Can you start by telling us a little about how the BoBelle brand began?
BoBelle London was founded three and a half years ago. I always wanted to set up my own business, and I have a love for fashion, especially accessories. I started off operating in the mid-market with a collection that was crafted in South Korea and was fortunate enough to win various awards, including Red magazine’s Top 20 Under 30. I also designed a capsule collection for Marks and Spencer Autograph and after that I had a pop-up shop in central London. It was then I approached a key contact of mine for some advice going forward. I wanted to head into the luxury market and wanted to make in England, but needed some backing to do so. Fortunately this became a reality, and on November 30th 2012, the new BoBelle London was born, with all of our handbags hand made in England.
Since Baroness Margaret Thatcher died a couple of days ago there has been much talk in the press about the legacy that she left on British manufacturing. Certainly manufacturing accounted for a much smaller percentage of GDP when she left office than when she arrived (15.2% compared to 20.6%), but many of her supporters say that it was in decline anyway. Either way, it is at least refreshing to know that the company that she bought her handbags from, Launer, continues to manufacture in England to this day.
It goes something like this…The Cambridge Satchel Company was launched by Julie Deane from her kitchen table in 2008. She took the classic British satchel and gave it a much-needed makeover by manufacturing her bags in a wide selection of distinctive leathers, such as metallics and fluorescents. Although other people had been making leather satchels for years, The Cambridge Satchel Company made them fashionable again. The bags were picked up by fashion stylists around the world and used by designers such as Comme des Garcons on their catwalk, and they are now stocked in world-class stores such as Harrods and Selfridges.
Launched by Aine Hanson in 2012, Hanson of London cut, stitch and finish every bag by hand - a true labour of love. This great video shows the craftsmanship that goes into making a leather bag in their workshop in East London – which helps you to comprehend how labour intensive this type of product really is.
It is great to see a new generation of designers manufacturing products in the UK. Like St Leonards, Esther Porter and A Few Fine Things, Hanson of London are part of a new breed of handbag designer keen to keep their production close to home in order to retain the quality of craftsmanship that Britain is renowned for. By buying a product from one of these designers, rather than a mass-produced item from the high street, you are helping to save the skills that this country has all but lost. Surely that is worth paying a little extra for?
To more information on Hanson of London visit HansonofLondon.com
With a heritage spanning 70 years and a Royal warrant for their leathergoods, it is a wonder that the Launer brand doesn’t have the same high profile that other British-made bag brands such as Mulberry have. Especially given that every single piece that Launer make is still produced by skilled craftsmen in their Walsall factory. Maybe with the emphasis now being placed on enduring quality and craftsmanship, the Launer brand is ready for a revival.
Originally founded in 1941 by a Czechoslovakian immigrant, the small structured handbags that are Launer’s signature were very typical of the style of handbag that was popular in the 1950s but that fell out of favour in the more relaxed decades following. In the 1980s the Launer business was bought by Gerald Bodmer who lead a revival of the brand that saw it being carried by non other than ’80s icon Margaret Thatcher.
Fast forward to 2012 and many handbag trends have come and gone, yet Launer have continued to make their very ladylike handbags in their Walsall factory just as they always have. With the Queen’s Jubilee coming up this year it feels like this most regal of handbag brands is due for a revival; and with the release of the limited edition diamond colourway of their classic Lydia handbag marking the occasion there is now no better time to invest in a Launer.
To find out more visit www.Launer.com
Following on from our artilces about Scottish textile tourism and Scottish textile designer Kate Samphier, we finish the week with something a bit different in the form of this video from new Scottish luxury goods label Fraser Balgowan.
As you may have guessed if you have watched the (slightly bizarre) film, Fraser Balgowan are based in the Highlands of Scotland. What is unusual about the couple that have launched this luxury lifestyle brand is that they also run a croft and deer stalking business in the Cairngorms National Park.
The red deer native to this part of Scotland no longer have natural predators, so are culled throughout the year to encourage health and population management. Their meat is sold as top-quality venison, and now Fraser Balgowan are using the hides to produce beautifully soft natural leather in combination with Scottish tweeds for their luxury accessories collection.
To stalk out their products visit Fraser Balgowan
Can you firstly tell me a bit more about yourself and why you set up your company?
I studied footwear at Cordwainers college and went on to do a MA at Central St. Martins graduating in 2009. I spent a number of years as a designer at Top Shop, as well numerous other freelance projects. After getting bored of the ubiquity of mass-produced fashion I set about creating my own solution with Lie Down I Think I Love You. The label was set up with my business partner Lisa in 2006 and the factory set up in 2009.
How would you describe the products that you make?
