Tannery manager David Miller gives the inside scoop on working at Blenkinsop; one of Britain's few remaining leather suppliers.
At Blenkinsop, we don't carry any stock of finished leather, but make every order to the customer's specifications. Each colour is individually matched to a Pantone number or even a magazine cutting, meaning we are a truly bespoke manufacturer in every respect. Customers often have leather that's not quite right for the end use, whether it's too heavy, too hard or the wrong colour. We can address these issues, using the key knowledge base within the organisation, put it right and return it to the customer – often within 48 hours.
I first entered the industry in 1980 as a trainee leather dresser at TH Geary Ltd in my hometown of Kettering. It was a kind of a stopgap, as I wasn't certain what I wanted to do. I quickly found my feet in the industry, however, and attended college in Northampton, progressing early into management, but maintaining that hands-on approach. Fortunately, we have one of the most recognised and respected leather courses in the world on our doorstep in Northampton, complete with its own fully equipped micro tannery. There, students from all over the world hope to earn the right to put the coveted words 'graduated in Leather Technology at Northampton University' on their CV.
I could see the industry was in decline. Like most industries in the UK, the leather trade moved offshore many years ago, but I was having fun and enjoying making something beautiful from something that's, well, not! It brought out an artistic side in me that I didn't know existed. After several different roles honing my skills in the industry, I was offered a position with Blenkinsop. The company was diverse in a way that no other tannery was and encompassed everything I'd learned in my career over the years.
We started working with Globe-Trotter in autumn 2011. We carefully select English hides for Globe-Trotter production, working them to the substance (thickness) required, then dyeing them to the desired shade. Once dry, the hides move to the finishing area, where the art of the finishing-room technician comes into play, drawing on both up-to-date and traditional methods. When the leather is finished, it's inspected and checked for colour, handle and substance. Only when all the tests have been passed is the leather dispatched.
Globe-Trotter is, of course, one of the most famous luxury brands in the world. The products are timeless; from the classic suitcases with the leather corners and straps, through to the bag and accessories, the brand oozes quality.
Our leathers have been used in many high-profile products, including President Obama's chair in the Oval Office and the ceiling of Mr Abramovich's yacht. One particular example that stands out for me, however, is when we worked on an American TV show called Warehouse 13. The main character carried a Gladstone bag and for filming purposes they required two. However, the film crew was struggling to find the right leather and rather than change bags, the path led to Blenkinsop, where we had the exact emboss in our library. We made a couple of skins, using the original as a pattern, and were able to make a new bag. The reason this stands out is that it highlights the flexibility of Blenkinsop and the fact that our reputation extends across the Atlantic and beyond. When a client requires something a bit special and different, they know where to come. The most important thing for us as a company is the leather and, as long as the leather fits the customer's requirements, we are happy.