Hides to seek

Who can resist passing a genuine leather creation without stopping to feel the butter-soft hide, inhale its rich scent and even plan which outfits would best match it? Well, I certainly can’t. I mean, a good leather handbag just adds that extra je ne sais quoi to even a very humdrum outfit. You may not have thought about it, but the history of leather is fascinating and in this feature we will explore not only the origins of leather making, but also some of Ballito’s finest handcrafted leather must-haves for this winter.

Learning to use leather was one of man’s most useful and earliest discoveries. Primitive men hunted animals for food and used the hides to protect themselves from the elements, using it to make anything from clothing to footwear. It was a staple in the earliest civilisations and wall paintings and artefacts in Egyptian tombs dating back to 5000 B.C. also indicate that leather was used for sandals, gloves and buckets, amongst other things.

Although there are many exceptions, this durable and flexible material is mainly manufactured by tanning cattle rawhide and skin. It was the ancient Greeks who are credited with developing tanning formulas using certain tree barks and leaves soaked in water to preserve the leather. Leather to be used for shoe soles, heavy cases, harnesses and most upholstery applications is prepared by vegetable tanning, whilst chrome tanning is used for tanning the leather uppers for shoes, as well as for handbags, wallets and garments.

The properties of leather vary considerably, depending on the type and quality of both the skins and the tanning process. Every piece of leather has individual markings, which relate to its origins and add character to each skin. Like a fine wine, a good quality leather item should improve with age and these local experts agree.

Freedom of Movement started in a small room at the University of Stellenbosch, with two brothers, one machine and big dreams. Léan and Roal Boezaart founded Freedom of Movement, now situated at the Ballito Junction Regional Mall, in 2013, with the vision of establishing a Proudly South African lifestyle brand and boosting the local community through job creation and skills development. “The characteristics of leather lend themselves to premium quality and so it was a natural choice for us to use leather as the foundation of our brand,” Léan tells me. Their handcrafted creations are meticulously made in two factories, one in Cape Town and one in Stellenbosch and, as the name implies, impart the freedom to explore, like the freedom to go overseas, to do what you are passionate about. It gives freedom of movement. These lifestyle companions, as Lean calls their leather products, all have unique names and identities, with the idea being that the product will connect with customers’ lifestyle and adventures. Lean says that they love leather for its durability, aesthetic and ageing characteristics and feel comfortable attaching the brand name to a well-crafted leather product. “We know that the product will last and nothing tells a story better than a well-worn leather bag.” Although leather products will always be their core business, FOM has also introduced, and will continue to introduce, more fashion and lifestyle products to their stores.

The Gentry, situated at The Quarter Centre, which opened last month, came into being from Nick Gahagan’s dream of creating an exclusive men’s accessories and gift store which appeals to the true gentleman. “There was always a clear cut vision of supplying the consumer with quality and exclusive Men’s products under one roof,” Nick tells me. The culmination of a superb Barista and Gin bar with delicious pastries and light meals makes it a great environment to relax and shop at the same time. The future vision of The Gentry entails expanding to other areas in South Africa with their offerings. With the leather products being primarily from local designers and manufacturers, Nick likes to source bespoke leather suppliers who are able to showcase their local talents and exceptional craftsmanship, to deliver quality desirable products, some which are custom made to meet the customers’ needs. The Gentry offers consumers an array of beautiful designs and products, with a variety of tanning methods, which sets them apart from others. “I love leather because it is timeless and offers a product which “matures” and develops a character over time, through its constant use,” Nick says.  “Leather is a symbol of classic beauty and an emblem of sophistication. Its depth and richness, along with the scent of the leather draws you to it.” The store, apart from its leather goods, offers an array of gifts and accessories for the modern man, ranging from classic wooden game sets, bar and smoking requisites, to silverware and coffees.

Umi, currently a home-based business and online store, was born out of a love for something “different”, business owner Kathryn (or Kath) du Toit tells me as we browse through the gorgeous items on the rails. Kath, who is a graphic designer by profession, always used to ask her creative friends to conjure up fashionable items for her to wear, and this planted the seed for her brainchild — the creation of her own designs. She then roped in bestie, Nikki Stone, to help and she now hand crafts every piece to Kath’s unique designs. The store prides itself on producing unique, eye-catching products that are bound to spark conversation. In the beginning, the idea was to create and sell 10 pieces of each design, keeping the products fresh, current and exclusive. Hence the name “Umi” which, translated from Hawaiian, means 10. Currently they only manufacture a few of each example, using only the finest leather to ensure a luxurious feel. “Leather just gets better and better with age, as each piece develops its own character over time,” Kath says enthusiastically. “We love using the natural grain and movement of the leather to complement our designs.” The store is still in its infancy, but Kath would love to collaborate with other local talents and is currently working towards some exclusive pieces of jewellery for the store.

 

INSTAGRAM |@umisaltrock |  @FOMbrand | @GentryBallito

 

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