laire Weldon’s been in business for over thirty years, supplying small leather wares to myriad organisations across the globe. Everything is handmade by talented workers in Bangladesh, and then sent to Claire’s premises in the Troutbeck block on Albany Street.
The mainly residential block also houses a number of ground level units: five belong to Claire, including a showroom, an office and a warehouse that’s also home to a dinky shop. I cast my eyes over the colourful assortment on display as we chat.
How did it all begin?
When I was young and had small children I was part of the charity sector. But it was hard constantly requiring donations to fund a project, so I took a rough craft and tried to make something of it. I could see the possibilities and started dealing with artisans in Bangladesh. They work entirely with their hands, crouching on the floor. The leather is vegetable-tanned; it’s very soft and malleable and is polished with glass. I realised they could take an image and raise emboss it using a metal block which squashes everything down that isn’t the design. It’s not stamped – that’s what’s so beautiful.
Describe your range.
My husband gave me a watch as a gift when our first child was born. It came in a black horseshoe box that I could use instead of just throwing it away; I thought it was so clever. The idea for specialised jewellery packaging developed from there. It’s all reusable and can be kept. We also have our museum collection which is available in different motifs, and we make small pieces such as photo frames, key fobs with signs of the zodiac, and glasses cases.
Have you visited Bangladesh?
My first trip was in 1988. I go regularly; I’ve been over on about sixty occasions. Last year I visited six times.
What’s your customer base?
We sell wholesale to a lot of companies in Europe and America, and also to museum shops. In England our buyers are from places like Hatton Garden. We also do bespoke orders. We used to supply John Lewis and Harrods, but it goes in phases. The goods are delivered, and then our warehouse manager Raphael puts them on drying trays which are actually for airing bread. We also have dehumidifiers. Bangladesh is very wet in the rainy season, so stock can arrive really damp.
How about retail?
I’m going to start putting certain items on our website. And we have a little shop where we sell old stock and merchandise that is slightly damaged. A lot of it’s very cheap – starting at £1 – and is good for presents. We’d like more people coming in; they can have a little hunt around and find things they like.
What’s your ethos?
We’re fairtrade, with a small ‘f’ and a small ‘t’; I’ve never joined an organisation. The whole discussion got out of hand – they couldn’t get the criteria for handicrafts onto paper and I thought I might as well just get on with the job. We work with very poor artisans: we pay them properly, and we do our best to sell as much as we can for them. The point of the exercise is to help third-world craftsmen use a by-product from the meat industry that they can’t afford to waste. There’s no emotional principle about it. They have a skill, and we’re helping them to earn a living.
Main image: Laura Evans