In by Sheela Sharma

Mark Farhat is the founder and creative director of MARK/GIUSTI which produces a luxury range of accessories including bags, luggage, wallets and iPad covers. The goods are made to the highest standard of Italian craftsmanship using natural materials ranging from leather to hemp. Bags and luggage are lined with quality fabrics printed with patterns inspired by Byzantine mosaics, a particular interest of Mark’s.

Mark takes up his story. “I was born in Lebanon and as a child I travelled extensively in Africa as my father was diplomat. This gave me a love of the history and art of other cultures, particularly that of Byzantium, and that’s reflected in my work today.

“I studied in Lebanon at the American University of Beirut, graduating with a BA in Business Administration, and in 2003 I went on to do an MA in Marketing Management at the University of Westminster. Then I worked for an international fashion company Capelli NY, and went on to further my studies at the Instituto di Moda Burgo in Milan.

“Working for Capelli NY provided me with lots of incredibly valuable experience in working with suppliers and customers, but I always had the idea at the back of my mind that I wanted to start my own brand.

“I started doing that in 2009 which is when I began my relationship with the Portobello Business Centre, which a friend had recommended to me. Maria Stammers became my business advisor and she has helped me with so many things ranging from practical advice to giving me valuable contacts.

“Maria advised me on all sorts of practical issues such as cash flow, public relations, dealing with clients, in fact all the things essential to the day-to-day running of a business. I think we’re incredibly lucky in this country to have such a trustworthy source of unbiased advice which offers its services for free.”

Mark launched his business in 2010, and it’s gone from strength to strength since then. He’s obviously found a ready market for his combination of handcrafted and ethically sourced goods, all handmade in Italy. And the quality of his products were recognised in 2013 in nominations for two awards, the UK Fashion & Textile Awards Accessories Brand of the Year and the Drapers Annual Awards Accessories Designer of the Year.

“We’re now selling internationally in Florence, Paris and New York as well as the UK,” Mark explains. “We’re launching two collections each year as well as doing trade missions in places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“My advice to anyone who’s thinking of starting a business is that you’ve got to pick something that you can put your heart and soul into. In the fashion business, you’ve got to remember that the glamour and show business element is actually only 10 to 15 percent of the whole – the rest is hard work.

“I’d also strongly advise all aspiring entrepreneurs to pay a visit to the Portobello Business Centre. For me, it’s been a real pleasure working with them and the mentoring I’ve had from Maria has been very important for me and the business.”