How did Holdall & Co start?
I did fashion design at university and I left wanting to be a designer. But I then went on and worked for a number of friends buying products and managing websites. Over this time, actually from the start of university, I have been collecting old bags, luggage and cases. Then it came to me – wouldn’t it be good to buy a quality British made product, but at the start of it’s life, unlike all the vintage pieces I had been collecting. I wanted to start creating a little story with a new product, an item I could pass down to my kids, that would last and wouldn’t fall apart like the very old pieces I had been gathering.
The business followed and the project came on very naturally, from finding people with these traditional skills, using old-age techniques, and finding quality materials that would last. My background was in fabrics and working with leather was an entirely different beast, I had to start hand stitching thick cardboard to just get a feel for it. In the end it took eight months of work to get the right people, the right materials and the right design.
After all that searching where did you find those elusive craftsmen and set up base?
You have to be part of the industry already to know where these people are. So when we started we had to knock on a lot of doors and we travelled up and down the country looking. Eventually we found a company just thirty minutes from our door in Northamptonshire. They to our surprise were just a team of two using age old skills working with British tools and machines.
The leather industry is not what it was in Northampton - after so many factories shut down in the Eighties and Nineties, it is a shadow of its former self. There is now a renewed interest and there are around forty factories doing good business. Though as the leather industry in Northamptonshire has always been focused around shoe making, we are pretty sure that on our side of the trade our craftsman are some of the last people making in this way in the UK.
How has been getting your products out there been over the first two years?
We’ve encounter the usual challenges of being an online brand. Our sales have been growing and they are quite consistently 50/50 between UK sales and International sales. We have found that in particular US, Asian and German customers have responded strongly to the fact that it isn’t just about provenance – but marrying that with great craftsmanship and a quality finished product.
Things are changing in the UK – we are still undergoing a re-education here after being used to cheap fast fashion for so long. People are starting to understand why our products cost what they do and how they differ from the high street. They understand they don’t have to throw away a product – that it can last and even get better with age.
Tell us about the leather you use.
It is full grain vegetable dyed leather – it’s the top layer, like the top layer of your skin it’s very strong. Meaning you can see all the growth marks and the life of the cow – it is the leather that ages best, is the strongest and will develop a great patina.
Alot of designer brands and design houses don’t use this type of leather, they will use cheaper leather that allow them to achieve a level of uniformity in their products and a clean aesthetic. The further down the skin you go the cheaper the leather gets and the more fat is involved- it's why many products can claim to be ‘real leather’ despite the fact they are really just using the waste product from the process, which they then chemically treat.
What were the design considerations for the collection?
We were looking for something simple and classic, the designs were then 1930s inspired as we went for a traditional underarm document case. The classic uncomplicated design made the production easier and allowed me to make them for an affordable price with the materials I was using. By picking a timeless design we wanted to avoid the product looking ten years old in ten years times. They are made with the view to last a lifetime and beyond.
With the sizing we have designed with modern life in mind, so they will fit your tablet, laptops and Monocle magazines in – but we haven’t designed them specifically for them. As they are designed to last a long time alot of these gadgets won’t be around later in the bags life, but it is still appropriate and functional for today.
Interview by Morgan Hamilton-Griffin at www.theholbornmag.com