We make colourful leather handbags that are personal to the wearer through the use of reworked vintage finds. With many pieces hand-customised Lie down I think I love you is able to offer a personalised service. Only the best leathers are used, with vintage scarves and antique rouge compacts featured in every collection.
In which part of Britain are you based?
We have a shop in Amwell Street EC1 London and our factory is in Hackney.
Why did you decide to manufacture in Britain in the first place?
I come from a background where I have worked with factories in many countries. My work for the high street involved using manufacturers in India and China, and my freelance work for higher end labels had me working in Italy and the U.K. All had their pros and cons, but for me with my own label I knew that I wanted the brand to be British made. I feel comfortable working with British manufacture, not just because of the lower carbon footprint, but because it gives the product a sense of authenticity, and it gives us a sense of British pride in what we do.
Why did you decide to open your own handbag factory?
The bigger the label became the more important control of production was, so having our own factory was the next step. We opened it in 2009 after meeting with Amy, our production manager. It has been one of the best decisions we ever made.
What has been the best thing about having your own production unit?
Production is hard wherever you decide to make it, but we have been lucky in that we have an excellent production manager and pattern cutter who runs the factory…it really is about who you work with. We work with a great network of people, many great characters and there is a huge amount of camaraderie in this industry.
Last week I had a chance to catch up with British bag designer Esther Porter. Definitely a name to watch, and all of her bags are made in England too.
Can you tell me a bit more about yourself and why you set up your company?
I had been working for some years in wildlife conservation but I yearned to do something a bit more creative. I became interested in leather craft, and learned how to design, pattern cut and construct a bag at the London College of Fashion. I started making bags from second hand leather clothing about 3 years ago and then set up the Esther Porter label earlier this year.
How would you describe the products that you make?
Esther Porter bags are simple, functional takes on classic British bag shapes with traditional leather-craft detailing, such as woven leather thonging and embossing. There is also a more masculine, sporty range that is made from reclaimed tents. The tents are abandoned at music festivals – I recently got a lot from Knebworth. I take the damaged ones, wash them and turn them into bags.
In which part of Britain are you based?
I was brought up in Edinburgh, but moved to London three and a half years ago and now live and work in East London which is where most of my suppliers and leather production units are.
Why did you decide to manufacture in Britain?
To help support the UK manufacturing industry and to be close to my manufacturer (it’s only a bike ride away from my studio). I can drop in at anytime and see how things are going and I’m fully aware of the working conditions, something not so easy to determine when production is abroad. Being close to the manufacturers is so important when starting out in business. You get to understand how they produce and can build that into your designs to save wastage of materials and make it simpler to manufacturer.
Who makes your products?
I make all of my own samples and patterns, and I also cut the leather for the bags myself. They are then stitched and finished by a small leathercraft workshop in North London that only employs 5 people. It’s perfect for my small production runs.
Where do you source your raw materials from?
The leather is all from Germany and Italy. I use only chrome-free leather, meaning that it’s tanned in the old fashioned way using vegetable tanning agents.
I have sourced some Scottish deerskin from one of only a handful of tanneries left in the UK, but the colours and finishes are limited and they still use chrome. It’s finding a happy medium. The deerskin is chrome-tanned, which is not so good for the environment, but the red deer that the skins come from are culled because they eat tree saplings which is causing decimation of the forests in Scotland.
Although the cotton fabric that I use is from abroad it is waxed by the British Millerain Company because I appreciate its heritage.
What has been the hardest part of getting your bags made in Britain?
Sourcing manufacturers has been difficult, most don’t have websites and are hidden away so that it’s only through word of mouth that you get to hear of them.
And what has been the best part?
I love making and designing things and also really enjoy the other parts of running a small fashion label such as photoshoots, social networking, meeting buyers and working with my British bag manufacturers.
You can see the full Esther Porter range at www.estherporter.co.uk
Steven Harkin really knows how to make a leather bag, having worked in the design and production of them for over 25 years. Prior to launching his own collection he also taught at the prestigious Cordwainers College (part of the London College of Fashion), one of the only places in Britain where you can study the skills required to design and make leathergoods.
Exquisitely made, using mainly veg tanned leathers from Italy and Spain, the beauty of Steven Harkin’s bags is that they are all made in small production runs in his workshop, so there’s very little chance that you’ll see someone else carrying the same piece. This also means that he can keep a tight control on quality, ensuring that his bags will last longer than those that are mass produced.
The Steven Harkin range includes bags for both men and women, and can be ordered directly from his Essex workshop via his website.
For those interested in how handbags are made by craftsmen such as Steven, check out the videos on his site showing the way that he designs and makes his bags.
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