A trading estate on the outskirts of Yeovil may not be the first place you think of when discussing beautifully crafted leather goods, but it is actually the home of the renowned Pittards. Something of an institution when it comes to craftsmanship, Pittards has been has not only been creating unique leather items since 1826 but it is also responsible for making a capsule collection of our handbags. We headed off to the Somerset countryside to find out more.
Housed in a series of sprawling, low-rise buildings is Pittards leather factory. Famous for their forward-thinking approach to leather (if something is impossible they find a way to make it possible), the site is a hub for all parts of the process, from treating newly arrived skins to creating artisan handbags and accessories.
In a time when air miles and carbon footprints are becoming increasingly sensitive issues, it is refreshing to hear that these bags are bucking the trend of excessive distances. As director of marketing Debbie Burton explains, the leather used in all of the Finery bags is bovine and a by-product of the meat and dairy industries. ‘The majority of those [skins] we get are from the UK and Ireland, so the miles are very small in terms of where the animal started in the field and then comes to us.’
As consumers’ interest in provenance and sustainability grows, so too does brands’ desires to opt for British manufacturers. ‘We started seeing it about three years ago,’ observes Debbie. ‘We began making our own products then we found companies were coming to us to ask us if we could make products for them because they couldn’t find many places in the UK.’ Debbie also agrees that the customer is often a driving force in these production decisions. ‘People feel a little bit more invested in something that’s made in the UK and the story behind that.’
For us at Finery, it was similar reasons that led us to Pittards, as footwear and accessories developer Caroline Gill explains. ‘As a British brand, we want to support fellow companies based in the UK. We were drawn to Pittards’ heritage and expert craftsmanship. They share the same love and attention to detail as us, as well as the same values. They also instantly understood what we were trying to achieve: a bag that was luxurious yet simple and premium yet durable. We also really admire how much they are doing to try and preserve – and teach – traditional skills.’
It is these traditional skills that were deployed in the making of two of our bags: the Lydia tote and the Myla clutch. As Pittards’ in-house designer and developer Alice Chambers explains, the process starts with the construction of paper patterns followed by a calico sample before making the item in leather. ‘For the two bags that we’ve done for Finery, we’ve done that sampling process.’ After receiving the sign-off of the leather sample, Pittards get a set of press knives – essentially steel patterns – made. ‘It just reduces waste and it means that every bag is accurate and cut from the same knife.’ Leather is often split (in case the skin is too thick) and skived (taking off more leather, often from the edges for a neater finish) before leaving the cutting room. This is when they do any preparation for embossing. ‘We do the embossing on a flat spec [piece of leather] because it’s a lot easier to get it right. We’d do this with your personalised embossing plate and then it would come through into the sewing room.’
This, as they say, is where the magic happens. From edge coating the trims (our Lydia tote has contrast brown edges) to the attachment of handles, this is where the bag is brought to life. Panels are glued, stitched and even hammered into place (for the base of the bag). The finished product is an expertly crafted item that is a far cry from anything mass-produced.