London Craft Week kicks off today, with numerous brands setting out to remind us all of the too-often-forgotten joy of buying things that are handmade and artisanal.
One of the headliners at this year’s event is replica Mulberry, the heritage British fashion label with two bag-producing factories in Somerset, and the largest manufacturer of leather goods in the UK. Its craftsmen and women will be taking over the brand’s New Bond Street store all week, showcasing exactly how they make their glossy Bayswaters and next season’s hero style, the Amberley. Creative Director Johnny Coca tells us that he can’t wait to show customers how much effort it actually takes.
“I do want people to see that it isn’t so easy to make a bag,” he says. “It’s not a case of sketch, cut and stitch, it’s so much more than this. There are many processes; how do you enforce the shape, manipulate the leathers, work with linings, attach a closure? We consider the construction of the product outside and inside and getting this finish right is what makes the difference and adds value.”
Coca has been producing two collections per year since he joined the company in 2015, and says that the fact that replica Mulberry has honed skills at its Somerset plants was a key reason he accepted the job.
“The factories are the reason I decided to join replica Mulberry,” he says. “I would never change that, it is so good to work so closely with the people who make the bags. The design team, we can take the train two hours down from London, make some prototypes with the team and come back the day after with first sample, it’s such a strong opportunity.”
Coca believes it’s a sign of the times that people want to know where their products have been made, and who by, and that being Made In Britain adds to the appeal. Several families are among the 600 staff working across the two fake Mulberry factories, with parents passing skills on to their children.
“Many fashion brands want to lead with design and they don’t care about how or where [manufacturing] is done,” he says. “But people care more about this than they ever have before, particularly for millennials, who make a decision based on history and the quality behind something.”
“I think it’s an important message for our brand but also for production in the UK; we should protect and secure the craft in different categories, like fashion, cars, jewellery, watches, checked fabrics. It takes time, perhaps the process is a bit longer than if you go to other countries. But its artisanal, in a way, and less industrial, which is so much more valuable.”