Meet Guy of Bond & Knight who shares his passion for ethical, naturally tanned leather
If you love simply beautiful hand-crafted leather accessories, but also care about sustainability and the environment, you need to know about Bond & Knight (listed in our directory here).
It was this beautiful leather journal, bound with a simple embossed name strap that first grabbed me. When I went on to discover that it was hand made in England using naturally tanned leather, I wanted to find out more about the maker. I discovered that Guy Knight is the founder of Bond & Knight and he hand makes every item in the beautiful collection to order. He is truly passionate about ethical leather production and simplicity in design – and therefore definitely a man after my own heart!
I asked Guy a few key questions about the story behind his business and the ethics of what he does. And I love his answers. I’ve already learned a lot about the environmental benefits of natural leather tanning (opposed to the more standard chemical process). What I’ve learned will make me think much more carefully in future about what I do and don’t buy when it comes to leather goods. Knowledge is always the key isn’t it? And there’s no question that Guy is really knowledgeable and passionate about what he does. Hope you enjoy finding out more about Guy’s very special small, creative business and collection of designs as much as I did! X
How did you find yourself working with leather?
A very dear friend of the family had a leather goods factory in Walsall and I would spend a lot of time there as a child. He would show me all the traditional techniques and I absolutely loved it. As I grew up I developed a love for design and art too. So it seemed a natural choice for me to start creating my own leather designs. I wanted to fuse traditional craft techniques with a simple, modern design aesthetic.
Who makes your designs?
I make everything. I don’t want to do it any other way. Truth be told, I don’t enjoy the business side of it all. I enjoy designing and making things. Each and every product is made to order. From start to finish everything is done by hand, from selecting each individual hide, to hand cutting the patterns for each item. We use an in house blend of beeswax and natural colouring to coat all the edges of our products, and beeswax to finish the leather once they are complete.
What’s the inspiration behind what you do?
Ultimately I wanted to hand make leather goods using high grade leathers without charging the obscene prices you see in the stores. As with the origami wallet, my aim is to give pieces a unique twist. We don’t use any stitching or seams in any of our designs – it’s all folded leather. Not only does this gives the pieces a very clean, sleek look but also means they are much stronger, and more long-lasting, as there are not any inherent weaknesses along a seam or row of stitches.
I also love to differentiate our products further by making them truly unique to the recipient. I look at three areas to deliver this: design, personalisation and the choice of leather.
I like to add a designed element to everything we do, often using our special origami technique.
We personalise all our products as standard.
Because we use only naturally tanned leather, each cut is unique in its grain and characteristics. This means each piece we make is truly individual as no two cuts of naturally tanned leather are the same.
How important is buying British to you
Everything we source is from UK businesses – from business cards to the leather we use, it is all purchased from UK companies*. This is very important to us, as India and China have near but destroyed the UK leather industry. Walsall was renowned for its leather industry, now it is a shadow of its former self with just a handful of leather works remaining.
We also setup during the last recession and considered it very important to support our economy and local community. This mentality has stuck with us and remains a core value.
* we do use Italian leather, but it is still purchased from UK business. English leather doesn’t really exist anymore, only a handful of tanneries exist in this country, and even then they are just finishers. Meaning they ship in semi-treated leather from such places as India and then apply the finishing coat on it.
Why naturally tanned leather?
Natural leather uses bark, leaves and other vegetable matter to tan and colour the leather. It’s the oldest and most traditional way of doing it. It does not use heavy metals or chemicals, as a result it is more expensive. The alternative is Chrome tanning, which accounts for 80% of fashion leather goods. If you buy a leather handbag from your favourite designer, chances are it has been chrome tanned. Chrome tanning uses nasty chemicals as in my previous email. These chemicals are then often washed out into the natural environment, meaning they pollute water basins, and ultimately getting into the ecosystem. This is further compounded because these leathers are made in cheap countries such as china and india with little pollution regulation, so they have little incentive to protect the environment
Natural leather uses bark, leaves and other veg matter to tan and colour the leather. It’s the oldest and most traditional way of doing it. It does not use heavy metals or chemicals, as a result it is therefore more expensive than the alternative: chrome tanning. There are some middle grounds and other derivatives but these are the two main groups. Chrome tanned leather use a whole host of nasty chemicals and chrome salts to tan and colour the leather. These chemicals are quite nasty, most are carcinogenic, and as a lot of these leathers are made cheaply abroad in countries with little enforcement, these chemicals are then often washed out into the natural environment after production, meaning they pollute water basins, and get into the ecosystem. Sadly chrome tanned leather accounts for about 80% of the fashion industry. Why? Because it is quick, relatively inexpensive to do and gives a uniform clean finish on the leather.
Naturally tanned leather, on the other hand, does not use any of these chemicals. Instead it uses organic materials such as bark, leaves and other natural items to tan and colour the leather. This means no impact the naturally environment as all materials are organic and naturally harvested. The process is considerably longer and more expensive than chrome tanned, and the end result means the natural grain of the leather is visible, along with any natural imperfections. To my mind, these imperfections give vegetable tanned leather its beautiful individual character. It’s often the favoured leather by those who understand leather.
In contrast, chrome tanned leather is over processed and soul-less and, without sounding too extreme, an affront to the animal it came from. Not to mention unacceptable because of its destructive environmental impact.
It’s probably useful to make clear that no animals are grown or killed specifically for leather. Hides come from the waste of the food industry. That said, because natural leather retains the natural grain of the animal it came from, I feel it is the most respectful way of doing it.
Natural leather tanning also continues a long tradition that dates back to ancient civilisations. It still uses the same materials and process – ie bark, leaves and other organic matter, to create a beautiful product from a waste material.
What measures do you take to support plastic-free and zero waste?
We don’t use any plastic in the manufacture or packaging whatsoever, and always use recycled card when available. We don’t have any excuse for using plastic – there are plenty of alternatives out there, such as recycled packaging materials. By ensuring we use recycled card and paper, it does often cost us slightly more, but ensuring we operate in a sustainable and responsible manner is important to us. It is only when the majority of businesses adopt this approach that we’ll be able to have a meaningful impact on reducing the plastic problem in the world.
How important is ethical production to you?
Very important. We are in an increasingly crowded world, meaning every aspect of the environment is being strained. Only by supporting responsible business, and adopting sustainable methods can we hope to mitigate or reduce any damaging impact to nature.
Favourite piece in your own collection?
I like the Mark 1 Wallet, it was the first thing I designed and, being very fussy when it comes to my own wallet, I wanted one which is thin and sleek. Having no stitches delivers this for me.
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