What led you to start Cope Studio?
I’d been working as the lead on production for a London brand for a few years already before going to work alongside a heritage factory outside Stockport. Unfortunately the factory was closed down due to unmanageable overheads and I could see that many of the customers there would be cut adrift without a UK-based manufacturer. I knew that many brands like yours find the Made in England stamp really important, so I knew that I could set up a small studio to fulfil that need without the huge overheads that had crippled others.
From a personal point of view I love to make things with my hands, and engineer a problem. I love to help people start new businesses and existing brands to grow, to see their ideas made true, and I’m very lucky and privileged that I can make a living doing that.
Where did you learn and hone your skills in leather craft?
I learned by doing. I started out by helping my friend with his small business and he in turn had learned from a Saddler. His business grew big and within a year or two I was working there full-time running the production schedules. The majority of the work I learned there was basic bench work, materials use, hand-cutting and detail work. The first iteration of COPE studio was a partnership and my former business partner had studied at Cordwainers (UAL) so she taught me how to pattern cut and sew and I just practised and practised. I’ve been working with leather for around 15 years now and I’m still learning as I go! There’s always room for improvement on the skills I already have and things I’d like to try.
What do you love most about working with leather?
I like that last moment when all the edges are cleaned up all the threads and mess of the construction is tidied away and there’s a perfect shining product. I also like how durable and strong the materials are; knowing they’ll last for years is quite special - nothing is throwaway.
What steps have you taken to be more sustainable as a business?
It’s borderline embarrassing how many boxes and tubs of ‘offcuts’ I’m storing year on year. I can’t bare to throw such a quality material away so I save every last piece. This gets reused in all my clients reorders in some of the smaller hidden elements, or many of my clients like to specifically design small products to use it up, like keyrings etc. I also try to reuse boxes and packing materials that come to me rather than buy new but that’s not always possible.
What is your connection to Margate? Why did you choose it as a place to start your business?
My wife and I moved here from Scotland but before then had been in London for 13 years. Her job is London-based now and when discussing whether we would move back into the city we knew that Margate had a growing arts scene so would be a good base for me to find a studio. We already had friends that lived here and so it seemed right. Seeing the sea and horizon every day does wonders for your sense of well-being.
Apart from the Dinky (of course), what has been your most favourite project to work on and why?
Difficult because sometimes the ‘favourites’ were also the most stressful! I like making these belts for Liam Hodges with Neon edges because I just couldn’t get it right at first and then I cracked it and they looked great. I think my favourite feeling is that eureka moment when you solve a problem. On the other side of things, sometimes I like working on a really repetitive large order because I can zone out and then suddenly you see this pile of work appear and it feels like an achievement.
How would you describe your day-to-day?
I pretty much turn up as close to 9am as possible and just start working. I rarely do any computer work, all my invoicing and emails are done at home, so I just grab an apron and start wherever I left off the day before. We tend to have 1 job going at a time, occasionally my assistant and I will work concurrently on 2 or 3 orders but I tend to try and work in a queue system so that I have eyes on the whole process. I’m also teaching my assistant as we go along so it’s good for him to work alongside me rather than just dictating smaller jobs and leaving them alone. Overall, it’s a mixture of cutting, staining, gluing, sewing and fixing buckles. Riveting work (that’s a leather craft pun!)
What’s your top tip for living more sustainably?
My major encouragement would be to limit waste and repair and reuse. It’s certainly better where you can to spend a little more on something quality that can be repaired; for instance shoes and furniture and it’s where leather goods are a good investment. I also hate food waste - we’re pretty frugal at home and have lots of pickled and fermented vegetables in jars. Anything that is inedible at least gets composted.
Name a forever item of clothing or accessory that you couldn't live without?
In a literal sense my glasses are pretty important. They’re from a UK brand called Cubitts who we did some work with on cases years ago and I thought we shared a similar ethos. I bought 2 pairs in 2015 and have just had new lenses put in rather than replace them as a whole.
How do you see the leather craft industry progressing/evolving in the future?
At the moment I don’t see the industry booming in the UK unless the government as a whole gets behind manufacturing at that level. There is a stronghold on leathergood manufacture in the EU and abroad, particularly Italy and China, where they have modern and computerised machinery, massive workforces and easier acquiring of materials so their production costs are low. Since we left the EU we’ve seen the cost of importing materials rise (because we barely produce any) and now we have rental costs, energy costs and living costs affecting the prices that we all need to charge and it’s causing factories to close down all the time. I’d love it to have apprentices or young people that want to work and learn these skills, but the reality is that there isn’t a career there.
My business exists to serve other independent brands and businesses but there is an upper limit of what I can do so if a larger brand wanted to move their production to the UK I wouldn’t be appropriate. There are fewer and fewer places for them to go. I think perhaps that UK-made leathergoods will have to be treated as a luxury market even more so than they already are unless government starts to invest more in vocational pathways of education and home-grown industry.