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Handmade Leather Bags

by Angie Boyer

Published: January 2018

Handmade Leather Bags

I am delighted to say that I have two rather gorgeous handmade leather bags which elicit comments and compliments wherever I happen to be with them, most often about the striking colour combinations!

Several years ago, when we were exhibiting at the British Craft Trade Fair, the glorious colours in Harriet Sanders' display of leather bags, just a few stands along from ours, really grabbed my attention. I loved the designs too. And so two of them made their way into my life. Oh, and I bought another for my daughter as well!

Things move on and my path didn't cross with Harriet's again for several years, until August 2017 that is. Paul and I were in Cheltenham judging for our Award at The Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design. After selecting our winner, we decided to take a walk and find a bite to eat before the evening Private View and awards announcements.

So it was with some surprise that I came across the stylish Harriet Sanders shop, situated on one of Cheltenham's equally stylish streets. I knew it was her work, those unmistakable colour combinations just leapt out at me from the window displays. So in we went, for a bit of a catch up.... 

When I'd last spoken to Harriet, she was based in London, so what had prompted her move to Cheltenham? "I moved here because it is my home town," she explained. "I felt I could grow a better following in a town like Cheltenham as it has such a great community feel to it. And with London you just get swamped in all the options. I still reach out to all of the UK in my marketing and we ship internationally as well as nationally, but Cheltenham has allowed us to grow in a more effective way."



Harriet spoke about how different things are for her now that she has relocated. "My work life has changed quite dramatically in comparison to London. When I made the decision to move to Cheltenham, I also decided that I would reduce my wholesaling and push direct sales through my website, as I wasn’t bringing my team of makers with me. After a year or so, the demand for a shop front became apparent, and that’s when we moved in to the shop in The Suffolks.  

"Having the shop has meant a huge commitment in terms of ensuring that I am always there when we state we are open. I can’t just nip out for an appointment or change my working hours to suit something that may be going on. That’s been an interesting transition for me, and after a year of running the shop, I now have a couple of team members to call on if I do need to be somewhere else. I also no longer spend all day with my dog, as he barks at customers (to say hello, not to be vicious) and they don’t always like it. So the move has meant a big change for my lifestyle, but it is still positive."

The Harriet Sanders shop presents an interesting mix of sales area and workshop, the two work well together and help to emphasise the fact that these bags are hand crafted. "The shop has a traditional style frontage with large, double bay windows, inside we have all of our styles of handbags on display, as well as a collection of accessories, clothing and gifts mostly made by designers in the UK. At the back of the shop I have my work station and sewing machine, so customers can view me making bags whilst they browse the collections. It’s a really great set up for me, as it means I can make bags during the quiet periods and serve when needed."

Harriet's bags are made from ethically sourced Italian leather and lined with a contrasting colour of suede, her particular style and way of making results in a range of bags that are instantly recognisable as the Harriet Sanders brand. "Most of my bags are made to order, so the customer can choose their style, leather and lining, as well as any add-ons such as pockets," she explains. "The customer gets a real feeling of a bespoke product that has been made specifically for them, but it’s an entirely affordable service with bags starting at £40."

Harriet began her business eight years ago and since then has achieved a great deal. "I started out making bags in my garden shed and selling them on Old Spitalfields Market. We did well in establishing some really good stockists that helped to build the reputation and awareness of the brand, as well as attending some high profile events where we sold direct to the customer. After a few years, we launched a new website that transformed the brand in allowing us to reach out to a wider audience and ship internationally. Our social media presence has also been a vital factor in building the brand, it is now a very important channel for our company in terms of making sales. And I'm hoping to look at starting wholesale again soon, too."

So if you find yourself in Cheltenham, be sure to visit Harriet Sanders at 31 Suffolk Parade, Cheltenham GL50 2AE. And if you don't find yourself in Cheltenham, here's how to visit online: 

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After very many years of craft&design we've decided that we'd like to retire and so in 64 days we will close the craft&design website, including craft&design Online and the craft&design Selected Makers and Craft and Design Month websites. We've had a brilliant 35 years and would like to thank all our readers, advertisers, writers, contributors and website visitors for their support throughout that time. Our very best wishes to you all for the future - Angie and Paul.