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The story of this little company began 50-years ago in the home city of the Legendary Beatles. Liverpool was really swinging in the 1960s, overflowing with culture, energy and passion.
The main protagonist of our story is a young gentleman called Steven Hanshaw. Steven (or Uncle Steve as we usually call him, because there are more than one Steven in our family now) was born and bred in the City of Liverpool, England and had been learning about leather from his dad; Crispin Ronald Hanshaw, who was more lovingly known as Pop.
Uncle Steve started his craft by making leather strops (for sharpening Pop’s cut-throat razor) and belts for family and friends. He quickly showed his talent for the craft by spanning into other areas such as bags, purses and even clogs!
After a short time, the beginnings of a small workshop slowly established itself in the small brick outhouse in the rear of the family home. Within the local district of Old Swan, Uncle Steve was slowly establishing himself as the local go-to-guy if anyone needed something made from leather.
His workshop was small, half of it used to be an out-house, and the other half was previously used for gardening tools so that you can imagine, there wasn’t much room.
When the weather was good (that means not raining as it often does here in England) then Uncle Steve generally found himself working in the yard instead of the workshop as there was more space to work on bigger projects.
Sometimes his younger Brothers and Sisters would be playing in the yard, so he’d then move his workshop to the street. There are seven siblings in his generation of the Hanshaw family! The local Liverpudlian’s would walk past and watch what he was crafting. With confidence in his work and never being too shy to talk to passers-by, he would attract more customers as he chatted with them. The results; Steven Hanshaw had found a way to make a living, using a skill he enjoyed. This hobby-shop wasn’t yet a business, but it was a beginning.
Quickly Uncle Steve realised that the more people that were able to watch him work, then the more customers he would attract. It wasn’t long before he made his workshop fully portable. He bought himself a hand-driven Singer 29k leather stitcher that could be used anywhere because it didn’t need power (we still have the Singer 29k leather stitcher to-this-day!) and then he figured out a way to take the remainder of a simple workshop with him.
He would set-up his stall in Liverpool city centre and go to work. Some people would stop and watch, then some people would buy things, and some other people would ask him to make them bespoke items.
Saving every penny, he eventually bought a van, he fitted out the back with basic living accommodation and places for his leather and tools, and he went On The Road.
He’d target any place where there was a big event, on the understanding that the more people that saw what he was doing then, the more items he would sell. So particular favourite destinations would be music festivals and sporting events, with Football Matches and National Cycle Races being specific favourites.
Sometime during the summer of 1966, Uncle Steve had set-up his street stall just down the road from the Wembley Stadium. The world cup was in England, and he was taking advantage of the huge crowds it was gathering.
During this time at the front of his street-workshop, was a selection of some of the things he’d made, belts, hair-clips, bracelets, purses and a number of different bag styles, in particular there was a small leather school satchel, which he’d first made a several years earlier because a customer had asked him to make one for her daughter.
A headmaster from a London school was on the way to the football match and was curious as to what the small crowd of people was looking at. He glanced at the stall and spied the satchel. Picking it up, he exclaimed, “Young man, this is just what I have been looking for!” He then asked, “Would you be able to make approximately two hundred?” Apparently, the school he ran was having trouble finding a maker for them!
“Erm…”, Uncle Steve swallowed, he knew he was just one man, but the headmaster didn’t, so he answered “Sure, two-hundred, not a problem. When do you need them?” His head was spinning from trying to work out how he was going to make so many satchels!
The resulting conversation led to a dialogue that lasted a couple of months. He acquired a letter of intent from the school, and after realising that there was an excellent business to be made making satchels, he spoke to a number of other schools and established the same offering with them.
He was able to put together a business plan. Then he went to the bank, and with the guaranteed orders from the letters of intent, he obtained a mortgage for a professional workshop, was able to establish the business and also purchase enough leather to complete his first batch of satchels.
Shortly afterwards, the two younger brothers got involved in the family business, Barry and Paul, and they established themselves on Smithdown Road in Liverpool.
At the time, Smithdown was an artisan quarter of Liverpool, having many tailors, dress-makers, artists, stylists, galleries and craftsmen.
The building had three floors and a basement, it wasn’t the ideal layout for a workshop, but it was a vast improvement from using Pop’s yard and outhouse. One thing it did have was a cute little shop window that allowed us to exhibit all the different types of satchels, bags and accessories that we made.
Our primary business was satchels and music cases, but we did make other things for people upon request, the most popular items where custom belts and instrument straps.
Our family business was doing very well, that is to say until the late 1970s and early 1980s, but that was when this happened…
Asian manufacturer’s opened its doors to the world. They knew how to make a handful of western bag styles and produced them in every colour, then merely silk-screened on logos or flags as needed.
