Sunday, 13 April 2014

FACTORY VISIT NO.9 : PERSAUD'S BAGS / J&A DESIGNS, HOMERTON


“You missed me,” wrote Junior Persaud in his first email . It came with a link to a story on Spitalfields Life. This was in October last year. A few weeks later, on a damp winter’s evening I was stood in his Homerton factory along with my friend Julian, the photographer for this visit.

“You’ve missed quite a few guys. In Somerset, Clarks village, there were lots of factories nearby. The satchel company, not Cambridge Satchel: the Satchel Company. All of these guys used to work for Clarks. Then they moved it all to China, the whole industry was left, the whole village. Can you imagine what that did to them?”


For Persaud, the business of making bags seems to be as much, if not more, about the people and their stories as it is about the product and profit. An hour spent with Junior is a fascinating one. Within moments of us arriving he’s telling us about his newborn boy (who arrived just days earlier), showing us around the cluttered space, explaining the company’s history and plucking metal frames from hooks hanging above to explain different jobs undertaken over the years. Despite the sheer amount of work and tools that surround us, Persaud knows exactly where everything is.

Demand is high for J&A’s creations, when we leave, two machinists are still working away while chatting to friends and family on their phones (in-ear headphones required, to allow for hands-free talk), according to Persaud, late nights are common at present.


J&A has produced bags for the likes of Paul Smith, Lulu Guinness, Christopher Raeburn and Ally Cappellino over the years. Needless to say, the quality is of a premium. “We use point eight gauge steel here, whereas the Chinese bag makers will use point five, point six. Ours is a tenth of the thickness of a Lancia. They’re not the toughest cars but for a handbag that’s pretty good. We hand braise everything. Everything is double welded so we can give our fittings a life range of eight years. Ally (Cappellino) wants her bags to last so we’ve toughened up our frames as much as we can. They’ve got a good shelf life.” On this particular evening, some sturdy looking numbers are being made for product designer Tom Dixon. Persaud’s address book, a who’s who of British design over the years, would be the envy of many.

As we shuffle about this vast old warehouse, Persaud’s story hurtles back-and-forth, with tales of brothers who traded exotic animal skins decades ago to the coming of the “hop, skip and jump” Olympic Park, situated a javelin throw away from the premises we’re stood in.


“I lost a lot of suppliers. I struggled. I had to go out of London. We had all our workforce round here. Dad (pictured above, in photo frame, on scooter) had this building and the workers would all live in the flats opposite; they’d roll out of bed and straight into here.”

The construction of the Olympic Park saw Persaud (and East London) lose a whole cluster of manufacturing businesses that are unlikely to return. He reels off a list of companies and characters that were lost: the mattress maker, Mr. Ettinger (“The council started to strip the machines down to move them and they just fell apart. You can’t move a machine that’s been sat there for 50 years.”), the board cutters (“Their machine was sat there for donkey’s years, they started to strip down the machines, the machines couldn’t take it. Neither could the guy who was running it.”) and the guy who rewound the motors (“The motors - they’re quite huge and the winding machines were massive and quite complex, built into the building. And the same happened: these guys came along and took apart the machine. Those machines can’t be recalibrated again.”)

“They wiped the whole lot with one hit. That left a lot of these guys in problems and a lot of it went over to China. But now it’s coming back. What I need to do is build that ecosystem back up,” Persaud says, optimistically. The ecosystem he talks of encompasses a wide array of makers, “Quality Castings, Premier Plating. These guys are a lot older than us and they don’t advertise, not much of a website. Nothing. The more chance we have of them sticking around, the better. We’ll regret it if they go.”


Alongside sourcing suppliers, he’s doing his best to encourage new blood into the industry, “We have to show the guys that this is not a woman’s trade. It’s a serious job, there’s a lot of engineering goes into a bag, the amount of companies we have to go and see to see each individual finish. We take on people all the time. I try start them off young, 18 -23. But we take people on to their mid-thirties. London College of Fashion help me out a lot with pattern makers.”

As well as his desire to keep business buoyant, Persaud also has a very keen interest in the heritage and history of British bag making. Earlier, he tells us of a visit with his dad to a Birmingham factory that was winding up production, “They had a ‘Hall of Frame’! It featured everything from 1800 to 1998 or whenever it was. We didn’t have any money but we’d always find a way of buying the tooling. A lot of them owned the copyrights to different frames – the English Inverted, the Queen mum has her bags made with that frame.” He tells us that many of their clearance purchases are still in storage, “at my mum’s place, we have a garage absolutely stacked full. It’s the fear of something important getting lost,” he confesses, “That’s why we’re holding on to the frames and fittings, we want to get them back up and running, because a lot of the stuff that’s made in China is based on old British manufacturing companies from back down the line.”

