Five hours north of London in the town of Cheshire is where some magic is made. Leather magic, that is. Cheshire is home to the UK’s Leather Satchel Co., which produces some amazing satchels, or handbags and briefcases as one would say in the States.
I came across a customized satchel that a colleague was carrying around London and noticed how well-made it looked. Turns out the satchel, which was a deep blue with contrast trimming was made by the leathersmiths at The Leather Satchel co., which routinely make and ship custom satchels worldwide.
Being into things British and having since ordered some 11-inch satchels myself, I wanted to learn more about these bags, which retail at incredibly reasonable prices, are each handmade and feel amazing. The smell of the leather alone lets one know they’ve made a good “investment”. With bags colored in “Chestnut”, “Loch Ness Blue” and “Pillarbox Red” after the well-known red mailboxes that dot the UK landscape, there is quite a bit of British and family history behind the satchels, making them all the more novel.
From the United Kingdom, I spoke with The Leather Satchel Co.’s Company Director Gail Jones about the satchels, the colors and how a British tradition is now being shipped worldwide.
How was The Leather Satchel Co. founded?
My uncle-in-law, Stephen Hanshaw, started the business in 1966. He was making bags, belts and shoes. Then his brothers (Barry and Paul) joined him and formed the ‘Hanshaw and Co’ leathersmiths in 1966. One of his sisters (Joyce) does the accounts, another sister (Jill) does all the printing press work. Then as the company grew their sons and daughters joined (Keith – my hubby, Christopher, Michael and then Alex) along with some specialists who are talented with leather.
Why Cheshire? …and not London?
The family are from the Northwest; we’ve been here for centuries, and it just seemed like a logical decision to set it up near where everyone lived plus there’s not much countryside in or around London for the cows to roam, so you don’t find many traditional tanneries in that area.
How long does it typically take to produce a satchel?
Here’s the process: Cutting of panels and gussets from tanned hides, cutting of buckle fasteners and straps from leftover pieces of hide, stitching the buckles fasteners to the panels and gussets, fit and rivet buckles to the fittings, stitch panels and gussets together then final riveting for durability. All-in-all it takes a little under 2 hours to put a satchel together. Also, we are as far as we are aware the only leathersmith to guarantee their craftsmanship for 5-years.
What determined colors of the satchels?
As you know, we are a British firm, and we feel the naming of our colors helps keep some of that identity. Not all our colors are so ‘charmingly’ named though. Here are a few reasons why we call some of them what they are.
Loch Ness Blue: Uncle Steve, the founder, has semi-retired and now lives on the edge of Loch Ness and runs a traditional Clog and Leathercraft shop there.
Pillarbox Red: How could we not call it this? The color was matched to the mailboxes on British streets.
British Racing Green: This is a standard color named after the colors of old British 2-seater sports cars, like the Jaguar e-type, Lotus Seven, MG Midget, etc.
Chestnut Brown: Color of the nuts that fall from trees.
Charcoal Black: Color of the old chalkboards in schools.
Deep Purple: This is a bit quirky really, because the purple isn’t really so deep. But the leathersmiths really fancied naming it after the British ’70s rock band.
Double Yellow: Same color of the ‘No-Parking’ lines that are painted on the sides of our roads. The remainder of our colors are just named normally, but we always like to let our creativity spill into other areas of our business, not just our satchels, so customers can expect more unusual names in the future.
Are all leathers sourced in Britain?
Yes, all our leathers are sourced in Britain, and generally from local tanneries that are supplied from the dairy cows that roam the Northern countryside.
Are there plans for an expansion?
Well, like every other company, we have tread carefully in a recession. But we’re currently talking with Amazon about them offering order fulfilment in the US, as we’ve had quite a bit of interest from that side of the pond. We’re hoping to have our satchels in the US by the middle of May. US customers can still order from Amazon UK but delivery times are long (2-weeks) and expensive (£8.50) – so where hoping to reduce cost and time with the help of the the US’s largest online retailer – Amazon.
How does the brand plan to remain British?
Great question, and difficult to answer. In the past it’s not been something we’ve had an issue with because we’ve only sold within the British Isles, but now other countries are buying our produce (the Italians and French really love them too, and buy lots from us!), we’re considering using additional branding on the bags to identify them as ‘Handmade in Great Britain’. How can we describe our bags? It’s easy to talk about our bags but it’s better when the praise comes from customers and certainly more sincere. We have hundreds of letters from satisfied customers saying how they love us. Recently, we’ve started a Twitter account for the company and as part of this move we’re posting some ‘abstracts’ of the more interesting letters on Twitter, along with a link to a picture of the bag the customer purchased so other “Tweeters” can see what all the fuss is about. If we had to summarize our bags in a sentence based upon what our customers have told us then it would probably be something like this:
“Beautiful, Timeless, Gorgeous Handmade Vintage Satchels lovingly hand-crafted from Quality British Leather at a competitive price, bundled with outstanding customer service.”
What makes The Leather Satchel Co. different?
We’re a small creative company who are passionate about what we do. Everyone who works with us takes a lot of pride in their work, whether its design, crafting or customer service. We are small enough to be able to bring new designs into production in just a few months if our customer base calls for it, but big enough to be able to satisfy a niche global market. To be honest, most of the traditional leathersmithing firms in the UK have been killed off by globalization. Prices of cheaper quality products have swamped the markets and drove down prices. Most of the leathersmiths haven’t survived this change. You could probably count the number of commercial workshops left in Britain on your fingers. We’ve only managed this far due to the reduced costs of being based near to tanneries in the North-west of England and having a family who have pulled together and worked for buttons. This is the fundamental reason why our company needed to start marketing directly to the consumer – because it’s only them that directly recognize the value in what we do.
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