When Julie Deane’s daughter was being bullied at school, the Cambridge, England, mom brainstormed how she could make money to send her to a better one. So, with just 600 pounds, Deane designed and sold a run of bags based on the school satchel she toted as a girl in England. Now in its fifth year, The Cambridge Satchel Company just launched at Cusp (3030 M St. NW; 202-625-0893).

Do you have a background in fashion?
Dear no! I studied plant cells at Cambridge University. After I got my master’s, I studied accounting and business. For a while there, I was a full-time mom. I hope my story encourages people to give something a go.

When did you realize you’d made it as a fashion brand?
The first magazine we were in was Italian Vogue. The first collaboration we did was with Comme des Garcons. Now we’re carried in places like J. Crew and Bloomingdale’s. People will tell you things won’t work, but it’s incredible how your life can change just by being brave.

What do you think explains the bags’ mass appeal?
It’s just a very plain, simple design that everybody can wear. It’s in a variety of colors, so there’s something in brown for professionals, and then there’s neon for people who want to have a little more fun. It’s not flashy or gimmicky.

How is your design different from the original version?
We’ve tried to make it more suitable: It’s larger for laptops and the straps are longer and thicker — if people like to wear it long-body. We’ve just made some changes to the overall shape so it’s more suitable to carry the type of things people carry if they’re not going to school.

And you manage to keep it fresh.
We play with colors, we offer monogramming, and we play around with the size and shape.

What gave you the idea to create the bags in the first place?
I had a similar one when I was in school in the ’70s. When my children were 6 and 8, I got tired of the way their things were so disposable. I’d buy them a bag, and they wouldn’t like it after a while or I’d get one that would look grubby within in a week. But my old school satchel would look better and better as I used it.

Was it difficult persuading your kids to wear such an old style?
I worried they wouldn’t think it was a trendy thing, because no one used them any more. And then I thought, hang on, Harry Potter would have worn one! Just look at that Hogwarts school uniform — there’s no way he wouldn’t have one.

Is your daughter still a fan?
She saw the little mini and said, “That’s what I’d like for Christmas,” and I thought, “Well that’s good, because I won’t have to go shopping.” Holley Simmons (Express)