The big sports brands where now mass importing cheap plastic bags, branded with their logo and they were arriving into the UK by the boatload. In the past quality leather tennis or sports, bags cost several hundred pounds, and now these cheap look-a-like items were priced at around £40.
This cheap price gave the opportunity for school kids to be able to use them as a school bag – instead of a traditional hand-made leather satchel. The market in satchels almost entirely died for us.
Over the next few decades, UK manufacturing was torn apart. Tools and machinery from factories were dismantled and shipped abroad and the jobs that they supported no longer existed. During this phase, the UK didn’t just lose a chunk of its economy to overseas companies, but a great deal of unique skills were lost because they weren’t passed onto the next generation of trades-people.
The market got very aggressive. Family businesses couldn’t reduce staff numbers or try and get things cheaply made elsewhere because most of their staff were family, so many companies like ours ceased trading or went bankrupt. Fortunately, over the decades, the three brothers, Steve, Barry and Paul Hanshaw, had developed themselves into a small team of craftsman and they had been invited to join the British Guild of Master Craftsmen. They were capable of making almost anything from leather and carried on the tradition of training other people in the team to the same standard.
The Hanshaws diversified into making all kinds of leather items, not only focusing on products that suited their skill-set of working with heavy, equestrian style leathers with raw edges and exposed stitching but also working with thinner, fashion leathers, heavy fabrics and other materials.
We pulled together and survived the slow dismantling of the UK’s manufacturing industry. Then during the 1990s, The Leather Satchel Co. was the only surviving English maker of the Classic Leather Satchel and Music Case.
Now, although we where the last surviving maker in England (some people would even call us the original), you’ll find that there exist dozens of satchel companies in the UK nowadays, that mimic our style of leather-work. We even helped some of those companies in their early days by providing them with design samples and prototypes. That’s the reason why other companies have satchel and bag designs that are very similar to our own. The likelihood is that you may have probably heard of some of them because a couple of them are bigger than us now!
As the years passed, our team grew and eventually, the next generation of Hanshaws started working in the family business. The first was, Keith Hanshaw, he is the eldest of the next generation of Hanshaws, and then, later on, his cousin, Chris Hanshaw began working in the company, then followed by numerous other members of the family. As the business grew, they knew the workshop on Smithdown Road wasn’t very suitable for them, but they had never got around to moving premises.
With the closure of the tannery, Garston Leather, there was no longer any reasonable argument for staying in Smithdown. Chris Hanshaw played a pivotal role in persuading the family to eventually move to a new business unit based in Knowsley, just on the outskirts of Liverpool. This unit was a single floor and was a lot more practical than the Smithdown workshop, and the family has never looked back – the move was one of the best business decisions made.
Knowsley is right in the heart of the UK’s manufacturing hub, referred to as the Northern Powerhouse, which is considered an amalgamation of the three northern cities of Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds. In Britain, financial deals are executed in the City of London; Education in Oxford and Cambridge; Whilst the highest density of manufacturing is carried out in the Northern Powerhouse.
The new workshop brought new ambition. Previously we had never been too good at advertising or promoting ourselves, but we decided to see what could be achieved by levering the power of the internet. Keith Hanshaw was given the responsibility of the creative director for this new marketing medium.
Within hours of the products being marketed online orders started flooding in, not just from the UK, but from all over the world. In next to no time we found ourselves exporting our bags and leather goods to almost every country we could dream about.
Keith Hanshaw gradually worked his way up through the business, after starting as a general workshop helper at the age 14, and then doing an apprenticeship at 16 years old. He was then responsible for the creative direction of all the companies online activities. Eventually he became a joint director, alongside Barry Hanshaw (Uncle Steven’s younger brother) and then finally today he has taken full directorship of The Leather Satchel Co.
For increased transparency; in 2010, we incorporated our family partnership into a limited company at Companies House to enable our foreign partners to have greater visibility over our financial performance and creditworthiness. One of the secrets of our family businesses resilience is that we fully understand how important it is to excel at customer service.
It is easy to talk about how great a brand is, but to measure the quality and the appeal of a brand is not so much. Then the only real judge is the consumer. Trust Pilot is the UK’s biggest independent review website. It provides consumers with an independent forum to voice their views about a company without editorial from the brand or product owners. Since its formation, consumers of our bags have been leaving independent reviews of our brand and products on the Trust Pilot site. During 2014 we were awarded the “Best in Category” for Leather-goods above all other companies in the UK.
2016 saw the celebration of 50-years since Steven Hanshaw founded The Leather Satchel Co. During those 50-years we’ve worked with huge multi-nationals like Disney and legendary designers like Celia Birtwell, the queen of print (famous for her range of luxury wallpapers) and for our 50th anniversary, we made some exclusive products that had limited availability, along with a number of celebratory events.
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