The Leather Satchel Co - Liverpool company still going strong after 50 years
PUBLISHED: 00:00 01 November 2018
Everyone from princesses to supermodels and film stars are getting carried away by satchels made in Liverpool, writes Mairead Mahon
A recent poll declared that one in five parents regard three-year-old Princess Charlotte as a style icon. That means everything she wears is snapped up by parents in what is called The Charlotte Effect.
It’s good news for a Liverpool firm which made the Princess a pink leather satchel backpack embossed with her name. It was presented to her father during a trip to the city and Prince William predicted she wouldn’t be easily parted from her new accessory.
The Leather Satchel Co also made customised satchels for her brothers, George and Louis, from a range named The Mini Windsor produced by master craftsman, Keith Hanshaw, who owns the business with his wife Gail.
‘Honestly, we named it long before we gave them to the actual mini Windsors – that was a happy coincidence,’ says Gail, who has seen the firm’s satchels grace high end fashion shoots, featured on the screen and carried by just about everyone from top model Alexa Chung to students at Eton College.
It’s all a far cry from the days when the firm’s founder Steve Hanshaw worked in the brick outhouse of his Liverpool home, making and repairing all things leather for the neighbourhood. That was more than 50 years ago and there he might have stayed if he hadn’t had the brainwave of buying a campervan and kitting it out as a mobile workshop.
‘Uncle Steve knew people liked to watch him work,’ says Keith. ‘So, in 1966 the biggest crowds to be found in England were outside Wembley waiting for the World Cup so that’s where he went and that’s where he scored his own winning goal! A headmaster saw one of his satchels and asked him to make 200. Uncle Steve was on his way, even if he had no idea how he was going to fulfil the order. Still that’s what we call Liverpool chutzpah!’
Several visits to bank managers later and The Leather Satchel Co was born. The headmaster got his satchels and the business boomed with Uncle Steve eventually being asked to join the British Guild of Master Craftsmen.
‘We’re a family firm and I think we can lay a pretty strong claim to being the oldest surviving satchel making company in the UK,’ says Keith who began helping in the firm when he was 14 as chief tea boy and sweeper up. He worked his way up to becoming a master craftsman himself.
Today, every satchel is hand made in the company’s workshop in Knowsley by a small highly trained team, using many of Uncle Steve’s original tools.
‘We’re all about heritage, all about keeping these precious leatherworking skills alive. I truly believe that if a Tudor leatherworker walked into our workshop today, he’d recognise some of the tools and techniques and be able to fit in immediately – although he might not take too kindly to the radio that is always on. They don’t play many madrigals,’ laughs Keith, who always sources ethical leather – British where possible.
The company’s store is on Liverpool’s Albert Dock and there are plans to install a small workshop there so people can see these traditional skills in action.
‘People are still fascinated by them and we’re determined to keep them alive. That’s why we have an apprenticeship scheme,’ says Keith who, having seen the recession bite in the 1980s, now struggles to keep up with demand as orders flood in from all over the world.
‘We don’t churn out hundreds a day. We have a stock of ready-made items in our shop and they can also be purchased online but we also offer a bespoke service and, of course, monogramming is always popular. We’re actually working on a design tool that will allow customers to design their own bag on line.’ As well as bags they also produce smaller items such as key fobs and iPad cases. Saddlebags and, perhaps more surprisingly, sporrans are also available. So, how did the satchels end up in glossy fashion shoots and on the arms of equally glossy fashionistas like Alexa Chung? ‘Simply by word of mouth,’ says Keith. ‘It has just snowballed. We have over 40 different colours and we add a new colour each season. I think everyone appreciates British quality and the retro look is bang on trend right now.’
Prop companies also use the satchels and while they aren’t always told in which production they’ll be used, they did appear in the Netflix hit ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ and they have a sneaking suspicion they were in the Harry Potter films. Keith is pretty sure he spotted his company’s unique tear-drop shaped buckle strap from the very end of Platform Nine and Three Quarters.