HANDBAG and fashion designer Karina Hesketh is no stranger to overcoming adversity.
The 54-year-old has battled against illness, gone through a difficult divorce and brought up a family single-handed – and now she hopes to win a national award for her struggle against adversity.
Eighties fashion addicts will remember Karina’s Bigg Market-based fashion label Karin Hesketh, set up in 1982.
The successful design business sold up-market leather clothing to boutiques throughout the British Isles – Karina had her own section in Fenwick’s French Salon, and one of her jackets was worn by Annie Lennox.
She was at the top of her game – but in 1987, everything stopped.
Her marriage broke down and Karina was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, putting an end to her dreams of building up her fashion brand. She was forced to live on sickness benefits to support herself and her young family.
But Karina, who was born in South Shields and now lives in Heaton, Newcastle, maintained her love of design.
In 2007, a friend lent her £1,500 to buy a computer and she set up a website, www.karinasbags.co.uk
After only 18 months she has been invited to show her work at two prestigious galleries, has attracted an international customer base, and appeared in top Italian fashion magazines.
She has sold more than 500 bags to 47 countries – and she hasn’t had a single return.
“I really enjoy my work,” she said. “I love to be creative.
“I update my website every week – most of my designs are one-offs now, I get bored making the same thing several times.
“I like being in the North East, there are a lot of creative people here.”
Karina’s vintage-inspired designs include unique features, but she aims to keep costs low.
“I want ordinary working women to be able to afford one of my bags,” she said.
“Designer bags are ludicrously expensive and out of reach for most people.”
Now, Karina hopes to scoop top honours in the 2009 Barclays Trading Places Awards – a national awards honouring men and women who are turning their lives around by choosing to start up a business.
Winners will walk away with a welcome £5,000 boost for their business, as well as the title.
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said: “An enterprising culture can create jobs and transform communities – all of which is vital during these uncertain economic times.
“Through initiatives such as Barclays Trading Places Awards we can honour the next wave of entrepreneurs who have overcome personal barriers, driven change and made their ideas a reality.”
The closing date for entries is May 22. Nomination leaflets are available by calling 0800 085 3203 or visiting www.barclays.co.uk/tradingplaces