Back in the 60s, Stephen Hanshaw started working with scraps of leather in his mum’s shed, selling belts and accessories at festivals and gigs, travelling around the UK in his home-made winnebago. “He’s always been crafty my Uncle Stephen, he’s a typical scouser” laughs Keith, the company’s director.
Stephen’s enterprise became a family business in 1966 at Wembley during the world cup, when a sharp-eyed teacher admired his handmade bag and immediately ordered 200 for his school. Roping in brothers Barry and Paul, the Leather Satchel Company was born. Back then, the family were based in a small workshop on Smithdown road. “Everyone would assume we were closed because we’d be busy working in the back!”
Marketing may not have come naturally to the master craftsmen, but quality and customer care always have. “We make bespoke satchels”, Keith proudly states, and with the likes of Vogue magazine now championing the prize product, it’s clear that quality over mass-produced quantity is the key.
Keith’s genuine passion for his art is uplifting; beaming when asked about the manufacturing process, he recalls the history of the satchel. Dating back to the 1600s, the satchel is firmly engrained in British culture thanks to Shakespeare’s reference in As You Like It, and has “been a great home crafts product” for over 400 years.
Keith describes the satchel as iconic; “it’s a staple of every wardrobe, and it doesn’t depreciate with time – it becomes an heirloom, and people pass it on when they’re finished with it, rather than throw it away”.
Similarly, the company has been inherited by the new generation, and not without a share of pressure. “I’m lucky if I work a 60 hour week” says Keith, who can easily spend up to 80 hours in the workshop, to do his uncle proud. A surprisingly manual job, the factory is staffed mostly by local lads on Keith’s apprenticeship scheme, and producing each bespoke piece is tough work.
Keith was lured back to the business after pursuing his own career in marketing and business development. In 2008 he noticed the rise in popularity for vintage clothing, and in particular, the vintage satchel. “At that time the satchel was no longer our core product” but a retro revival, driven by current austerity, reminded the British public of a better time, and a classic product.
This nostalgia sating company has very modern views when it comes to ethical standards, and it stems from Stephen’s “hippy ethics”. Such environmental values are second nature to this family, who recycle everything they can, and offer a 5 year repairs warranty on every product. “It’s all about the provenance of the product these days, so we’re pushing to be more environmentally friendly”. This eco-aware after care stretched recently to a repair on a bag purchased over 20 years ago.
This is a company that cares: about quality, craftsmanship, and most importantly, a precious, family legacy.
This post was written for Pickwick Magazine, out now