Last month we had the pleasure of welcoming the Grey Fox, aka David Evans to our Ettinger Factory in Walsall. This is David's account on what he saw and learned from our skilled craftspeople. 


Ettinger have been making luxury leather goods in the UK since 1934 when the company was founded by Gerry Ettinger, father of the present owner, Robert. In recognition of the quality of its products, it has held a Royal Warrant to HRH The Prince of Wales since 1996. I was delighted recently to be invited to see the factory and add it to the list of British manufacturers I've visited since I started the blog over 6 years ago. 

Being shown the hides by Factory Manager, Gary Billingham

Ettinger make a wide range of leather products, from bags through wallets, purse and passport holders to key rings, belts and spectacles cases. Everything, as I would see, is made from the best quality leather with the greatest care, skill and attention

Having a chat over a cup of tea with Robert Ettinger I learned that the company originally made its products in London and moved to Walsall, near Birmingham, in 1999 when a leather factory became available, enabling manufacturing capacity to be increased. Walsall has for centuries been a centre of the leather trade, particularly for saddle and harness making and for smaller leather goods, so the skills and manufacturing resources were already present and easily adapted to the finer luxury end of the market. Sadly, as with so many other British industries, the leather trade had contracted, but Ettinger have helped reverse this decline with training and apprenticeships.

With Robert Ettinger, owner of the business and son of the founder, Gerry Ettinger

I was shown round by Factory Manager and pattern maker, Gary Billingham whose knowledge of the industry is infinite. The first stop on our tour was the leather store to see how it is checked and selected before it's cut to the shapes required to make each product. 

There are several types of leather, including English bridle leather, with its attractive bloom, to calf, sheep and (a recent reintroduction) goat leathers. The best hides from EU tanneries are used and any blemishes have to be cut round, so the skill is in maximising the return from each hide. The hides are cut to shape and the components may undergo skiving to ensure they are the right thickness, particularly at the edges where they may be folded, glued and stitched. 

Assembling the component parts

Each process involves great skills, as I discovered when I (rather unsuccessfully) tried out various tasks. Manual dexterity, a good eye and a complete understanding of the material is needed and takes years to acquire. As I find so often in British factories, I was struck by the skills of the employees, their pride in their work and their willingness to talk about what they do and how they do it.

Stitching

Once assembled many of the products have to be trimmed, a process which itself requires skill, but is carried out with amazing speed and dexterity to produce the perfectly finished goods such as wallets and portfolios, that give such pleasure of ownership. All are then checked carefully before packing and sale.

Checking and packing

Each piece has a great tactile quality, the nature of which depends on the leather used, from the fine smoothness of fine calf, through the durable English bridle leather to the grained hides. All improve with age and use, meaning that products get even better with the patina of the years. That says all that needs to be said about the quality of the skins and the workmanship that has gone into them. As with many of the best British products, they sell well in Asia and the USA, where British skills and craftsmanship are held in high regard. 

Written by David Evans, Grey Fox Blog


Notes:
David Evans aka the Grey Fox is a renowned men's style blogger. His Grey Fox Blog features menswear style, fashion and lifestyle for all men. Its main target audience, the man aged forty and over, represents an often-forgotten but large and affluent demographic, but in practice the blog is read by men and women of all ages. 

See Grey Fox Blog for more.