BEHIND THE BRAND – MEANWOOD ARTISANSSeptember 29, 2014
Fresh to drop into our Urban Renewal collection this week is an exclusive wallet collaboration with Meanwood Artisans – an East London design brand lead solely by leather craftsman, Ross Joseph Hall.
Tools at the ready and hands covered in thick red dye, we caught up with Ross at his studio space in Bethnal Green – discovering his inspiration to become a designer whilst he showed us the process behind his signature hand-crafted wallets.
UO: Hey Ross, tell us what first inspired you to become a leather craftsman…
ROSS: Embossed leather is what first attracted me to being a leather craftsman, as can be seen in the majority of my products. I had an embossed wallet many years ago and was gutted when I left it on a bus, never to be seen again! A good friend of mine also brought an embossed leather belt back from SXSW festival a few years ago and that pretty much set me off on wanting to reproduce the method and incorporate my own style on it.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I was working in a vintage shop and piles of tooled leather products were coming through – belts, bags, wallets and purses. This reignited my interest and was when I first started my research on how I could achieve making my own accessories.
UO: Is there a particular reason you chose to work with leather over other materials?
R: For what I want to achieve, leather was really the only option – there is such variety in what can be created with it and options in finish, colour and design. I wanted to create high quality leather wallets to begin with, and then move on to other accessories. To be known for quality, and for items that last, you have to use the best materials – you can’t cut corners with that.
UO: How do you come up with the design ideas before you start to implement them?
R: I find inspiration all over, but a huge one has been Instagram. Some people shy away from technology and the rise of the machines, but for me I can scroll through my favourite tattoo artists, other leather crafters, artists and photographers with the flick of my finger. If I don’t have a design in mind, I can very quickly see something cool that I could use as inspiration.
UO: What does it take to design a leather wallet from scratch?
R: Depending on what project I’m working on, I generally start with the size of the product so I know how much room I have for carving the leather, sometimes putting together a quick prototype with cut offs or card. Once I’m happy with the layout and plan of the wallet, as well as the actual design that I am going to carve, it’s more or less straight to the studio where I will sharpen my tools and starting cutting the pieces needed for whichever project I am working on.
Following this there is a lot of stamping, hammering, and tooling the image on to the leather, then dying, gluing and stitching. I then go on to waxing or finishing before burnishing the edges.
I buy the leather in its natural colour, before any waxing and finishing, so I have complete control of what colour comes out.
UO: You have a pretty sweet studio space here – what’s it like working amongst other designers?
R: Being surrounded by like-minded people in a creative space definitely keeps you on your toes; it’s very inspiring seeing amazing work coming together through the whole design and manufacturing process. Thomas Rowe (shoe designer and studio owner) has brought together some really interesting designers together as the Parachute Collective – where the craftsmen using the space can sell the work too. It gives the place a real sense of community. When I see a finished product made by one of the designers it’s great to see what techniques they used and their original designs.
UO: How did the name Meanwood Artisans come about?
R: Meanwood is an area of Leeds where I grew up, I have very fond memories of going to Meanwood park throughout my entire life and so it seemed to suit well with what I wanted to achieve with this brand – creating a heritage and building something up. Artisan is a French word that simply means skilled craft worker, I added it to the name of the brand to make the association with high quality goods that involve an element of skill and craftmanship – letting people know that the product they are buying has had plenty of time and work put in to each individual piece, rather than a production line, mass produced product.
UO: What do you get up to when you’re not carving leather?
R: I’ve always been interested in creative outputs and have tried my hand at a few different crafts – I like to learn new things and acquire new skills as they can always be incorporated in to what you spend most of your time doing. I’ve played in a band called Grass House for around about the last four or five years, we are currently working on our second record and will hopefully have that ready for early next year. If all goes well soon I will be able to split all my time between leather craft and playing music.