It’s easy to shop cheap, fast fashion. And, it’s easy to shop often. But just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
There are so many wonderful options to shop slowly, ethically, and sustainably. And many right on our doorsteps in the North of England. When it comes to handbags, many women will admit to having far more than they really need. We can spend a lifetime hunting for the ‘perfect bag’, and work our way through many less-than-perfect options in the meantime. Inspired by simple, timeless design and minimalism, Yorkshire based leather-worker Ruby Creagh creates and designs beautiful bags and accessories which are both contemporary and timeless in design.
An alumni of the Craft Council Hothouse 2019 scheme, which supports and develops emerging craft businesses, Ruby began her career working in the fast-paced fashion industry down in London, but returned to her roots in the North a few years later suffering from burn-out. “In 2014 I had moved back to my hometown of Hebden Bridge, looking for a calmer lifestyle,” says Ruby. “Once I had found my feet again, I stumbled upon a local leather-worker, who enabled me to serve an apprenticeship for three years.”
Embracing the slower pace of crafting, Ruby learned to pattern cut and use traditional leather working techniques. “I had always been interested in design, and the effects of it in everyday life. When creating a bag it all starts with fulfilling a need,” she says. She has carried this sense of function and purpose through into her own brand, which launched in 2017. “I try to stay true to the thing that inspired me in the first place,” she says, “which was to create high-end, functional bags that would stand the test of time by using carefully considered, sustainable materials.”
By having close connections to my materials and the people making them I can show my customers exactly where and how their bag has been made
Ruby believes that to move forward consciously and effectively in today’s world we must be aware of where our materials come from, and who they are affecting. She uses sustainably sourced Italian vegetable tanned leather and Devon oak tanned leather in her designs. “I only use leather which is a by-product of the meat industry,” she says, “that has been treated with plant-based dyes and treatments to ensure no chemical pollution has taken place.” Italian vegetable tanned leather is a classic leather that shows its wear beautifully over time, making it the perfect choice for a handbag designed to be used year after year, and handed down through generations. As a material it is warm, strong, and personal, and the natural markings that occur over time only add character and charm. The materials Ruby uses to line her bags are produced using ethically sourced fibres and spun in a local Lancashire Mill, while the hardware is produced from recycled stainless steel by a single maker in York. “By having these close connections to my materials and the people making them I can show my customers exactly where and how their bag has been made.”
Ruby hails from a very large British/Irish family and her brand logo, which she affectionately calls ‘the squiggle’, is a play on her family’s original crest and motto. The motto reads “Gentleness is strength’’ which Ruby has abbreviated and turned into simple line work. “This adaptation of my family’s traditional roots embossed on my pieces reminds me of my heritage,” she says. “My process in making also uses traditional hand stitching techniques passed down by generations of London leather workers. Both these elements are reflected in the concept of my work, as well as the finished pieces.”
“From an early age, my parents had stressed the importance of looking after our planet and each other,” she tells me, “so I didn’t think twice about the need for my products to be ethical and sustainable. It was my blueprint for the brand.” This ethos extends beyond her brand, and she generally tries to consume as little as possible, and only have what she really needs. “I grow as much of my own food as my garden will allow,” she says, “and shop at my local organic shop who does amazing work with local suppliers. As much as I love clothes, I only buy a few very well made items a year that I will get the most use from.”
While her studio space has been closed the past few months due to Covid-19, she has created a space to work at home which has allowed her to adapt quickly. “I have taken a bit of a hit with the closure of trade shows,” she tells me, “as I would usually do four a year, but my lovely customers have been very supportive, so I have been concentrating most of my energy on online sales and marketing.” She hopes that the pandemic will help people see the importance of the small independent businesses around them, and the massive contribution they make to the community and local high streets.
Her aim is to keep the relationship between customer and maker strong. “I always want people to know who has made their bag, and for the maker to always know the provenance of their materials. At the moment I am the only maker for my brand, but I would love to share my knowledge with others, and help keep the traditional techniques I use alive – that is very important to me.”
All photography © Ruby Creagh, used with permission.