October 23, 2013Posted by Andrea Seifert
I’m obsessed with handbags. I absolutely adore bags of all kind- this season’s oversized clutches, minaudieres, totes, hobos, messengers, slings… You get my drift. But the bags that get pulled out of my closet time and time again are the larger, more practical ones that can fit everything but the kitchen sink. I like to be prepared and I’m usually schlepping around everything but the kitchen sink. Remember the Mary Poppins bag? Well, mine’s like that, minus the lamp. A gal’s gotta draw the line somewhere.
That’s why The Leather Satchel Co caught my eye – stylish, practical bags in a myriad of colours that are easy to carry, hardy and hand-made in a timeless, classic shape that can take the weight of all the stuff I lug around.
Did you know that the recorded satchel in its current form actually appears on a hand drawn poster dating back to 1890, for Shakespeare’s “As You Like It?” The V&A museum in London has two dating back to the 1920’s in their collection. The satchel became popular in the 17th century, and then turned into an iconic British school bag. Today it has been revamped as a modern, timeless style symbol and practical accessory for kids and adults alike.
Keith Henshaw’s family-run business, The Leather Satchel Co, began in the 1960’s with Stephen Hanshaw’s small street stall, which caught the eye of a visiting school headmaster. Impressed by the wares on offer, he commissioned Hanshaw to produce durable satchels for his students. Subsequently Stephen’s two brothers joined him and they began making a variety of goods in their workshop.
Over the years they became known for their dedication to fine leatherworks, working with sought-after international labels as well as producing their own lines. His nephew Keith explains, “We made a small purse/clutch for Hérmes in the 1980’s and we used to make belts for Armani in the 1990s – they couldn’t find a quality supplier of belts to produce to their standards.’
But back to the matter at hand – their main gig, which is producing these gorgeous satchels. They come in a variety of rainbow hues, 25 to be exact, and in 5 sizes, all crafted using the same high quality British leather. “It’s a traditional leatherworking style derived from the equestrian trade. The external gusset seam of a satchel and similar styled leatherwork we produce is very unique to UK leatherwork. It’s simple and quirky, but an elegant solution to working with such a heavy-weight leather.” The bags have a 5 year guarantee, but last a lifetime if you take care of them.
These satchels are an emblem of Britishness, and while there are many similar bags on the market, Leather Satchel Co are Britain’s oldest satchel maker and many would say the best; committed to hand-crafting beautiful goods in a time-honored fashion. They have been members of the British Guild of Master Craftsmen for over 40 years.
Speaking of the precious leather that is used, Keith explains, “The leather type is so scarce that very few tanneries use this particular grade and finish any longer. So much so that we’ve taken on a scheme to teach some larger tanneries in Holland and Italy the techniques to get the unique, hardwearing leather finish that we use for our products, as it had almost become extinct.”
Today, the company is still based in Liverpool, but have moved premises to the outskirts of the city in Huyton, Knowsley. The next generation of the Hanshaw family has started to play a more active role in the business, with Chris Hanshaw, Keith Hanshaw and young Stephen Hanshaw all being given greater roles of responsibility.
Keith says: “There are actually only two of us that haven’t grown up as leatherworkers. I started working with the family business, but my interest in technology and all things digital steered me away from the company for many years where I picked up all kinds of experience with online marketing and business systems. I then came back and applied my knowledge to our company to help it run better and bring in new technologies that have helped us grow.”
When asked whether the family is brought up with the craft, Keith recalls, “Most of the Hanshaw clan all grew up using leather for hobby crafts and small projects – so we all have an instinct with what we can and can’t do with leather. When most people would resort to wood, paper or card for DIY projects or home crafts, we kids would generally reach for a hide of leather! The other person who has a different skill set is my Uncle Ken, who has a background in printing. We’ve utilized this by developing pioneering techniques for printing onto our grades of leathers.”
The 1960’s method of crafting the bags has hardly changed, and the Hanshaws are keeping traditions alive with their apprentice program. It’s a 12-month course, with the first 3 months dedicated to understanding leather and its properties, and studying cutting techniques. The next 3 months are spent learning stitching and fastening work, with the final 6 months focused on pattern making and overall construction. Eventually apprentices hone those raw skills by putting them into action.
As they are made individually, bags can be tailored to your exact specifications. Are you after a traditional matches-with-everything muted beige? Sure thing. Looking to turn it up a notch? Try the Fuschia Patent or Dayglow Pink for an eye-popping effect. Maybe you’d like your initials embossed on the front? Or perhaps a two-toned or tri-color scheme, and the silver hardware changed to gold… The bag fairies are on hand, just email them your specifications and Bob’s your uncle as they say.
The satchels can be carried in a multitude of ways; you can fit them with a briefcase handle or magnetic fasteners for easy access. The strap length is adjustable and you can choose how deep you’d like the gusset. I’m definitely keen on the hidden magnet as I hate fiddling with buckles to open and close my bag, but I must say, they’re a pretty good pickpocket deterrent…
A few rockstars (like AC/DC) have commissioned guitar straps and matching bags. My requests will probably be a little less exciting I imagine.
It takes approximately 10-30 days for a leathersmith to make your satchel, depending on the style chosen, and prices start at 80 pounds, a very reasonable sum – especially given the high level of service and quality you are getting.
The darker shades tend to be more popular with men, who wear them as messenger bags or as briefcases. The best-selling women’s styles include the Pillarbox Red 12.5” and 14” London Tan briefcase satchel. The Leather Satchel Co have seen a huge surge in interest from Asian customers, who are drawn to the heritage of the brand and variety of bright colors available.
So what’s next for The Leather Satchel Co? Well, I’m loving their new Pixie style, (pictured above) which is a sleeker version of the classic satchel. They will also be producing iPad cases, music cases, luggage tags, coin purses and more. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get clicking and put in a few orders…
+44 08000 32 8884