“It’s not about the money for me. Otherwise, why would I do it? These guys will pick up companies, strip them to their bones, relocate parts of it and try to make money out of it. The guys who are left are without a job and there’s no one to pass the skills on to. There’s a lot of guys who you’re going to miss out on.”

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For more photos of the visit, see the M&I Facebook page

Sunday, 2 February 2014

DIGEST: LONDON CRAFTSPEOPLE, CERAMICS IN STOKE, FASHION AND ORIGIN, A NEW IDENTITY FOR MADE IN UK


"In 2007, I started a photographic project about people who run such businesses. It was to be an addition to my portfolio, an excursion into portraiture that I had planned to complete in a few months. Instead, I continued to photograph shops and workshops, shopkeepers, and craftsmen and -women for the following six years.

I was curious about people, who, despite unglamorous routines, take pride in their work and have a sense of themselves closely linked to their occupation."

Metier, a recent publication by Laura Braun is published by Paper Tiger 

Photo above of Peter Schweiger at James Taylor & Son, Marylebone, by Laura Braun


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"Stoke-on-Trent’s identity as the home of the ceramics industry was thought to be a thing of the past. But when we headed to the Staffordshire city we found a vibrant and positive scene and it’s clear the skills haven’t gone anywhere."

An insightful report on the state of the ceramics industry in Stoke-on-Trent in Monocle

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"Today, new centres of creativity are booming on the edges of the city, inspiring, dictating and rejuvenating contemporary London lifestyle. Through video-interviews, filmed in Brixton, Hoxton, Bermondsey, Shoreditch and Hammersmith, an eclectic array of creatives and entrepreneurs elaborate on the ways in which their work and lives impact the neighbourhood and how the neighbourhood has influenced them."
 

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"Tony Lutwyche, a Savile Row suit-maker and former army officer, says it would help the industry if Europe and the UK could force manufacturers to put a country of origin on the garments. “I think it is marginally immoral when a company claims to be British when they do not make anything here."
 
A 'Made in Britain' fashion revival only for those who can afford it, article featuring Drake's and John Smedley (The Independent)

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"Made in Britain was launched by Liverpool cooker manufacturer Stoves. The company ran a competition inviting students to design a marque that could be applied to its products to show they were made in the UK and later invited other companies to use the symbol. 
 
The campaign has since re-launched as an independent organisation and the original logo – a red, white and blue ribbon/check mark by Nottingham student Cynthia Lee, above - has been replaced with a flexible and versatile design from The Partners." (Creative Review)

Monday, 25 November 2013

DIGEST: HOPS, VISIBLE MENDING, SILK WEAVING IN MACCLESFIELD, HORN BUTTONS, THE NEW INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION


"Present at each stage of production are the standards and inimitable know-how accumulated over the last 150 years. Over that time, a few things have changed — some faster than others — but it’s still the precise same product off the line, same portraits of the founders in the entrance-way, and the same name above the door."

A characteristically well put together piece on the last horn button factory in the UK, in the West Midlands, from S.E.H Kelly. I sometimes struggle to keep up with their output, so I suggest you peruse their site's 'Makers' section in its entirety.

(Picture above from S.E.H Kelly)



"The project was inspired by an attraction to the aesthetics of these workplaces, but also by an interest in what the practices of fixing, mending, repair and renewal could reveal about the way people value things, and each other."

I came across this site, Celebration of Repair, a little while ago. Delighted to see the research is now available in book form, entitled Visible Mending


Are British hops the new grapes? (SIBA)

Though, according to this excellent radio programme, there's only 60 hop growers left in the UK (BBC Radio 4)



"In this two part series, Steph McGovern looks at both the bigger story of silk production, but also takes a close look at how silk shaped one particular town - Macclesfield in Cheshire. Here, silk has been processed, woven and printed for four centuries, and had a profound effect not just upon the built environment but also the social world in which its inhabitants lived."

Another great bit of radio here, on silk weaving (jump to 22.28 to hear about the goings-on at RA Smart near Macclesfield) (BBC Radio 4)



"Sheffield is one of the best places in the world to get a sense of how new thinking allied with clever technology and global marketing can transform traditional industries"

An insightful article by Peter Marsh on The New Industrial Revolution (The Global Journal)



An aptly named retail site that highlights where things are made (Provenance)



An interview with Adam Atkinson of Cherchbi (Grey Fox)

Sunday, 8 September 2013

DIGEST: GLOBEMAKING IN LONDON, A VISIT TO CROCKETT & JONES IN NORTHAMPTON, KENNETH GRANGE

Peter Bellerby - The Globemaker from Cabnine on Vimeo.

