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Ruth Pullan Textiles & Leatherwork, Customer Spotlight #11

Ruth Pullan Textiles & Leatherwork, Customer Spotlight #11
05/11/2015

Not one to follow high street fashion and tired of poorly made accessories, Ruth Pullan decided to be the answer to her own shopping problems and create a British accessory brand under her own name. Between 2011 and 2012, Ruth embarked on a number of leatherwork courses with the Cumbria School of Saddlery. Applying the skills she had learnt from her time in Cumbria, Ruth slowly started to develop her own brand and product line. After hard work and determination Ruth Pullen Textile and Leatherwork was created. A company which is dedicated to providing the consumer with timeless pieces that are handmade from start to finish. We caught up with Ruth to learn more about her brand and the work she does.

What were your reasons for starting your own textile and leatherwork company? I was working in a gallery at the time and surrounded by people who were making a living from making beautifully crafted things and I wondered if I could do the same. I had always been a maker and I subsequently found out that leatherwork runs in the family, my Great Grandfather was a boot and shoe maker so it seems a strange kind of destiny! This coupled with an increasing sensitivity to the problems of global mass produced items and the environmental and social impact of this pushed me towards learning a tradition craft where I could have complete control over the materials and suppliers I was using and most importantly, keep it all within the UK.

What did you do before Ruth Pullan Textiles and Leatherwork? I worked in galleries for a number of years as I always thought I would like to run my own shop or gallery myself, selling other people's art and craft. The making has taken over at the moment but this original aim might well resurface if the right opportunity arises!

Had you any previous leatherwork experience before embarking upon your course with the Cumbria School of Saddlery? No, none at all. I had making experience, dress making and sewing and I was already making products to sell but using British tweeds and local cloths. It was this that introduced me to leather as I was buying in the handles for my bags and was unhappy with the quality and potentially dubious origin of the leather so I went and learnt bridlework so I could make them myself. It's carried on from there, leather is such a wonderful material and the fact that I can make something which will last a long time is one of the most appealing things about working with this material.

What materials do you predominately work with? I use leather, cotton webbing, brass or steel buckles and linen thread. The textile side of things has taken a back step but I am experimenting with natural dyes at the moment with a view to producing a small line of printed cotton or linen bags.

It’s apparent from your website you carry a strong ethos for quality made leather goods. Have you ever found it challenging sourcing quality materials? I haven't really, no. There are still good manufacturers here in the UK but perhaps just less of them. Yes, you do have to do a lot of trialling of materials and ringing up different places, I did a lot of travelling to different suppliers when I started up but I never found this a challenge as everyone in this industry is very supportive and good to deal with, in fact it was all part of the excitement and fun of starting something up. I was lucky also that my teacher, David May had used Abbey for a long time and recommended the company highly, he pointed me in the right direction as he only used top quality materials. Perhaps it might have been more difficult if I hadn't have had those initial tips!

Where does the inspiration for your designs come from? This is difficult to answer really as inspiration does come from all angles. Polished leather Bridge bags of my Mum's and vintage briefcases, pattern cutting and dressmaking for developing interesting structures and simply playing with what the leather can do all provide starting points for new designs. Ultimately though I design and make things for people to use and enjoy.

What is the most challenging part when making your bags? I still find the moment when I've drawn my designs, made the model, tested buckles and straps and finally committed to the design and start marking the leather with the pattern the most daunting bit. I tend not to leave jobs like that to last thing on Friday!

What is your number one tip for looking after your leather goods? Use them. Please don't store them in a cupboard, they dry out and the bloom comes up and they end up looking sad! Get them out, love them, handle them and polish them up.

Do you have a five year plan for Ruth Pullan Textiles and Leatherwork? If so, can you please tell us a little bit about it? Not sure about a five year plan, but I do have some ideas as starting points which could develop. I'd like to experiment with natural dyes for my leather and see where this goes and I would like to maybe look into having my own shop/workshop where I can work from and also sell other people's work, perhaps a pop up shop/gallery to start off with.

What is your best seller? Everything sells well really, there's not one thing which goes better which I am pleased about. A good leather belt is always a winner though!

How does social media help you to develop your brand, if at all? I enjoy using Facebook in particular to give people regular updates on new products which I think might be of interest but I have to be honest in that people really respond best to meeting the maker in person and feeling and handling the products. Social media can help with the follow up to that but I'm not sure it can be relied upon build a brand on its own!

What do you like most about what you do? Gosh, there are so many things! One main thing is being able to provide a product for a "conscious consumer" and the satisfaction that brings. So someone who wants to buy British and sustainably but can't find it on the high street. I think that really should be the role of small, independent makers, to source and make responsibly and in a way mass produced things cannot bring to the market. That makes me feel quite proud and makes me want to improve and develop my work to keep providing this for people. Making and doing every day is a bit of a luxury as well and a situation which I know I am very lucky to be in. Being self-employed and the flexibility this brings is fantastic too, it's not for everybody but it suits me very well!

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