IT’S IN THE BAG…
With a love of making things, talented Susie Talbot is now exporting beautiful, hand-made bags all over the world
Returning from a three-year adventure living in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, Susie Talbot and her family returned to their Ribble Valley roots, where Susie set up in business.
“I have never really had a career plan but I have always loved making beautiful things that people like so much that they want to buy,” explains Susie who, while living on Mull, made and sold silver jewellery as well as luxury teddy bears made from mohair and leather.
For many years Susie and her husband Andy, a professional artist, ran a luxury B&B in Ribchester before embarking on their family trip to the Inner Hebrides: “We sold the B&B and we decided that for both us and the children it was the right time in life to go on an adventure together. We went with an open mind and we loved it.
“When you go out into the world and do something new, you realise there are lots of lovely people out there and you make new friends. The experience really changed us, made us less fearless. We have always loved adventures!”
While on Mull the couple’s two children went to local schools and the family lived in a large house, which Susie and Andy refurbished: “After three years we had just finished doing up the house when we were approached by a couple who said if we were ever selling, could they buy it?”
“Big houses on the island are hard to sell so we made the decision to sell and come back to the Ribble Valley for our eldest to start high school.”
When the family returned to Lancashire, Susie, who has a degree in zoology, worked in a local school, but knew she wanted to set up her own business.
“I remember having some Christmas money and I decided to buy myself a really nice bag. I got one from York, but it started to fall apart, so I re-stitched the leather. It was then that I began to think about making bags myself.”
Around this time Susie’s husband Andy had bought a satchel style bag from a leather craftsman in Ormskirk. “I asked him if there were any leather working or saddlery courses he knew of. He told me to call by for half a day so I could watch him work so I did. I then set about teaching myself how to make a bag. I love learning new skills – I read a lot of books on leatherwork!”
Setting herself up in business, Susie founded the Little Leather Handbag Company and bought blades, edge bevelling tools, awls and, the most important piece of equipment, a saddler’s clam: “I absolutely love tools – when you have the right equipment it makes the job so much easier!”
Inspired from her time in Scotland, she sourced tweed from the Ardalanish Isle of Mull Weavers, who use wool from Hebridean sheep giving the tweed distinctive natural hues. Natural dyes are also used such as lichens and woad. The lengthy dyeing process is done by hand as is the weaving carried out by the islanders.
Susie also uses Harris Tweed, which is hand-woven by islanders in the Outer Hebrides, as well as tweeds from Marton Mill in Otley, Yorkshire.
The luxury leather she uses is also hand finished and is vegetable tanned using a variety of tree bark and roots.
“I import most of my leather as whole hides from Tuscany in Italy,” explains Susie, who sources buckles and rivets from a foundry in the UK.
Making her own patterns, Susie now sells her bags all over the world: “I have shipped to Texas, Utah, Oregon, California and Australia, as well as throughout the UK. Social media has been fantastic for my business.”
While Susie sells the majority of her bags through her website, she also makes a number of bespoke bags too, in unique designs often embellished with initials or a name.
One of the more interesting requests she has received for a bespoke bag came from a local man, who wanted a leather bag to match the leather seats of a sports car he had built.
“I originally said no,” recalls Susie. “I knew it would take up so much ‘thinking time’ but I eventually agreed to do it – just for the love of it!”
“The car was bright red and the seats were a natural tan leather so I made a bag that nestles perfectly between the back seats. The background colour of the bag is tan to blend in with the leather seats and on the front of the bag is his car stitched in soft red leather – and the straps are made of seatbelt. It looked amazing – he was made up with it!”
Working on another project, Susie is currently making reins for horses on a carousel and the Derby Racer ride on Blackpool Pleasure Beach: “I am really enjoying doing those. It’s a nice project,” adds Susie, who works from a home studio that she shares with her husband. She also has a small boutique shop at her beautiful country home just outside Ribchester, where her bags are on display.
“What people really like is the fact that the bags are totally handmade, following the natural organic ethos of the business. I think that’s important.
“Before I even begin to work on a bag, I have all these lovely materials that have been naturally hand dyed and hand woven – all made with love. The end result is naturally going to be beautiful.”