Rhe Amore, founded by Rheanna, handcrafts beautiful leather bags and accessories from its studio on the Isle of Wight. Known for its brightly coloured leathers and simplistic elegance, its products are made to order and can be personalised, making them ideal for gifting.
Personalised Jewellery Pouch - Rhe Amore

Who or what inspires you and your products?

I’ve always been inspired by the shapes and colours found here on the Isle of Wight. Growing up, I was always interested in understanding how things are made, wondering why certain fabrics or components were used and what purpose they served on the product.

Prior to going full-time in the business, I had worked as a supply chain lead and product developer at a leading sustainable lifestyle brand. I really resonated with the importance of circular design in product development, no matter what industry. We must think carefully about what we make our products out of and how they can be repaired/recycled/reused at the end of their life cycle. Our products are heavily influenced by this approach and is why we focus on creating functional, minimalist products. Simplistic elegance is what we are known for.

All of the leather we use is a byproduct from the meat industry that, if not processed into leather, would be burned in landfill. We choose to also only work with tanneries that are audited and accredited by the Leather Working Group and hold a Gold or Silver rating, so we can be sure that the leather is handled and processed correctly.

When did you start your business?

I started the business unintentionally back in 2018 after making a bag for my mum as a Christmas present. I wanted to give her a handmade, colourful leather bag that was made in the UK, but I couldn’t find a colour I knew she’d like and that was within my price range.

I decided to put my fashion degree to use and create one myself. I took Mum on a trip to London to source the leather and components, then back home I got to grips with testing the pattern and figuring out how to sew leather on a domestic machine. Mum loved the bag and I soon had orders from friends and family. I decided not long into 2019 to set up an Etsy store and start selling online. Over the years, my sales grew and I plucked up the courage to do some in-person events, and invested in some industrial sewing equipment. The events were great to see people’s reactions to my products and get feedback on what to make next or what colours people would like to see in the range.

As the years passed, I created my own website and began to take part in more events. After Covid, I really saw a boost in orders and started to spend more time developing products and introducing new colours. At the start of 2021 was when I really thought that this was more than a side hustle and I could turn it into a full-time business one day. I then spent most evenings and weekends making/packing up orders, until I decided to take the plunge in November 2022 and hand my notice in at my job and go full-time with the business.

2023 was a big growth year for us: I was able to dedicate more time to building the brand and worked with some great mentors to guide me through growth planning and the things I needed to be focusing on. This resulted in us securing grant funding (which I’m incredibly proud of) to be able to invest in new machinery and improve our website.

We were also able to take part in some amazing events throughout the year, such as a pop-up at John Lewis & Partners in Kingston and selling at Battersea Power Station. This was a confidence-building year – I realised that I have a great community around me, supporting me at every opportunity, and I got to meet some fab other small business owners along the way.

Personalised Bridesmaid Purse - Rhe Amore

How did you choose the name of your business?

Italian leather has always been known for being the best in the world. The more time I spent working with this leather, the more I grew to love it as a natural material and all of the amazing ways it could be used. So we thought why not combine my nickname, ‘Rhe’, with the Italian word for love, ‘amore’, and the brand was born.

What do you enjoy most about the creative process?

I enjoy the fact I can sit down and take something from a sketch and transform it into a pattern to create a final product. I find this a very therapeutic process; it’s very much a trial-and-error approach. Sometimes things just don’t work the way you want them to, but it forces me to challenge myself and figure out a different way to sew or construct it.

I’m always photographing shapes, plants and colours when I’m out and about on the island. I often use these as reference when designing new products or looking at new colours to introduce into the range.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a small business owner?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced was making the decision to go fully self-employed in my business. As any small business owner can understand, during the growth phase it’s a constant battle between finding the time to work on your business and deciding at what point you take the plunge and leave the security of a full-time job.

Making this decision was really hard, but it was definitely the right one as I’ve loved every second of it. There have been sharp learning curves, such as dealing with increasing orders, lots of admin, finding ways to grow the brand and navigating a cost-of-living crisis. However, these things all help build resilience and help shape the brand as it grows.

Rhe Amore - Founder Image

What is your hero product or one that means the most to you and why?

My hero product has to be our crossbody bag, as this was the first bag that I made for my mum. The shape is timeless as it can be worn with almost any outfit and is a really lightweight option for day-to-day styling. We’ve tweaked the pattern over the years to ensure that it can be a multi-use bag by having a removable strap, so it can also be used as a clutch bag. I often see customers on the island wearing their bags and it brings me great joy to see them being used, reminding me of why the brand exists – to create high quality, handcrafted, colourful leather goods that are made to last.

What tip (or tips) would you give anyone looking to start a small creative business?

Just do it! If you have an idea, give it a try and see what happens – otherwise you’ll spend ages contemplating and thinking of reasons not to. The fear of failure is and always will be your biggest challenge as a small creative business owner. I won’t lie, it is scary and there will be days when you want to give up or feel like nothing is going right, but the biggest regret would be not trying.

Nothing great was ever easy to do. It will be a challenging journey, but the overwhelming joy you feel when you hear that ‘ching ching’ for a sale is something I cannot describe. It really is the best feeling ever.

You just have to back yourself 100% and always remember that if you weren’t ready to take it on, then the opportunity wouldn’t have presented itself.

Look out for Rhe Amore’s colourful designs at the Country Living Christmas Market.