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The Leather Satchel Co: "Your bag, made your way!"

By Vivian Hendriksz


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"Things are so exciting now we have secured the backing," said Keith Hanshaw, Managing Director of The Leather Satchel Co. on reaching their crowdfunding goal of 50,000 pounds to build an online customization tool. "Really, I am so happy and so excited right now, you can't even imagine!" Hanshaw's excitement is palpable and completely understandable as the UK's oldest leather satchel company hit its target a week before the campaign officially ends on Kickstarter. With the teller currently sitting at 54,331 pounds at the point of publication and 6 days to go, the company has more than enough funds to build the personalization online tool Hanshaw has been dreaming of.

The Leather Satchel Co. to offer customers the opportunity to customise their own handbag

"We are focusing on getting the message out there that bags can be unique like their owners," continued Hanshaw, who has over 30 years experience creating leather goods and is time-served member of the British Guild of Master Craftsmen."People do not have to be limited by designers ideas and we hope to communicate this message through our new tool. It’s your bag and it can be made your way." The campaign, which originally launched under the name #MybagMywayMystory, is built around the Leather Satchel Co. idea that people should be able to have their own personalised handbag to suit their tastes and styles and not be dependent on the limited designs offered by retailers and labels.

"A handbag is really something incredibly personal, yet it is created by a designer who has their own preferences and ideas on what the bag should look like - you have to fit into that pigeonhole - and find the best fit," points out Hanshaw. "But I think with our customization tool customers around the world will be able to celebrate their uniqueness and create a handbag which contains all the features that are important to them, the style, colour and size they want." Such a goal seems almost too big to be attainable, but the Leather Satchel Co. has been creating bespoke satchels and handbags for customers for years. Hanshaw himself is one of only three craftsmen in the country who is able to build a satchel from scratch without the use of a pattern and usually handles the company's bespoke orders.

Keith Hanshaw: "A handbag is really something incredibly personal"

However, the family-run business felt that it was time create an online tool to help streamline their bespoke order process, whilst boosting the company's versatility and skills. "Our website doesn't show off the fact that we are a family of Master Craftsmen and that we can make unique bespoke bags for our customers," said Hanshaw, who has a team of 30 skilled craftsmen producing 2,000 to 2,500 handmade satchels a month. Therefore Hanshaw took it upon himself to create a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter to raise enough funds to create an online customization application which would allow customers the freedom to personalise their own satchel. He decided to launch the campaign alongside with company's 50th anniversary as he believes mass customization is set to take hold in the fashion industry together with the emergence of new technologies, like 3D printing. In addition, he felt that it was a modern application would make it easier for customer to create their own satchel.

"Since we have already reached our target goal, we will be able to build a basic customization tool which will offer customers over 2 trillion potential bag personalization combinations," said Hanshaw with a laugh. "That is one satchel for every person on the planet, for every day of their lives." Although the campaign isn't over yet, Hanshaw hopes they will be able to raise between 60,000 and 65,000 pounds, so that the tool can be more advanced and let customers select which type of colours and fabrics they wish to use on which panels, as well as which pattern and print. But to begin with, the tool will offer 20 of the Leather Satchel Co. standard bag patterns, which were hand selected by a test-panel of the company's oldest and most loyal customers, each of which will have its own set of customisations. "For example, some may want to add an address pocket on the back, or change the strap length or add a top handle."

Hanshaw: "We are not a high street brand. We are more of a quirky and unique brand"

Once the customer has the bag design they like, they will be able to choose which leathers they wish to use on which panels from their palette of 216 colours and which thread colour. "The leather of our satchels is also a skin, which ages with time and tells its own individual story. This in a sense is also about the bags story and what they want to tell people," adds Hanshaw. Ideally he would even like to include the possibility of letting customers print an image on their bag as well, ranging from a personal photograph from a wedding to a stock image from Shutterstock. "We're even looking at the possibility of integrating our customisation tool with social media channels like Instagram and Facebook, so customers can share their bag designs with friends."

The sky's the limit when it comes to the personalization tool and Hanshaw has already contacted a number of companies to build the tool. "I feel confident that whoever we partner with the create our customization tool will be able to handle all our requests, as it is their reputation that will be on the line as well as ours!" The Leather Satchel Co. has already begun working on all the small rewards and Early-Bird specials so they can begin shipping them out to backers next month and Hanshaw hopes to have an early version of the tool up and running by the end of June - an ambitious goal. "Of course, will be letting backers and market research panel beta-test the tool for us before we launch it, as we would have never gotten as far as we have without their support."

Some may wonder as to why a company as established as the Leather Satchel Co, chose to go the crowdfunding route rather than partnering with an investor to secure external funding, but Hanshaw assures that Kickstarter's ideology aligns better with the family-run business than any business partner. "In a modern world I think that crowdfunding is more in line with us. Unless we find a shareholder who shares our company ethos, we do not want someone who will just drive the company for profitability, as it is not our goal and never has been." Although having an investor on board would likely drive the business expansion, Hanshaw prefers to do things their way. "We are not a high street brand, we are more of a quirky and unique brand." The Leather Satchel Co. currently counts over 100 stockists around the world, and has a number of wholesale partners including Asos in the UK, Amazon in the US and Big Panda in Hong Kong as well as its online webshop .

Hanshaw: "It is not about being the quickest or the best but about the journey itself"

But Hanshaw is also aware of the benefits of having your own physical retail location and is therefore set to open the Leather Satchel Co.’s debut shop-in-shop in indie department store Rex next month. "It is not about being the quickest or the best but about the journey itself." The store will offer the company’s full range of satchels and handbags. Speaking to Hanshaw, it becomes clear that protecting the company's core values and doing things their way remain at the center of the business. For example, he decided to add a smaller 2 pound backing to the campaign after several people from the test-panel suggested it would be a good way to let more people feel involved with the project.

He is also working on developing a vegan satchel, although he still has to find a suitable alternative that is as sturdy and strong as the leather they use, which is source from the Netherlands, Italy and Scotland. "We are currently working with a university in Portugal to develop a vegan leather, as I feel it is something everyone in the industry could benefit from." Hanshaw is also working on creating a range of satchels made from recycled leather, to ensure the Leather Satchel Co. is truly able to accommodate every customer demand. “Customers should have their say in what their handbag looks like and design one that truly reflects their own identity and ideals.”

Photos: Keith Hanshaw, The Leather Satchel Co.

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