An Interview With Village Leathers

Established in 1974 by Tony & Angie, Village Leathers is a small family-based business based in London that specialises in a wide range of belts, bags and accessories for both men and women. They began as street traders, growing to stores in Covent Garden, now online too. Although a lot of their styles are classics, their latest accessory ranges are very colourful and very much on trend. I caught up with Verity, part of “Team Village Leathers” to find out more about the very swish bags that she and the team make! Hi Verity!

Hi! I’m Verity from Village Leathers, I’ve been working here for years and I’m part of the team who hand make our leather goods. Village Leathers is a family owned business which started out by selling handmade leather belts from a suitcase on the streets of London in 1974. Since then we’ve grown to have two small shops in Covent Garden’s Jubilee Market and more recently set up a website too. We’re still a small team with just 10 of us in total split between the shops and the studio where we produce leathers belts and accessories in small batches by hand.

Starting life as street traders, progressing to shops in London’s Covent Garden (one of my favourite London spots) and now online – what challenges have you had to face (business or personal) in each selling arena, eg adapting to selling from a market stall to a shop environment or adapting to online technology etc?

When we started selling online it was a big learning curve for us. We do all the photography and website maintenance in house so we had to learn a whole new skillset as well as keep up with the production of goods. It was challenging but such a brilliant experience. The other issue we face, which I know many small independent business’ struggle with, is online exposure. We’re a small fish in a big pond so competing with bigger brands was a little tricky at first, luckily our customers soon found us and valued our ethos. They recognise the craftsmanship and quality of materials we’ve sourced for our range of handmade goods. This means our customers can buy better products, fewer times, supporting the growing number of people trying to reign in overconsuming tendencies.

As for our shops we’re having lots of fun at the moment redesigning the layout ready for a refit next year. As we are based in small shops offering a wide range of products and colourways showcasing all our designs is really important for us but can look a bit overwhelming to shop visitors. To make it a pleasure to shop with us we’ll be implementing sections and adding much more signage throughout the shop that communicates everything you’ll need to know about our leathers, sizing and collections. It’s quite an undertaking but it will make such a difference as I think it’s been about 15 years since the last one!

I love the brightly coloured Leather Belt Bag – a sophisticated version of the bumbag/fanny pack! Your latest ranges, Chroma and Roam collections, are available in a stunning range of bright colours- Yellow, Red, Green, Sky Blue, Tangerine Orange – they are all simply gorgeous! However, what bags are proving popular amongst your customers so far this season? Is there a difference between the popularity stakes of items purchased from your shop and those purchased online?

I’m so glad you like the Belt Bag, it’s new territory for us as we haven’t entered that market before but it was so nice to design such a contemporary product and the response so far has been really positive. Over this season we’ve definitely seen customers both instore and online being drawn to the more fruity and vibrant colours like the sunny yellow of the Chroma Shoulder Bag, zesty Orange Roam Clutch Bag and now that we’re entering Autumn we’re seeing the Tan, Olive and Grey colourways come into their own. In terms of bag design I think the Chroma Shoulder Bag has pipped it this season, it’s such a nifty little bag, ideal for days out and it looks stunning. With a simple silhouette and secure turnlock it means you can pair it with every outfit effortlessly. 

In the shops we have a lot of people come in looking for a special gift to take back from London for their friends and family at home, that usually takes the form of something like a Roam Clutch Bag and matching zip purse. It’s so nice to see people really thinking about which colour or design their loved one will treasure the most. It’s only right they treat themselves to something as well for being so considerate! 

Have you got any personal favourites?

So, one of my favourite products we make sounds so basic but I get really excited telling people about it so here goes. It’s our Classic Black 1 1/4 Belt, the reason I love it is because it is the epitome of a wardrobe staple. I think everyone should own one. It’s made from delicious, thick Italian vegetable tanned leather. This kind of leather is made in the most eco friendly and natural ways by using tannins found in some plants and bark. It’s a very old artisanal process and only a small percentage of leather goods produced worldwide use veg tanned leather because it is slow to produce, therefore more expensive per foot. But, the quality of the leather is so high, rich in colour, supple and ages beautifully. We actually guarantee our Classic belts for 25 years, that’s how good it is, and what’s more is that at the end of it’s like the leather is biodegradable! The other great thing about this belt is that you can swap the buckles really easily to suit your outfit. And yes I have a favourite buckle – Westend Silver, its solid brass!

