There is nothing I love more than the smell of leather – well other than when the smell of leather accompanies a brand new handbag and that’s exactly what Matthew Riley, founder of the AWL Co, is making.
AWL, which stands for the Artisan Worked Leather Company, offers the classic simplicity of quality leather goods with a fresh, modern twist. Matthew designs, crafts and finishes luxury leather products and accessories by hand and I caught up with him at his unit in the Higherford Mill, Barrowford, Lancashire to find out how he got started and how his products are made.
“I’ve always had a passion for leather goods. I made a few pairs of shoes at college,” Matthew smiles when I ask him how AWL came to be, “I studied Sports Equipment Design at the University of Salford and worked in that industry for a while. Then I lost my job and decided to go it alone.”
And going it alone has worked out well for the 30-year old. AWL has been open for four years and Matthew makes a variety of products including handbags, wallets, belts and card cases but he’s not opposed to people coming to him with suggestions.
“I’ll make anything,” he grins.
As we chat Matthew is working on his latest order, a handbag, and it quickly becomes evident why his products are exceptional. As he clamps his leather in a ‘Saddlers Clamp’ and starts stitching away, I ask him to explain how his products are made from start to finish:
“It starts with a sketch. Then I’ll draft a pattern and make a couple of prototypes out of cheap leather. I’ll redraw the pattern digitally so it’s precise, cut it and then it’s a case of threading up the needle and getting my hands working!”
Using saddle stitch, Matthew stitches by hand and explains why this is much better than the traditional sewing machine:
“By going through both sides with your thread it almost makes a knot in each pass which can eliminate fraying in years to come.”
Matthew aims to use British leather as much as possible in his products and opts for vegetable tanned leather as opposed to heavy chemical tans.
“It ages better, it’s kinder to the environment and looks smarter.”
AWL also makes a lot of belts, especially for grooms who can have them customised with their initials stitched on the inside for a small fee. “I have lots of sample cards for various leathers,” Matthew says as he shows me a sample, “If you can think of a colour, I can usually match it.”
It’s time for me to ‘belt up’ and leave this busy man to his work. One thing is for sure, he’s got it in the bag!