How do you start a high-end leathergoods brand made in the UK? Read about Jordan Kirby’s journey to find out…
Jordan Kirby founded Past Vintage to create a high quality modern leather briefcase that is completely made in England.
The right materials and manufacturer needed to be sourced to produce a top quality product.
Jordan talks us through his collaborations with UK manufacturers and suppliers that have made his English-made leathergoods brand possible.
“Starting a new business is a huge challenge, but a business is only as good as its product. It’s about building relationships between you and the manufacturer which in turn leads to satisfied customers.” – Jordan Kirby
The inspiration for Past Vintage came from a a vintage British postal bag and the traditional leather briefcase, used to hold paper correspondence and paper documents. Past Vintage have adapted this case for the modern working man.
The Past Vintage designs are based on simplicity and feature a 15” laptop pocket divider, a shoulder pad to provide comfort and adjustable billet straps which allows for a newspaper, jacket or umbrella to be slotted away safely.
Past vintage focus on using only British Bridle leather which, due to its unique texture and finish, is quite challenging to work with. The leather’s quality and reputation would need to precede the company used by Past Vintage, and that’s exactly who they found in J&E Sedgwick & Co.
The leather arrives at J&E Sedgwick in Walsall in its wet brown form. Their process of treating the material dates back to when they were first established in the early 1900s. They still use the same techniques and everyone working within the finishers will handle each piece of leather at least once, taking pride over their work.
Bridle leather takes time and consideration at every tanning point during manufacturing. Because of this, one bridle butt leather can take 10-12 weeks to produce.
A combination of hydration and re-hydration occurs to the leather during tanning and curriering (the finishing techniques, including colouring, after the leather is tanned). What makes Sedgwick’s so unique is how it excels in this art of curriering.
Right here in the UK they hand slick each piece of leather to remove the water content within the fibres and then add, again by hand, a unique paste back into the fibres to strength it during the next production stage. This is what makes J&E Sedgwick leather one of the strongest in the world.
The strength of the leather combined with the pride in their unique leather work made J&E Sedgwick’s an obvious choice for Jordan.
During the initial design phase of the Past Vintage Briefcases, Jordan worked very closely with the Head Technical Manager at Sedgwick’s to ensure the measurements of the bag were able to fit into one bridle butt leaving next to no wastage. The final design allows up to 90% cutting efficiency per hide.
Not far down the road in Walsall is a company called Abbey England – a smelting company who produce brass buckles, hooks, chains, rivets, studs and many more highly polished products.
The skills of smelting raw metal have been passed down from generation to generation of workers at Abbey’s foundry and this age old tradition produces royalty approved results. The story of Abbey England’s heritage fits perfectly into the reason why Jordan started the business venture.
The great manufacturing of England and its heritage bridle leather products has slowly been lost over time, but in recent years is starting to make a significant come back with products being created here again.
Consumers are willing to purchase a product with a premium price tag if they have a story behind the product and brand worth buying into and supporting. The heritage of all the companies that Past Vintage have collaborated with have highly sought-after heritage and quality that make for an exceptional product.
One of the biggest challenges faced by Past Vintage was finding a manufacturer who could make the product the high standard Jordan was looking for.
The main markets for a Past Vintage’s leather briefcase are overseas, in particular the far east, who demand only the finest leather goods – especially when using the ‘British-made’ slogan.
It’s also crucial to get the product right. The product has been developed over a two year period, in that time they’ve had 5-6 samples made by their manufacturer. Each time revisiting to make improvements for their end customer but to also allow the manufacturer to become familiar with the material and end product.
Jorden found the level of quality in production he was searching for in Daines & Hathaway who have been making English fine leather goods for almost 100 years.
Established in 1922, Daines & Hathaway is now part of the Pittards Collection.
Once the buckles from Abbey England are finished, they travel down to Somerset along with the bridle leather to be pieced together part to form the briefcase at Pittard’s manufacturing facilities.
Using precise cutting machines, they are able to maximise cutting efficiency so that they barely waste any leather. Leather sewing is technique that takes time to master and the training that the Daines & Hathaway’s production staff have is outstanding.
By using their craftsmanship and skills in skiving, sewing, hand edge coating and embossing, all parts can come together with a clean, professional finish.
At the final stages in production the embossed ‘Handmade in England’ stamp is used proving true to its name.
UK leather manufacturing has seen a significant decline over the last century. Historically, more than 330 tanneries operated in the UK compared to now where only four exist.
During the mid-twentieth century, the UK leather industry was under stiff competition from the Far East due to a decrease in labour costs. As the 1990’s approached, only a handful of tanneries and factories remained.
Working with a local and historic leather tannery has allowed Past Vintage to go against the grain, sticking to their values as a company ensuring we produce the finest British bridle leathergoods.