Your company also offers a bespoke service. Have you had any bizarre bespoke requests?

That’s such a great question! We’re often asked to tweak designs or emboss a meaningful date or name onto pieces to make them extra special. We once individually monogrammed some belts for a group of Groomsmen and one of their nicknames was ‘Snake’, I didn’t ask how he got that!

We work closely with the theatre a lot too and we once had a project that required us to make a bumbag which could hold a cabbage…

As you are based in London, are your products available to purchase overseas?

Yes! Absolutely, we send our goods worldwide. It’s amazing to think there are people all over the world enjoying our products that were made in our little workshop. Recently we had a customer send us a picture of a Bag she’d picked up from us in Covent Garden in 1988, she’s been using it daily in Australia since then!

When designing/producing products to add to your collections, do you take into account your own tastes, your customer base, current fashion trends, requests, vintage quality or bits of all those?

All our designs must first meet our values; affordability and handcrafted quality married with classic and practical design. We have a core range of products which have remained practically unchanged for years and years. The idea is they are classic wardrobe staples that can be paired with lots of outfits, the perfect balance between form and function. We make them using highly efficient, time-tested leather crafting techniques so they can last and build patina as they are worn and used, this means the designs are  timeless, reasonably priced and of unparalleled quality. 

Having this core range of classic products allows us to flex our creativity by designing small batches of seasonal products that consider customer needs and micro trends. A good example of this would be our Belt Bag or Hair on Hide Leopard Bag strap, as we manufacture the products ourselves we can make near instant tweaks based on customer feedback such as swapping a popper closure for a push lock on the Belt Bag. This means the customer gets exactly what they need and the design process is more collaborative. 

When you are not making & selling bags and belts, what do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?

Well, as you can imagine we love to make stuff in our spare time but not always from leather. At the moment two of us are making patterns for some dungarees we’re hoping to have done by next summer if we can find the time. If we’re not working on craft projects we like to ride our bikes or enjoy some of the amazing exhibitions that are always going on in London. We love organising staff outings too as an excuse to enjoy some of the great restaurants around Covent Garden, most recently we went to Padella in London Bridge where we ordered two rounds of food.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I opt for practical shoes that will protect my toes from any dropped tools or hammers in the workshop, that being said I want to feel chic and stylish at the same time so I’m usually rocking a pair of 1461 Doc Martens. We’re all big fans of Luck and Yak trousers and dungarees which are so comfy to wear at home or work and made in an ethical way. Outside the workshop, when we’re not going to get filthy and covered in thread or leather we really like to dress up and wear our own creations. I go for minimal, comfortable silhouettes made from organic cotton and linen. At the moment my favourite colours are rust and cobalt blue, I’m lusting after a lot of L.F Markey designs at the moment. Obviously all our outfits are accessorised with Village Leathers bags and belts.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (Apart from your own!)

As a fan of timeless designs I really love having a look around Labour and Wait in London. They offer amazingly curated homewares, I don’t know how they’ve found them but they stock loads of independent makers from all over who make beautiful and functional items that bring me joy. When I’m thinking of adventuring I like to browse Patagonia, I really relate to their brand values and the latest “Black Hole’ collection of bags is amazing as its made from recycled bottles. Online I love looking at Cool Machine Shop for their brilliantly fun, contemporary  and colourful offerings. Locally to me in Crystal Palace you’ll always find me in Lowie or Elkins for their gorgeous womenswear, books and homeware. 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I’m saving up for a Rust corduroy Boilersuit I’ve got my eye on. Effortless, chic and functional, what more do you need? 

Boots or Shoes?

Shoes – simply because I’m too impatient to bother undoing the laces on boots and nearly cause myself an injury pulling them on and off.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about Village Leathers.

https://www.villageleathers.com

@villageleathers on Instagram 

http://instagram.com/villageleathers

https://facebook.com/villageleathers

For Pinning Later

Thank you Verity for your fabulous insight into the company you work for. I love the quality of your products and your small Aladdin’s Cave of a shop in Covent Garden is certainly worth checking out!

Linda x

All photographs are published with kind permission of Village Leathers.

© 2019, Linda. All rights reserved.

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