Alastair has been designing the Such & Such leather goods collection over the past 18 months and we are thrilled to finally launch the collection. When your job involves finding beautiful, well-made products and highlighting the creatives behind them it can be hard and incredibly nerve racking to turn the tables and become the creative. Alastair, co-founder of Such & Such, my business partner and my brother has done just that. When we first started discussing ideas for Such & Such, over seven years ago, our plans and ideas always involved creating our own range of products and designs. In reality setting up and running a business is incredibly time consuming, add to that small children and to be honest those plans got put to one side as we simply did not have the time, until now. Alastair has worked incredibly hard to produce a range of leather goods that are well thought out and that look great. Every detail has been considered and there is a strong sense of letting the material which, in this case, is a tactile, deep coloured, vegetable tanned leather, shine out. This has been a long process and no corners have been left unturned. I may be biased but I think he has done a fantastic job and we are thrilled to launch this new range. I have interviewed Alastair, as we do all Our Makers, to understand his motivation, his inspiration and learn just a little more about what is involved in designing and making these products.
Tell me about the new leather goods range you have designed for Such & Such?
I think the desire to design our own products has been there since we started Such & Such, or probably before that. We both love sourcing products from designers and makers, seeking out original, well designed items and also discovering and understanding how things are made, this is the best part of what we do. But we have both secretly wanted to design some of our own products for quite some time. When I look at the items we find I am always thinking, how would I have done it. This range of leather goods is my first opportunity to find that out…
The process started following a chat in the summer of 2017 with our now brother in law, Javier. We were chatting about some of the products we stocked at the time and I mentioned that we were keen to design some of our own products. Javier, who is Mexican, told me about an area in Mexico called Leon, which is renowned for its leather and leather craftsmanship, and that we could probably get some of our own leather goods made there. This was as much of an invitation as I needed. Numerous emails and months later, I sent over some initial designs, which, he got some samples made from. Whilst the initial samples were a bit “rustic”, the quality of the leather was fantastic and I thought the idea of designing our own range of leather goods was really worth getting stuck into.
A few more months and I had refined the designs and settled on four products, a wallet, long wallet, laptop sleeve and laptop folio. I think there is only so much you can do by email and phone calls. I went to Leon in June 2018 and after meetings with various companies and individuals, I met the company I wanted to work with. The quality of the products they were making along with the assurances and accreditations regarding workers rights and pay, environmental standards, quality control and other really important factors meant I knew instantly that they were the team I wanted to work with.
Over the next six months we worked very closely to progress and refine the designs. We discussed and considered every detail from the leather type and the degree of skiving to burnishing options, zips, thread and practical use of the items. It took quite a few stages of samples to get to the final products. This being the first range of products I have designed and developed, there was a very steep learning curve, a lot of work and a determination to get it right.
We finally received the finished products in March of this year (2019) and I am really thrilled with how they have turned out. Fingers crossed I am not the only one that thinks so…
Did you have a particular theme or goal in mind when designing the range?
The main premise of the designs was to create items that look great and are practical. Within that, I wanted the designs to be simple and for the focus to be on the leather. Leather is such a beautiful material and I felt it was important for the designs to allow for the leather to be appreciated as much as possible. With the long wallet, one side of the inside is a full piece of uninterrupted leather. I could have put more card slots in or some other feature but by making it more simple, the leather itself is what stands out. This is clearly visible with the designs of the laptop sleeve and folio too. Other features of the designs allow for the leather to be more visible, for example, I designed the card slots on the wallet and long wallet so that they allow for a strip of leather to be seen behind each card so that the leather frames the cards.
My goal with the production process was to make sure that it was as environmentally sustainable as possible. This meant careful consideration of the partners we decided to work with, researching the materials we wanted to use and the making process. The tannery from which we source the leather only produces vegetable tanned leather and uses best practices in so doing. The tannery is Gold Medallion Rated by the Leather Working Group, an international organisation whose mission is to promote sustainable and environmental practices within the leather industry. The leather itself is vegetable tanned aniline leather rather than chromium tanned. Vegetable tanning utilises the tannic acids naturally found in some trees and plant, by using the barks, branches, leaves and even some fruits in some specific techniques. This method of tanning is a traditional craft developed over thousands of years and even with the advancement in science and technology, the process still demands exacting skill and a much extended period of time. In addition to being the most environmentally beneficial tanning process, there are a number of other advantages. It results in rich natural colours, warm tones, a unique and natural look, high durability and strength, that incredible smell of leather and that all important patina that develops over time. There are some downsides too, the natural process can take around sixty days and there is quite a high consumption of water. The final costs of the product are also much greater than products which are made from leather that has been chrome tanned.