Above, a fascinating look into Bellerby & Co. Globemakers in Stoke Newington, north London (via Huh Magazine)

At the Kodak factory in Harrow (Marko & Placemakers)

A visit to Bespoked, a bike show in Bristol (Umbrella Magazine)

Canteen restaurant furniture makers Very Good & Proper interview (Port Magazine)

Behind the scenes at Linton Tweed in Carlisle (Jigsaw)

At Crockett & Jones in Northampton (Make it British)

A David Mellor day out, with biographic notes (Manchester Modernist Society)

A visit to Downing Street: is the government doing enough to support small British manufacturing businesses? (Make it British)

In discussion with Kenneth Grange, talking trains, TX1s and The Killing (Port Magazine)

A short documentary about the recovery of a Victorian press (Tom Stokes)

British made denim: Fallow, Albam, Hiut and Tender (The Chic Geek)

Events:


A pottery trail in Cornwall, from mid-late September (Leach Pottery)

Monday, 5 August 2013

DIGEST: INSIDE SUNSPEL'S FACTORY, THE MAKERS OF THINGS, ARTICLE MAGAZINE, SHOEMAKING


Above, a day in the life of Sunspel's factory in Long Eaton (where M&I visited back in March 2011)

Four very good videos of The Makers of Things - documenting the work and workshops of the Society for Model and Experimental Engineers (via Russell Davies)

Article magazine: 'a celebration of all things British'

A fascinating history of Bovril and its marketing (University of Cambridge)

Terry Smith, envelope cutter at Baddeley Brothers in Hackney (Spitalfields Life)

The Pointe Shoe Makers of Hackney (Spitalfields Life)

The making of Walsh trainers (Make it British)

How a Globe-Trotter suitcase is made (Make it British)

The making of a Private White VC pocket jacket (Port Magazine)

An article on Tanner Krolle in London, from 2011 (The National)

Coloral: a dormant Birmingham cycling brand being given new life (Kickstarter)

A couple of blogs:

The Make Works blog is a joy to keep up with

Norfolk's Old Town has a nice blog that I wasn't previously aware of

*Post updated 6th August 2013


Sunday, 16 June 2013

DIGEST: SHEFFIELD STEEL, A SCOTTISH TOUR, A NEW MAGAZINE ON BRITISH CRAFT


Photographer Andrew Smith has recently released a book documenting some of Sheffield's Forgemasters (one such image above). Entitled Steel Soul, the photos bring to mind the work of Maurice Broomfield

One to keep an eye on: Make Works, a Scottish based collective, is touring the country's factories this summer

The New Craftsmen: interesting new retail concept centred around British made luxury products

One of those brands is Doe Leather, which has a nice backstory and is hosting a workshop in London on 26th June

Margaret Howell's success in Japan (Telegraph)

Paul of S.E.H Kelly explains the background of the menswear label (Port Magazine)

The Anti-craft movement at the one man mill (S.E.H Kelly)

Interview with editor of new magazine on British craftsmanship, Hole & Corner (Cool Hunting)

Teaser for the next issue of drinks magazine Hot Rum Cow, which is whisky focussed this time around

A couple of audio pieces on Cambridge Satchel Company (from 18.25) and New Balance's Flimby factory (from 25.50) (Monocle 24)

Airfix reshoring some manufacturing (Guardian)

At Freed of London, ballet shoe makers (Spitalfields Life)


Sunday, 24 March 2013

DIGEST: SCISSORS MADE IN SHEFFIELD, INDUSTRIAL PHOTOS IN DERBY, BROOKS AND RCA, LABOUR & WAIT



An informative short video on Ernest Wright & Son, scissor makers based in Sheffield. Many more clips from the series "Paul Martin's Handmade Revolution are available here (BBC)

A photo of the production line at Leys Malleable Castings Company. An exhibition of manufacturing photos is taking place at Format International Photography Festival in Derby, where Leys was based (Guardian)

A refreshing initiative between Brooks, the Midlands based bike saddle maker, and the Royal College of Art. The video is worth watching to see some of the solutions that the students propose (Brooks)

Retailer Labour & Wait is posting a short feature entitled 'Tools of the Trade' each month, in relation to its 2013 calendar. January sees printer Harrington and Squires in the spotlight, February's focus is Creamore Mill and in March, Welsh weavers Elvet Woolen Mill is the subject (Labour & Wait)

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Sunday, 17 March 2013

DIGEST: WHISKY - DEWAR'S AND GLENGOYNE

A history of Dewar's, the Scotch whisky, including detail on the brilliantly outlandish marketing ideas employed by Tommy Dewar (Class Magazine)

A photographic essay of production at The Glengoyne whisky distillery in Killearn, Scotland (Port Magazine)

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Photo by Emli Bendixen for Port

Saturday, 29 December 2012