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Brit-Stitch aims to 'pave its own way' with the milkman bag

By Vivian Hendriksz

9 Mar 2015


“Did you already hear the story?” asked Eelke Hoogstins, owner of independent boutique Luxe Cadeautjes in Amsterdam the Netherlands when asked about his experience with up and coming leather handbag label Brit-Stitch, one of the brands he stocks.

“The father was making belts and leather pouches for the police for a number of years when they heard of the Cambridge Satchel Company and thought it was a great idea! So they decided to start making handbags as well and were looking for inspiration when the local milkman came by to ask if they could fix his strap. They saw his bag and thought ‘hmmm that looks like a nice bag’ and decided to start making their own.”

Brit-Stitch - the next Cambridge Satchel Company?

Morgan Jones, Managing Director at Brit-Stitch and son of Peter Jones, master craftsman told FashionUnited a slightly different version of the birth of the leather brands, which began with his father’s leather business, which was founded in 1967. “About 3 or 4 years ago, with the growth of UK made fashion goods, I thought to myself, right we have a good manufacturing base here, good knowledge and a skilled team, I'd like to start up my own brand.”

“So I got together with my brother and sister and we set up a new brand called ‘Brit-Stitch Limited’ and aimed to design our very own range of fashion bags. Then our local milkman Toby happened to call in one day with our milk and asked if we could fix the strap on one of his cash bags, one that our father made him back in 1967. And I thought wow, what a great story, what a great bag and that’s how it happened.”

The first collection of handbags produced by Brit-Stitch were all designed around the initial milkman’s cash bag, which is also where the handbags names, such has half-pint and mini milkman’s clutch come from. Since then the brand has branched out into the smaller leather goods range in addition to their handbags in a wide range of colored and textured leathers, which are all produced in the UK, at the family’s factories in the Welsh border town of Abergavenny.

“We had a decision to make a while back whether we stay in the UK or move our manufacturing offshore but as a family and as a company we decided it was best to remain in the UK,” explained Jones. “The reason why we decided to stay is because we believed it was the best way become successful in a very competitive marketplace. We decided to invest heavily in engineering facilities and have state of the art technology in our factories, so although our labour costs may be higher, we can make the product breaks quicker on our fashion brands and on our standard goods as well.”

Brit-Stitch offers bespoke 'Made in the UK' leather handbags

The label currently employs 32 craftsmen spread over two facilities and is also able to react quickly to changes when asked. “For example, in the UK I went to see a customer and they showed some interested in a collection of bags in certain colors and within two days they had those bags shipped to their front door. We don't just buy in so many thousands of pieces and once that stock is gone its gone, no we can always produce more, which I think quite unique.” Brit-Stitch also aims to offer both buyers and customers the utmost flexibility, with no minimum order level, the opportunity to personalize certain bags as well as offering bespoke bags which can be custom made from over 28 different colored quality leather swatches.

With the capacity to produce up to 2 thousand bags a week, Brit-Stitch is prepared to handle the big orders as well as the small orders as well. The label currently sells its handbags and small leather items via its online store and has a number of stockists throughout the UK and a few overseas. “Our orders come in at fits and starts, from all over the UK as well as the US, especially New York. Not quite sure why that is, still have not figured it out yet,” notes Jones. “Our ideal stockist though, I would say would be a retailer like John Lewis. I think it is a well run establishment, they offer good service, quality and are the type of business I would like to be connected to.”

With retail prices for a Briti-Stitch handbag ranging between 42 pounds for the mini milkman clutch and 115 pounds for the full-pint bag, Jones hopes its only a matter of time before the brand’s presence becomes more established. “The biggest problem we face, with working with an independent stockist, is that it’s always is a gamble for them to take on an unknown brand over a known brand. The feedback we are getting from them is that they love our products, but it is a big gamble to take on a brand and use up valuable shop space over a brand that’s established. So it can be very difficult at times to get into places.”

Speaking to one of Brit-Stitch’s long-term stockists, Marsden’s Quality Leather Goods and Gifts, who have been offering the brand for 2 years, Andrew says that the brand has been doing well enough and created has its own little niche market, but doubts “if it will ever go mainstream. But once people do buy one handbag, they tend to come back and buy another one,” he adds. “To be honest, it’s not one of our best selling brands, but it sells through ok.”

Brit-Stitch has developed into its own little niche market

John Oliver, owner of independent boutique Lovely and British, is a new stockist and found the brand online through Google. “I am constantly on the look out for British designers,” he explained. “I only got my first order a month ago. But I have to say I am delighted with them. I have found finding a British maker of handbags that look good are at a good price point and sell, a real challenge. It's early days for us, but I think I will be placing my second order very soon. They are selling well.”

However across the channel, at Luxe Cadeautjes in Amsterdam, Hoogstins says sales are slow. “They are good, nice little handbags but no, they don't sell well. I have barely sold any and I had them in the window display, but they just aren't a big hit. I ordered about 20 - 25 pieces but have only sold 3 over the past 3 months, which I think comes down to lack of exposure.” He says the label found him online and approached him, “probably because I sold Cambridge Satchel Company bands in the past, but not any more because the market has become so flooded with fakes, the bags are not as popular as they used to be. The quality is nice, probably better than Cambridge Satchel Company’s leather, but Brit-Stitch is just lesser known. They want to be in Vogue.”

When asked about his thoughts on being compared to the Cambridge Satchel Company, Morgan said: “I think the Cambridge Satchel Company is inspirational. I think with what happened with that brand and the story behind it is really good, but I’d hoped that people would say we are different to them. Obviously they are more satchel oriented and we tried not to go down that satchel route. It would have been a very easy route for me to take, to just make satchels and copy them, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to pave our own way with our range of bags. I know they are similar in some ways, but I hope that people look at our bags and say they are a nice and not just see a satchel, because I don't want to be known as a copier in the market.”

"I wanted to pave our own way with our range of bags"

One thing both Jones and Hoogstins agree on is increasing Brit-Stitch’s exposure. Jones explains that the brand did work with a few popular bloggers in the UK in the past, which was good for the brand’s growth in the beginning, but now feels like it is time to start looking for brand exposure elsewhere, using more lucrative marketing tools. “We would like to have someone famous photographed with our bags so it endorses them. We've had quite a few product calls-ins from some very high names, so we are hoping that those will help push us to the next level now. We have been going for over 2 years so, so I feel like this would be the next stage of the brand. The ideal celebrity I would love to see with our bags, and we were very fortunate to have her stylist call in for some bags, is Alexa Chung.”

Another way Jones aims to boost the brand’s exposure is by introducing new styles and designs, such as the small leather accessories range, which offers customers the chance to become acquainted with the brand through a smaller purchase, rather than committing to a handbag straight away. “We've got a catalogue of designs that we are feeding into the market slowly, we want to try and keep interest in the brand by not flooding everything in in one go, but feeding things in every quarter to keep interest in the brand and show people we are constantly moving forward, constantly looking at things,” explained Jones.

“We are aiming to more away from the structured leather in the future to more softer leather bags, so we have a complete range for our customers. So if its the floppy bag they want, we have a collection that suitable for them. If its the structured bag, then we have a collection for them. If its the small accessories range they are after, then we have a collection for them - we are aiming to fill all avenues. The next thing I would like to see happen would be a collection for men.”

“But what I want to do first is to get things going right, to make sure we offer the quality and the service and then to do things in a steady progression rather than all in one go and then not being able to offer the service - something which we pride and what we are known from. I’d much prefer to do everything slowly and steadily, which can be frustrating at times because we have all these ideas, but I always say let’s do what we started first right and then we can move forward.”