In contrast, chromium tanning is a great deal faster, with the process taking as little as two days. It also involves the use of strong chemicals and chromium salts which are harmful to both humans and the environment. There are many examples of rivers which have been heavily polluted by leather factories which use the chrome tanning process and then dispose of the harmful chemicals in rivers. Whilst we could have made the products much cheaper using this method, I immediately discounted chromium tanning.
My other goal was affordability. This was possibly one of the hardest to attain as I refused to not use high quality materials and great craftsmanship but I still wanted the goods to be affordable. Many of the high quality leather goods available from big brands are very expensive and, to a certain extent I can understand why but at the same time I often do not think they offer good value for money. There are a number of factors which have enabled us to offer the products at the prices they are. Firstly, we worked exceptionally hard with the team to achieve the most cost effective end product without in anyway sacrificing quality or good design. Secondly, we have accepted making a smaller margin and selling directly to the consumer rather than selling the items wholesale to other retailers which requires a larger margin.
How and where are they made?
The products are handmade by experienced leather craftsmen. Even before looking for a partner to work with, I was adamant that I wanted the items to be made by hand. I admire good craftsmanship. I believe that an item that has been made by someone who has dedicated themselves to honing their skills and developing their craft is as a result more special. Without wishing to sound like a hippy, handmade items have a soul and character that mass produced items never can, they are completely unique. It is so important that we celebrate craftsmanship and do our best to keep skills and tradition alive and thriving.
The products are made in Leon, which is in the state of Guanajuato. Leon is located in the heart of Mexico, in an area renowned for its leather. People in the region have been making leather shoes, bags and other leather items there for decades, which is why there are so many highly skilled leather craftsmen.
What does a typical working day at Such & Such involve?
I start my day with a bit of a hectic rush to get my two daughters dressed, fed and off to nursery. After returning home I take my dog, Frank out for a walk before settling down at my desk for the remainder of the day. Most of my day is spent on my computer. The first thing I always do is check my “To Do List” to see what I need to do that day and then respond to emails. There is only two of us in the business so Nikki and I do a bit of everything. With the exception of any projects that we might have on at any given time, my work generally involves marketing, uploading new products, managing stock, responding to customer queries, sourcing new products, responding to requests and queries from our PR company and fulfilment company, paying invoices and managing cash flow. We generally always seem to have some project on and so the tasks above are usually squeezed in around the project. I leave at 5pm to pick up my daughters but then start work again a little after 7pm once the girls are in bed.
What is the most exciting thing that has happened since you founded Such & Such?
It is always exciting when we are featured in the press, particularly the weekend papers. It is also a buzz when we get contacted by people or companies we admire to request products, such as Soho House, Chiltern Firehouse and Vincent Van Duysen Architects.
Who, where and what inspires you?
Original and inspiring designs, impressive designers, skilful craftsmanship and people who are thinking differently about the way something is made and the materials used.
Tell us what you love to do when you are not working?
I started woodturning in November last year and I absolutely love it. I have converted my garage into a bit of a workshop and I am in there every chance I get. When I am not working or wood turning, most of my time is spent with my family, I have a three year old and a one year old and they keep me pretty busy.
What can we expect in the future?
We will continue to source unique products from around the world that fit within our ethos. Hopefully, we will design many more products in a number of different categories.
City or country?
Country for sure. Cities are good to visit but having grown up in the Peak District and then spent 13 years living in London, I am glad that I now live in the country again.
North or South?
North. Similar to above, the South is good for visiting but given the chance I would prefer to live in the North or more specifically back in the Peak District. Technically I guess that is the Midlands but most southerners think anything north of the London Gap is the North.
Beach or Mountain?
Both. Winter in the mountains and summers on the beach.
Books or Movies?
Sweet or Savoury?
Tea or Coffee?
Coffee in the morning. Tea for the rest of the day.
Cat or Dog?
Dog, hands down. He is called Frank and he is the best.
Sketchbook or Laptop?
Sketchbook for quick rough ideas and then iPad for proper drawings. My drawing is not good enough to make it look good in a sketchbook.
Design or Make?
Design. Unless the making involves woodturning.
To see the new range of leather goods designed by Alastair for Such & Such click here