A Hive of Leatherworking Adroitness
Hidden on the border of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, under the watchful eye of fifth generation William, Tusting continues to create the most marvellous leather goods
Article by Lee Osborne, courtesy of his sartoiralee blog
I have a real fondness for experiencing first-hand how goods are made. Several times of the year my brain seems to revert to factory setting, leading me on pilgrimages to a plethora of the finest mills and silk roads that preside my fatherland. So when British premium leather goods brand Tusting invited me to get up close and personal to their production line, it was only a matter of time before a penchant for hides would be born.
Tusting is a family run business, located in the village of Lavendon on the juncture of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire – land of charismatic sand coloured stone houses and inviting roadside inns.
It’s hard not to draw parallels with another fine British institution of luxury textile manufacturing I’ve visited: Johnstons of Elgin – Tusting’s Tannery Warehouse as it’s known, is similarly modest in size but like the Scottish cashmere powerhouse, works with some of the highest calibre brands in the business. For Johnstons, read finest haute couture. For Tusting, read brands of Bond Street repute and veritable British racing automotive marques.
The factory is similarly devoid of mod cons, not flash, but highly functional. The company may have adapted to the demands of the 21st century, but it’s heartening to see that traditional tools of the trade reign supreme as much today as they did when the factory first threw open its doors in 1875.
The firm employs highly skilled workers rich in leatherworking adroitness, sourced predominantly from the neighbouring villages, a loyal workforce they are rightfully proud to retain. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that having so many long serving members of staff leads to consistently impressive levels of craftsmanship.
The tour on which Tusting takes Sartorialee starts in the section of the factory that creates prototypes of new bag designs. I gaze over the designer’s shoulder as he renders a bag design for a luxury French lifestyle brand before I’m led to what I suppose could best be described as the raw materials department – if you can imagine a vertiginously stacked stock room in a carpet warehouse but with the carpet rolls replaced by top grade leather, you get the picture.
Director William Tusting, host for my visit, explains that one of the company’s key specialities is sourcing uncoated, natural leathers which exemplify the true beauty of the hide – thus leaving no hiding place for inferior quality. The muticoloured rolls have exotic names like ‘sundance’ ‘snuff kudu’ and ‘X Miret 21’ and come in a variety of thicknesses.
Not a million miles away, of course, is the shoe making centre of world renown, Northampton. Was there not, I ask William, himself fifth generation Tusting, a temptation for his ancestors to join the Church’s and Crockett & Joneses of the world who were becoming synonymous with quality footwear throughout the world at around the same time? He is keen to point out that while Tusting chose not to (and pardon the pun) dip their toe in to footwear production, instead concentrating on luggage, they do supply many of the internal leather soles that line some of Northamptonshire’s finest monk straps and Oxfords.
Attention to detail strikes you at every turn in the workshop. It’s very much about the human touch. The company’s master craftsmen and women are sticklers for precision and will think nothing of unstitching an entire seam of a bag if they feel it does not meet their exacting standards. Through experience they have discovered that only a very specific strand of string will do to line the inside of a bag’s handle. Then there’s the embossing machine – “everyone’s favourite” says William: its worktop awash with wooden blocks of reversed out type dusted in gold leaf, an indubitable who’s who of brands the company have collaborated with.
As we stroll around, William tells me often prestigious clients such as Aston Martin, on the back of commissioning them to create lavish leather car interiors, will often follow up with orders for limited edition matching bespoke luggage for their wealthy clientele. After all, if you have the DB9, naturally you want the matching bag. And what a bag it is – a carry-on case crafted from beautiful supple calf grain, in black or dark brown, trimmed with either sky blue or tan perforated brogue-style accoutrement. I spy several of them at the end of the production line, freshly monogrammed, sealed and ready to ship.
As well as the Handmade in England tagline, longevity in its product is something the company prides itself on. Indeed testimonials from satisfied customers reveal many of their bags are still going strong some 20 years or more after purchase. They age incredibly and acquire the mellow patina and distinctive personality, much like a classic piece of furniture would. I love the fact that you can register your product upon purchase, knowing that if you ever need a new handle or zip, Tusting’s will already have your details on file and know exactly the materials required to extend the lifespan of your cherished investment.