London packaging Week Speaker Story: Roger Saul, Founder of Mulberry

From Fashion to Farming: The Mulberry founder’s fascinating journey from handbags to Spelt. Meet the man behind one of the most quintessentially British fashion brands of the 20th Century, and catch up with the entrepreneur’s new passion in life.


When Lottisham-born Roger Saul finished school in the 1960s, he headed for London to study at Westminster College. At 20, he had huge ambitions but no clue about his long-term future, but as an ideas man, he was always going to go places.

Saul had secured a scholarship at coal and coke merchants Charrington Gardner Lockett Ltd, but the vibrancy of the capital’s fashion and music scene soon led him on a different path.

In the 60s, managing a boutique was considered a rockstar job, so Saul approached iconic menswear designer and retailer John Michael Ingram at his Savile Row office, intending to become his business studies management trainee.

During this time, he did everything from making the coffee and cleaning the stationery cupboard to ordering accessories for the boutique or “belts from hippies”, as Saul puts it.

Now he had a taste for fashion, Saul wasn’t content to stop there.

His father, Michael, a factory manager for Clark’s shoes, pointed him to Borough Road in search of leather. In the blink of an eye, Saul was fashioning butterfly-embroidered snakeskin chokers and saddle skin belts with brass buckles.

That was the beginning. And in 1971, he was gifted the sum of £500 on his 21st Birthday. The Brit-chic fashion brand Mulberry was born, named after the large tree Roger would pass daily on his way to school, with the logo designed by his sister Rosemary.

Saul quickly found himself buying leathers and buckles in Paris and Italy, and having promptly assembled a portfolio of at least a dozen top European designers, he saw their work six months before it hit the catwalk. He was designing around their materials, colours, and shapes. As an accessory designer, it was a dream scenario.

The 70s blazed by with Saul designing, manufacturing, wholesaling, and selling to the boutiques. Mulberry opened offices worldwide, had agents selling on commission, and by the end of the decade, Saul had a Queen’s Award for export to his name.

The business cash-flowed through explosive growth with his mother, Joan, at the helm – but a worldwide recession in the early 1980s saw over half of it disappear overnight. This was to be his most troubling and yet defining moment.

His next stop was to look back on what he had done best, and that was in the mid-1970s when he launched a collection inspired by English country sports like hunting, shooting, and fishing. It was a collection that became iconic. Heralded as ‘Le Style Anglais’, it cemented Mulberry as a cool brand mixing British country style with high fashion.

Saul created the look of hunting bags, saddle girth belts, tweed waistcoats, and leather-collared blouson jackets made from second world war army surplus shirts. It offered something that never previously existed: Casual English, or the ‘dream of Englishness’.

This collection was what brought Mulberry together as a brand. From its first-ever concession within a department store to selling piles of the Mulberry planner (which fast became an iconic product), throughout the 1980s, Mulberry grew by 400%.

But continually appearing fresh and cutting edge in the eyes of the fashion editors was always a challenge, and even more difficult with a reputation for classic quality. And Saul is always keen to point out that nobody can sustain themselves at the forefront of the luxury industry for the long term.


After three decades at the helm, Saul was finally ousted in 2002 over a series of unfortunate events around currency and the control of Sterling. In an explosive coup led by Singaporean businesswoman Christina Ong, he was removed from the business within just five days.

Saul went on to open the first designer lifestyle hotel, Charlton House, earning a Michelin Star in his first year of operation. Before long, the site was recognised by Hip Hotels as one of the 25 Best Designer Boutique Hotels in the World.


His career in property continued in 1996 when Saul transformed Somerset’s Kilver Court into a designer shopping village and gardens. But it was a serendipitous moment that would carve his next path, when the sale of 4.8 million shares to end his ties with Mulberry was met with the availability of a 300-acre farm near Glastonbury.

When Sharpham Park farm came up for sale, Saul spotted a gap in the market for an ancient grain called Spelt – something that had fallen out of fashion in the 20th century. Some 20 years on from his swapping the catwalk for the tramlines of a tractor, Saul now lives, grows, and mills Spelt, producing a range of products sold through Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, and Abel & Cole.

In another bittersweet twist of fate, Saul only heard about the strong, resilient crop because his sister had been looking into nutrient-rich and easily digestible diets after being diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2003.

Now a dedicated organic and environmental player and a pioneer of growing organic Spelt in the UK, Saul is conscious that brands and consumers must think more sustainably to look after our planet.


His drive in that regard has always been there. He helped his son Cameron launch Bottletop in 2002, a brand that creates bags from recycled bottle tops in Africa lined with waste leather from Europe. Bottletop has fast become a household name in the sustainable fashion world.

Even as a Somerset schoolboy, Roger Saul’s entrepreneurial instinct was to go for quality to make him money. His first taste of fashion – and profit – was realised by buying Victorian military uniforms at auction and selling them on Portobello Road.

From winning the Porto Grand Prix in his Alfa Romeo P3 and being jailed for not declaring all his samples of an early ferry trip to Italy, to watching the British luxury goods market expand by 8% and Mulberry’s value rocket from £166 million to £1.3 billion following his departure; his tale chimes closely with the mantra that success is a journey, not a destination. But as long as he can share his journey through long, deep potholes and trenches, and talk about the importance of resilience, then the Mulberry-man doesn’t mind.


Saul will headline the speaking programme on day one of London Packaging Week at the ExCeL London on 21 & 22 September. And with dozens of high-profile thinkers set to share their stories across the two-day showpiece, 2023’s line-up promises to be the best yet!


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