It may not be commonly known but my day job is actually in the fashion industry. I’ve worked with Footwear and Accessories on the production side for around 15 years and from this I’ve developed a love of the magic of all things made. This is without doubt of course what draws me to the Creative community and definitely the source of my interest in my latest subject.
I’ve followed Billy White for over a year now. I love his Instagram with its bright but dry humour and his even brighter western styled leather bags. As someone who’s used to dealing with cheap, mass production in China in my worklife, there’s nothing more wonderful than the thought of real leather bags being handmade just down the road in Boxmoor.
When we discussed appearing on my blog he told me that he was not a writer so we decided to meet at his workshop. In fact this was a win/ win as it gave me the chance to check out his workshop and see where the action happens. As it turns out what he may lack in writing skills, he makes up for in entertaining chat! So here is his story…
How did you get started in the world of fashion?
I’ve never been formally trained in fashion or manufacturing. My love of fashion however grew from an early age when I hung out in London at places like Kensington Market and Camden and would critique the outfits warn by the hipsters and rock and roll kids.
My seminal fashion moment came when I saw the film “Wild at Heart” with Nicholas Cage. I fell in love with Nicholas Cage’s snakeskin jacket and in fact the entire styling of the film was perfect. It was then I knew this was the vision I wanted to create…
How did you get into making handbags?
Having a successful career in the 90s as a male model I had an exciting and glamorous life, meeting incredible people and going to amazing places. As is always the case with this type of career, it eventually came to an end and I had to look for new ways to earn.
I’d always maintained contacts in the textile markets in Berwick Street, where I’d worked on and off throughout my modelling career. I found myself making bags out of battered old biker jackets as hobby. I built up a substantial collection of bags over a period of two years but feared rejection of my skills and creativity so never showed the bags to anyone let alone attempt to sell them commercially.
After two years of building my first range I eventually summoned the courage to take the entire collection of bags down to Portobello Market and set up stall. Immediately my bags flew out and I had a queue of people waiting to buy. Not only was it great to finally be earning from my craft, but I finally had the recognition I’d long desired but dared not wish for.
How did you turn it into a business?
This was really a turning point in my life as at the same time I got involved with charity – Emmaus. Via Emmaus I found access to tools and used leather in the form of old sofas. It was there that I took up my trade again and was once again making bags and leather goods.
Initially access to materials was purely via the reclaimed goods so I was forced to hand dye leathers, which proved to not always be of a high enough standard for the high quality product I was creating. Soon my business increased and I was able to invest in good quality leathers and materials and make the brand become what it is now.
What’s your brand ethos?
I’m not one to follow fashion and don’t believe in doing something just because it’s a trend. Instead I chose to make something that’s purely inspired by the aesthetic that I love – and therefore my brand is unique and instantly recognisable.
“The motivation behind what I do now is about curiosity and it’s about the pleasure of just staying in the day. An appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity to be able to do what I’m doing. I have a fertile imagination. My head is open to all sorts of possibilities. On a creative point of view I’m constantly switched on and I think that my sense of humour and affection comes out in my work. This is not a dowdy, downbeat, grim product. It’s very much life affirming and cheerful. When people see my work, and I’ve seen this many times, the first thing they do is……smile”
What’s in the future for Billy White Designs?
I love making my trademark handmade bags, but they take about 3 weeks to make so I’m currently looking into making some lower cost small leather items, like wallets and belts that are quicker to produce and so can sell in more volume. Watch this space!
These days true craftsmanship is rare as much of our manufacturing is shipped overseas where labour is cheap. To meet someone who can make something so unique and beautiful created entirely form his own mind is humbling. True talent is rare but it is very much here with Billy – can’t wait to see what you do next!
If you to see Billy’s work in action, head along to the Town and Country Fashion show, Thursday 23rd November. Get your tickets as below: