Gary Billingham has been making the finest leather goods for Ettinger since he was 16.
“I actually wanted to be an electrician but it was September 1979 and there was a lot of unemployment. There were about 50 applicants for any job I went for.
My Mother had worked for J Homer, who owned the factory before Ettinger. One day she asked if I could come and help out. They had a lot of press cutting work to do – I had been with her to the factory as a kid so I was familiar with it anyway. I came for a day, which turned in to a week, which turned into a month. After a few months I was handed the keys and was asked to open and close the factory each day. As I lived very locally to the factory, the owner preferred this in case he was ever stuck in traffic in the morning, so it was much easier for him.
James Homer Press Rooms in the 1960s
The start of the following year the owner began teaching me things. I learned how to cut patterns and start to design wallets. Then the owner’s father started teaching me how to do the costings and more the business side of things.
There used to be around 60 – 70 leather manufacturers in Walsall. It was the main industry in the town. There was the leather workers’ college where we used to send apprentice preparers once a week. Throughout the eighties we were making for Ettinger but we also made for Rolls Royce, Jaguar, and we used to make for the Kuwaiti Bank. When leather cheque book covers were really popular we used to make them for them. They once had a specific triangular chequebook and they asked us to design and make triangular leather chequebook covers for them.
Ettinger took over the company in 1999. We have expanded and taken over the house, the yard and the building next door. When I started, the facilities were basic but now we have a clean, modern space.”
Gary Billingham in 2016