early due to things going on at home. I had to move out and live in a hostel and get back up on my feet.
“It was very scary — the staff were lovely but every single one of them would say: ‘Hayley you are well-spoken and well-presented — you should not be here’.
“I lived with a lot of people who had alcohol or drug habits but I didn’t judge these people for what they did but for who they were and they accepted me as much as I accepted them.
“In the hostel a lot of them did not have anything to do and I taught them how to draw and we made jewellery together — even some of the lads got involved.
“We all looked after each other and I will never just pass one of them on the street. It is hard for me seeing someone I lived with in the hostel on the street.”
But after persuading a wealthy investor to back Hayley Miller Designs, she is now ready to conquer the fashion world and has already done a deal to sell her bags, which start at £180, through an online boutique.
She said: “Fashion has always been a part of my life from a very young age — dressing up, shuffling around in my mum’s high heels and stealing her makeup when she was not looking.
“I was intrigued by how people looked so different and had their own styles from one another.
“I guess this was the beginning of where I find my inspirations because the first place I look for a new look or inspiration is the street — what I see walking around town, colours that pop and how people wear it.
“I am especially inspired by neutral colours and finding a way to complement them with on-trend colours for the season.”
In her own handbag, she always keeps a notebook and pen.
“I constantly write lists and notes for new collections, inspirations, places to visit and to-do lists. I could not survive without it.”
She set up the website herself, after a lot of planning and late nights. “I am very proud about what I managed to achieve with it,” she added.
Miss Miller, who grew up in Barton and now lives in Risinghurst, said she was motivated to set up her own business because she suffered from blackouts, which prevented her from getting a job.
Online marketing has helped her to sell more than 15 bags — without any advertising or promotion — since they were made available at the end of May.
The 20-year-old said of her anonymous investor: “I have to keep him confidential — he is local to the area and a businessman himself. He works in finance, so it is the opposite of fashion.
“He was looking for something new his daughters would be interested in. I was quite confident in that I had planned the pitch for so long and I knew what I wanted and what I wanted to say. I had gone over the numbers so often that I was dreaming about them.
“I am now working with a factory in China — and have learnt some Chinese so that I can communicate with them. I am hoping to visit in summer next year.”
Miss Miller, 20, has donated one of her handbags to an auction for Miss Oxford charity, Beauty With a Purpose, for autism. She is now concentrating on the launch of her range on June 28 — two days before her 21st birthday — at the First Floor Restaurant in Cowley Road, Oxford.
“I am hoping that the word will spread and the quality of the handbags will speak for themselves,” she said. Tickets start from £18 and can be purchased at the restaurant or via her website (www.hayley-miller.co.uk).
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