HANSON OF LONDON are a brand creating beautiful, hand-made luxury leather goods. The unique handbags and other pieces are all about craftsmanship and quality, and we were intrigued to find out more about their philosophy and how they made their products. We visited founder Áine Hanson's east London workshop to interview her, read more below...
As the first in a series of short films on modern-day craftspeople, we also filmed the process of Áine making a handbag, click here to watch.
How and when did the label HANSON OF LONDON start out?
HANSON OF LONDON launched in May this year, but the concept came about two years earlier. The design element is something that came easily but what really took time was developing the very holistic approach to sourcing the very finest materials, ensuring the highest quality construction of products and creating a brand that reflected these values.
The decision to create the label was initially born from frustration as a consumer around declining quality standards in the garment and perceived 'luxury' industry. There has been a long-term shift towards making things cheaper at the expense of quality, in terms of both construction and materials. What we wanted to do was reverse this trend and devote more attention to the product itself and less to the peripheral noise. We wanted to create personal objects of beauty that had a story of their own and to which people could form an emotional attachment over many years.
Thankfully we’re starting to see more people thinking the same way as we are, with a slow erosion of the 'throw-away' fast fashion culture and in its place a “buy less but better” mentality is emerging. People are also starting to pay more attention to the provenance of objects, looking for reassurance on where they came from, how they were made and who made them. The success of the Best of Britannia fair in London earlier this month showed there’s definitely a market for beautifully crafted and locally sourced luxury goods.
What do you think distinguishes the brand from any other?
I think the obvious difference is that HANSON OF LONDON is not a fashion label producing new seasonal collections and runway shows every couple of months. This is a very conscious decision, made to ensure our focus is very much on the product. For me it is very important that the price the customer pays is a reflection of the time required and materials used in crafting our goods, rather than a function of expensive marketing.
From day one we decided to take a very different approach in pretty much every aspect of the business. We were much more drawn to the Savile Row model of creating the very best pieces in the world and building a personal relationship with our customer over many years. For this, quality and honesty is essential. This runs from visits to the English tanneries from which we source our leathers, to hand-stitching our leather goods in-house here in England. I sign every handbag I make, offer personal embossing on our products and encourage customers to visit our studio-workshop to choose which leather they would like.
What are your influences and inspirations?
It’s tough to pinpoint but my influences are wide-ranging. The moodboards in my studio have images of elegant female icons, carpenters and obscure contemporary architecture references. In terms of inspiration it varies from old French couture houses through to the shoe-makers of Northampton, tweed weavers of Donegal and Scotland and Savile Row tailors.
What drew you to making handbags?
This was something that developed organically over time. While I worked with leathers and tailoring a lot as a designer I had little experience with accessories. I guess structured leather goods and more specifically handbags best embodied the principles of the brand I wanted to put my name to. These are design objects that are very personal to their owners, used every day in most cases, and pieces that people are very willing to invest in. While pretty much every label offers handbags to their customers, I felt there was very little out there that stayed true to the domestic craftsmanship and impeccable sourcing of traditional leatherworkers and luggage makers. As a designer it allowed me the platform to provide discreetly elegant pieces to a refined customer.
Can you explain the process of making one of your bags?
See your lovely video!
How did you learn how to do this?
In terms of leather-working I’m largely self-taught. This came down to a lack of people with the specialist knowledge required to make leather goods to the standard I wanted. However, vintage leather-working books were a great source of knowledge and helped bridge the gap. Learning from scratch took a long time and a hell of a lot of tears. Thankfully I had a strong basis to begin with - when I was very young my mum taught me to hand- and machine-sew, as well as how to lay and cut patterns on cloth. I loved experimenting with fabrics and cutting up old clothes to discover the different shapes and panels that went into making a garment. I was fortunate enough to have a good knowledge of garment construction from a young age so any free time during secondary school was spent doing advanced pattern-drafting and tailoring courses, working in fabric shops and designing and making my own clothes. We also had very good technical training during my Fashion Design degree at art college.
How long does it take to make each bag?
Depending on the design and the customer’s requirement a handbag can take between 2 days and a week to complete. I don’t like to rush the process, instead taking time with the intricacies allowing me to craft the best possible handbag. The Rivington for example is made to order and I enlarged the internal pocket in a recent order to cater for the personal requirements of that customer. There is no production line format in the studio, just time and patience. It’s worth it when you see the reaction of the person receiving my work.
Could you describe a typical day in the studio?
It varies a lot. I spend most of the day in the studio-workshop making handbags specific to a customer’s request. Another aspect of the business is the opportunity to meet customers for private appointments at the studio-workshop. It’s a good way for customers to engage with the hand-making process and to see the bridle leather hides before I cut the pattern pieces. There is also plenty of work involved in ordering materials as well as press enquiries, photo shoots and updating social media.
Where do you source your materials?
Our bridle leather is sourced in England from one of the last remaining curriers who in turn sources the raw hides from English, Irish and Catalonian cows depending on the required thickness. We are fortunate in England to have a rich tradition of leather working. While most have disappeared, a few tanneries still exist in the UK and in addition one currier who keeps alive the centuries old tradition of dressing leather by hand. This currier produces the most refined vegetable-tanned English bridle leather in the world, which is renowned for its stunning polished finish and durability. The art of currying leather requires manual labour, a range of specialist hand tools and rare skills learned over many years of apprenticeship.
How do you maintain your tools?
I have a mixture of new and vintage leather working tools. Like all tools, the best way to maintain them is too keep them clean, sharpened and organised. A good friend of ours helped construct a racing green pegboard wall for our tools which features in the short film on our website.
As your business grows, will you employ more people?
In time I would like to take on leather working apprentices. What sets us apart is our product integrity and the use of time-consuming techniques rarely used today - to maintain this, traditional skills such as handstitching need to be preserved.
How do you see the future of HANSON OF LONDON?
It’s very early days so the focus is very much on establishing the label and conveying what the brand stands for. I want HANSON OF LONDON to be a very trusted and intimate label that slowly gathers a loyal local and international customer base.