Quite often at The Holborn we have a tendency to feature items that have just caught our eye, something that has gotten us excited over the course of a quick browse of a website or trying out such an item out the shopfloor. This is not the case with Cherchbi – a British manufacturer of fine bags, leather goods and accessories.
The Holborn’s admiration for Cherchbi is a long, brooding love affair that has developed over many years. When The Holborn’s founders took their seats at a Sun-drenched wooden table twelve miles outside Carcasonne, they spoke long into the l’occitane night of the homegrown brands that each thought exemplified The Holborn philosophy; Cherchbi was one of these. It stood to reason then, that we should get in touch.
So it came to pass that last week that I popped along Lambs Conduit Street to meet with Cherchbi’s founder, chief designer and all round nice bloke Adam Atkinson.
After out initial greeting, I asked Adam how Cherchbi came into being? Where had the idea come from? Adam tells me that it was something of a happy accident. At the age of thirty six Adam returned to Britian, after spending a number of years living abroad , working on and developing bags for some of the largest brands around – including Nike (Adam had trained in menswear at Newcastle before moving onto work in luggage).
A little tired of London, Adam settled on the natural beauty of the Lake District as the place to work freelance, and take the time to really think about his designs and priorities. It was while perusing the back pages of The Westmorland Gazette that Adam learned of a protest by local hill farmers who had taken to burning the wool of the ancient Herdwyck sheep, a breed singularly bred for meat and of whose wool was callously deemed undesirable for re-sale (prices for the wool reaches as low as ten pence a kilo).
Adam’s interest was piqued, he began to carry out research into the Herdwyck herds. The breed had nearly been wiped out during Britain’s Foot & Mouth outbreak in 2001 and what followed was a prolonged effort to restore the breed to the hills of the lakes. As Adam describes it the sheep are seen as part of the landscape and culture of the North ”heritage as an animal’ as he puts it.
Adam says of his products ”They should always reflect the landscape…to where I was (Cumbria) at the time”. It would be fair to say that the Herdwick tweed that features so predominately in Cherchbi’s collections is the anchor of the brand. Adam agrees, despite moving into full leather products, the tweed will always be a feature at Cherchbi.
Adam then shows me some swatches of the Herdwyck No. 10 tweed, it is a real feat of weaving, there are so many layers to it, subtle shades that are never quite the same, a light, white downey thread peppers the surface – a feature Adam tells me that quietly disappears with age and use. The idea of a material that ages with its owner and visually reflects its own quality and hardiness is something that really excites The Holborn about Cherchbi’s products.
Adam proceeds to tell me about the No.10 tweed itself. ”It took three years to perfect..working with different spinners and weavers… it was troublesome to work with as the machinery had to be adapted and it slowed production down”. Adam finally settled on a spinner in Kilcar, County Donegal ”The spinning process is slowed giving the yarn greater strength. This is woven into cloth in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Extra picks are added into the loom creating an unusually dense weave. The tweed is then sent to finishers in Galashiels where it undergoes a specialist ‘wash & press’ finishing. Finally at Fergusons in Lancashire, the finished wool tweed is bonded to its cotton lining with a natural rubber core”. The result is a soft, strong tweed of which the quality and durability (”firmly waterproof”) is clearly evident.
”The bags themselves are made in a twelve person workshop in Walsall, they are bench made, a method ideally suited to small scale, batch production”.
As I’m talking to Adam, I notice that he has a beautiful, full leather rucksack sitting next to him. It is an alteration on the Cherchbi’s ‘Black Sail’ model, and I tell you dear readers it is just something to behold. Adam tells me that the leather comes from the raw hide of Hereford cattle, which come from the same farm in Northern Ireland and the same gender to ensure a consistent level of quality throughout. It is then taken to J.Clayton tanneries in Derbyshire whose 180 year old pit tanning process (using natural, tree bark tannins) brings a subtle ”Old school inconsistence” to the leather. Adam passes the bag to me, it’s reassuringly weighty with a patina that many shoemakers would sell up for. The shine Adam tells me comes from retaining the natural oils that have been returned to the leather, a feature that will ensure that the leather ages with grace and grows softer over time. Cherchbi has started producing belts and they’re currently working on a range of wallets (including an intriguing watch-wallet) and accessories that will showcase their leather credentials in full.
Suddenly aware of the time I reluctantly move the conversation onwards, I ask Adam about the Cherchbi design process. Adam retains ”full design control”- the first few designs were made on his kitchen table.
After the initial sketches, mock up’s are made in Calico ”which prove the construction, shape and size of each bag…the mock-ups and corresponding specification drawings are revised until both are correct then passed to the sample and pattern maker who produces a prototype. After review and further revisions a final sample is made in the correct materials”.
I ask Adam about trends, ”you don’t just go completely on your own…(Cherchbi) takes inspiration from British creativity both old and recent”. Cherchbi does a great job of introducing new materials into its collections whilst never straying far from its utilitarian, functional design. Materials such Cherchbi’s collaboration with Tamasyn Gambell, resulting a screen printed Herdwyck No.10 which brings very individual but tasteful character to their range.
After another ten minutes in which Adam and I discuss the wider heritage scene in general (topics included Burberry, Japan, Ri-Ri zips, Eastman Leathers, Lissom & Muster, Private White VC and S.E.H Kelly) I remember that I am here to ask questions about Cherchbi and so I bring up the topic of Cherchbi’s future plans, Adam teases with reference to a Herdwyck No.10 jacket he’s had made, there is also some new materials on the way such as cotton canvas and a seasonal summer sailcloth, plus a collaboration with British tailoring legends Hardy Amies. I also sense a hope from Adam that the Herdwyck No.10 Tweed will take on a life as its own as a material to be sold wholesale, such is its outstanding quality and character that I have no doubts as to this venture.
I realise that it’s probably time for me to let Adam get on with the more important tasks of his day and so with one last, longing glance at the Blacksail rucksack a bid my farewells. Meeting Adam has, if possible increased our admiration for Cherchbi threefold. They really are a brand which should be placed on a pedestal as an example for how to go about founding a business. Adam, took his time and found the best people to make his products because he knew that his idea was a good one and that in the end – it would be worth it. Cherchbi succeeds in reflecting Adam’s transitional time in the Lakes and those hardy, ancient sheep. Cherchbi honours them with the hard work and respect that such an incredible landscape deserves. The business side of Cherchbi also represents clear leadership, quality design and a solid model for the direction of the future of homegrown, British manufacturing.
Here are just a few of the highlights currently available at Cherchbi.co.uk
Our thanks to Adam and Dan at Cube Company PR.