Behind a London terraced house, lies the headquarters and showroom of Ettinger, a company that was founded in 1934 and was granted the Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales in 1996 for supplying luxury leather goods of the highest quality.
I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with Robert Ettinger, the founder’s eldest son who owns the business. After a firm handshake and brief pleasantries, we sat opposite each other. Each wall was flanked with a cabinet which contained an eclectic range of leather goods. These ranged from cufflinks to cardholders to briefcases, all crafted by hand in the brand’s Walsall factory; and in the middle of the wall opposite me hung the Prince of Wales’ crest, signifying the Royal Warrant.
We started by covering a bit of the history of the brand. Robert’s father founded Ettinger in 1934 when he moved to England from his native Germany. Having set up the company and having produced beautifully made leather goods, Ettinger secured orders from the great department stores of the day. It is important to mention that at this time England had a ripe and thriving leather industry and so the competition was fierce. That is why from the offset Ettinger aimed to produce goods made of leather that were better than the best. When, after World War Two, much of England was in ruins and likewise were its businesses, much of Ettinger’s previous competition couldn’t survive and neither did it seem could Ettinger. This changed, however when one-day Mr Ettinger bumped into Mr Asprey, of the renowned department store, on Bond Street. After a brief discussion an order was placed and so Ettinger became re-established. The business grew in the fifties and sixties as Gerry, who spoke five languages was able to do business overseas.
Robert joined the family business in the early nineties and expanded the business even further by establishing markets in Asia, in particular Japan. Eventually, in 1996 Ettinger received the Royal Warrant which benefited the business tremendously as it showed to potential customers that the Ettinger brand had the seal of approval from the royal family and also showed that Ettinger was a brand that could be trusted to deliver. However, each peak does not come without its trough. This was seen when the Smithfield area, where Ettinger and indeed a vast number of leather businesses were based, became gentrified and so they decided to move to Putney where the headquarters are today. At this time, they purchased a company in Birmingham called James Homer Ltd which had been making leather products since the 1800s. Robert told me that at the time they were slightly worried as it was a big step up from their production capacity beforehand but that luckily they inherited two very skilled managers who are still with them to this day.
We then moved on to talk about Ettinger’s plans for the future. Robert explained that the short term plan would be to expand into new markets, examples being America and China but that they were trying to get the American market right as, “although they speak English, they do things a little differently,” and that many businesses had tried to enter the U.S market and failed to adapt there. Robert also mentioned that the company is looking to take on more people in the future, which will no doubt provide excellent opportunities for today’s youth.
I did inquire about how the marque could maintain its “Made in England” status to which Robert replied that because they produce the finest leather goods the “Made in England” status is important and sets them apart from the competition. Based on their longstanding tradition and aim of creating the best Ettinger has been able to make all of their goods within Britain. I also asked how the marque was able to bring on younger people. Robert explained that a decade or so ago there wasn’t much interest from the younger generation but now there are many that wish to acquire the skill and craft.
Bright things appear to be on the horizon for Ettinger. It’s their 85th anniversary this year which will bring an exciting special edition.
Article by Matt Barrowes