Simpson London.

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Simpson London.

The supreme quality of our leather good supplier: Simpson London.

21 December

In the heavy overcast of East London, where garages, metal workshops and Screwfix depots reign supreme, there sits a beacon of craftmanship. The new Simpson London factory is a hive of activity, producing the finest of leather goods. Its surroundings make for a stark contrast to inside of the factory which is remarkably clean, naturally-lit and open. For an industry steeped in antiquity and tradition, this is a company with an eye on the future and it makes them the ideal manufacturer to produce Chester Barrie’s leather goods.

The company was created in 1997 by Robert Simpson, rescuing the old Tanner Krolle factory when the brand was taken over by the Chanel Group. Robert was determined to keep the English-made, hand crafted leather tradition going. And it is this belief that has pushed Simpson London to excel; the opening of their new factory only further cements this.

The main production floor is neatly split into varying specialist skills and there is a peaceful thrum of staff embossing, hand-stitching, dying, sanding, splitting and cutting leather. All these factors contribute to the production of some of the finest leather goods available on the market today.

Simpson uses the highest quality bridle hide and calf hide, which is sourced from Kent, or Scotland (northern hemisphere hide is so much better as it is less affected by flies). These skins are tanned in-house with an emphasis on both durability and aesthetics. And there is a series of checks throughout the process to make sure that the quality standard is being met. The leather is thoroughly inspected by the suppliers, but, for good measure Simpson double checks for blemishes before use. This rigorous quality control standard is maintained throughout.

But the proof is in the pudding: bags of varying shape and style, built in the original Tanner Krolle factory, still come in for repair some 50, 60 or, even in some cases, 70 years after purchase; an astonishing feat of longevity.

This level of quality is achieved by a meticulous attention to detail, creating the finest, most durable finishes. The many layers of leather (up to five including the corner patches) ensure that despite hitting the floor day-in, day-out, the bag will withstand most knocks. And as can be seen in “How to make a Top Frame Briefcase” (below) the manufacturing process is long and meticulous.

As well as being built with the durability of a Tiger II Tank, Chester Barrie’s briefcases serve as an argument for classic design. Inside the bag, the refined, hand-stitched lining and variety of well-thought out pockets, compartments and nifty designs suggest aesthetics and functionality are closely twinned. This symbiosis of endurance and design make the Chester Barrie top frame briefcase a bag to cherish for life.

How to make a top frame briefcase.

Select the leather. Choose colour, type of leather and pattern. Ensure there are no blemishes and polish if there is a white residue on (known as “leather bloom” or “tallow wax”).

Cut the leather. There are many component parts of the briefcase. Depending on production capacity, this will either be machine cut or hand cut. Simpson prefer to hand cut where possible.

Split the leather. This will ensure the leather is the right thickness for the product part being constructed. The thicker it is the more durable but less pliable. The thinner it is the softer and more suited to wallets and small leather goods.

Machine Stitch. Which technique is used depends on the parts being stitched together. The strong, durable back of the briefcase will be machine stitched.

Hand Stitch. Almost all of the remainder of the stitching will be hand-worked, including the thick handle and the lining.

Sand. The edges of the leather stitching must be sanded to remove excess material. By machine or by hand depending on the access the part allows.

Edge Dye. The dye must is mixed by an expert to match the colour of the leather and then applied by hand.

Dry the dye. Either air dried or sped up with a drying machine.

Repeat this process of sanding, edge dying and drying until the dye is has properly seeped in. This can be repeated up to six times.

Add the finishing touches such as the embossed logo tag and the metallic locks and opening mechanisms.

Quality Control. A checklist is run through to ensure it is the right product and that there are no imperfections.

Each top frame takes 10-12 hours of labour time to perfect.

The unique, modern-age craftsmanship of Simpson London

As we watch a young man hand-stitch a thick leather Chester Barrie briefcase with precision, my guide notes: “Everything is still hand-stitched where possible”. It is the mark of a company committed to its craft and craftspeople. Go downstairs and not only will you find part of the company’s proud history sitting in the form of a bright, royal cypher embossed “red box”, leather storage rooms with a smell of sweet new hide, but also a certain John Field.

John is the embodiment of a craftsman. A septuagenarian member of the “Simpson family” his workshop is littered with intriguing hand operated machines, wood shavings and curious designs. One recent customer request saw him constructing a 17th Century carriage clock carrier from nothing but a scant array of Google images. While another project led him to make cedar wood bend and fold into a cylindrical shape. Much like the rest of the Simpson business, John is continually producing innovative, pragmatic and cool designs.

But John is no wild professor hidden in the basement. Like the leather cutters upstairs, he provides the hand crafted templates for the laser machines; providing efficiency to the craft. As production scales up, this marriage of the hand crafted and machine produced parts mean the company is highly adept and poised to cater for both unique designs and large scale orders.

Problems that would have plagued an older more traditional production set up would are now solvable. In reaction to a bottleneck in production, a dye drying machine was installed to cut production time with no compromise on craft. Simpson London, a company which saw three employees retire last year all passing on their skills to a new eager generation, proves that more than just a poignant and beautiful generational baton passing, it is crucial for continued success. Antiquity and modernity find balance through the machine production and the passion of human craft, ensuring Simpsons continue to produce the highest quality leather goods on the market.

That is why Chester Barrie is proud to be partnering with Simpson London.


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