Though designer Deborah Thomas now works in a studio in Suffolk, the inspiration for Doe came from her family’s tannery in Northampton, which was opened by her great-great-grandfather in 1908 and sadly closed in 2007.
“In the corridors of the factory after it was sold, I found lots of leather that was going to be dumped in landfill,” she recalls. She rescued it, and made it the starting point for her own company. “The tannery had the world’s biggest collection of embossing plates, so when they couldn’t import real snake, python or ostrich, my great-great-grandfather decided that they would create these effects themselves.” Now, this unique archive – dating from the 1920s onwards – is used for touches of embellishment on Doe’s leather goods.
For each product, Deborah begins by sketching, then creates a paper pattern and finally a hand-stitched prototype. She sends this to a maker in the West Midlands. “They use skilled craftspeople who’ve been there 10 or 20 years,” she says. “We’ll go over the final details, and they’ll produce a very small run of about a dozen pieces.”
The vintage, printed leather appears in small details like the zip pulls. For the main body of each bag, Deborah uses bridle leather: “It’s the most durable leather you can work with.”
It is vegetable tanned, which takes four months, and ages beautifully. With each bag, she provides a pot of leather dressing, homemade with beeswax, lanolin and essential oils.
“My products are simple and timeless, but also contemporary. They’re designed with years of use in mind, and because the leather’s been chosen to get better as it ages, the style is deliberately minimal."