The saddlery trade in England dates back centuries and has produced fine leatherwork and craftsmen over the years. As horses, the traditional mode of transport for this leatherwork, were replaced by cars, so too were handmade techniques taken over by sewing machines. There is however one business that is an anachronism to the widespread use of machines and has more in common with the 19th century than the 21st when it comes to their raw materials, methods of production and corporate culture.
Charlie Trevor, founder of Equus Leather, started working with the material 20 years ago. “Equus is the sum of all of my experience over those years. We started the business in its current form seven years ago - I needed a new belt as the ones I'd made as a young man had become distressingly and inexplicably tight over the intervening 13 years and looking around there was simply nothing available that was of the quality I wanted. I grew up with leatherwork from the Victorian and Edwardian era that my family has gathered over the years, and modern work just wasn’t the same, not only in style but in quality of material and workmanship. I saw there was a gap in the market for people who cared about quality and a few weeks later the business was launched at a friend’s charity garden party. We had a much more successful day than we'd anticipated, and the rest is history. Seven years on we're still inspired by the work of that time and we continue to push forward the creativity and quality of our work. Our aim is to make the best leather goods in the world, bar none, and we work towards that goal every day,” he says.
The company uses bridle leather for its line of belts and accessories, with the material coming exclusively from the UK, sourced from businesses that have been around since the 19th and early 20th century. The buckles used also have patterns developed in the 19th century. “We don’t use these patterns from a desire to recreate the past or from nostalgia - these are buckles that have had centuries of development work from hundreds of skilled craftsmen. As a consequence, they manage to achieve that magic combination of form and function that is so rare; elegant, beautiful curves and lines that are also robust enough to leave to your children and be comfortable in the hand and in use,” says Trevor.
All leather items at Equus are made by hand. The shapes are cut using the round knife. Crease marking the edges, punching holes, stitch marks, etc. are also done by hand. At this stage the edges are dyed, burnished and polished. This is a multi-stage process that takes a considerable proportion of the manufacturing time for an item such as a belt. Edge-finish is one way to tell the quality of an item of saddlery or leather work - quality work will have smooth, polished, touchable edges that are an appropriate color for the leather piece. Once edge finishing is complete, buckles and fixings are hand-stitched. Elaborating on the focus on handmade processes Trevor says, “The creative freedom of starting with a design, some leather and the tools and skill-set we have is such that we can make one-off pieces much more easily than if we were constrained by the lack of flexibility and deskilling that the mechanisation of a factory environment produces. Machines are quicker, but our aim is to create the best, most individual products in the world, and as a result we stick to the traditional techniques. Focusing on the handmade is also about creating one off techniques like the saddle stitch, very much a dying art where the maker stitches with one thread, two needles and an awl. Everyone is familiar with an entire line of machine stitching unravelling as soon as the thread is worn. A saddle stitch simply won’t do this so the life span of the product is greatly extended”. This meticulous craftsmanship means Equus is a small, personal and human business. After all, making beautiful belts takes time.
Find out more at http://www.equusleather.co.uk