Sumptuous Leather Bags made in Edinburgh
Founded in the early 70’s, the high-quality, traditional leather workshop, MacKenzie Bags has just opened its doors right across the street from us. Would you believe that the current owner began his trade in Spain nearly 20 years ago, making his own leather goods and selling them at local markets at the tender age of 19?!
Simon Harvey-Potts had taken a year out and was traveling round Europe when he met local leather artisans in the beautiful city of Granada. Taken in by Simon’s interest and enthusiasm, they donated some scraps of leather and tools to him and taught him some very basic stitching techniques.
He completely fell in love with the craft and spent the next 18 months travelling further around Europe, teaching himself more techniques and surviving by selling his bags, belts, passport holders, bracelets and more at local markets. He even added Celtic symbols and other carvings to create unique pieces.
When he returned to Edinburgh, Simon was desperate to join a traditional leather maker to improve his skills further and continue his passion. A very determined young man, he went into MacKenzie’s shop on Victoria Street once or twice a week, every week, for four months until they offered him an apprenticeship!
He learnt a huge number of new techniques from the leather maker there, mastering several favourites in his first year, including belts, book bags, sporrans and brief cases. He learnt the very essence and traditional aspects of leather work, using the saddlery techniques the business was founded on.
Saddlery demands a lot of hand-stitching and also the skills to know where those stitches should be placed, making the finished article incredibly strong and hard-wearing. This is in contrast to most leather goods, which are generally 100% machine stitched, and so much weaker with, oddly, slightly wonky stitching!
Taking the Reins
Fast forward to 2011 (11/11/11 in fact) and Simon bought the business, operating purely online for several years and taking stands at some of the big shows, festivals, game and craft fairs. Keen to find the right location for a shop, he searched for a long time before finding 17 St Mary’s Street. It was clearly meant for an artisan, his landlady even putting in his lease the words “no tartan tat”!
Simon’s most popular items are his bags … there is a bag for every situation, including the famous Gladstone bag, often referred to as a doctor’s bag or travel bag. There are brief cases, laptop cases, handbags, satchels and of course the saddle bag.
Just one brief case takes up to three days to make, demonstrating the intricate handiwork involved. The leather itself is critical too and Simon only uses Italian and Spanish vegetable tanned leather. This leather goes through a tanning process that takes up to 40 days and produces a product that looks better as it wears.
Simon is delightfully passionate about leather work and whilst he has a good number of products ready to go off the shelf, he finds that most people prefer to personalise their bag or briefcase by their choice of leather, lining or by adding their initials. For that reason, most of the bags are made to order.
You’ll have to make a visit to the workshop in St Mary’s Street and see just what can be done with the best leather and the best workmanship.
And if you’re in need of a stunning new bag for yourself or as a present, Simon has very kindly offered a complementary extra if you purchase any shoulder bag, briefcase or Gladstone bag from MacKenzie’s before 31st October 2017.
Simply take along a copy of this article or the offer in the newsletter. Thanks Simon.