Made With Love: Inside Studio Vrahimis

Written by: Violet Myers

The textile industry was once the centre of Britain’s industrial expansion, with fabrics made in British factories being exported all over the world during the Victorian period. Now, as the industry is monopolised with cheaper workforces abroad, the UK has swapped silks, lace and cotton as its greatest exports for boy bands, royal babies and teenage wizardry. With consumers largely favouring two-for-a-tenner over home made goods, is there any future in high end British manufacturing?

Studio Vrahamis is a high end leather and handbag studio based just off Holloway Road. They offer prototyping, production, consulting and leather courses for budding and more established designers. They produce footwear and interiors, but are mainly known for their beautifully hand crafted bags. They employ a small skilled workforce of ten and usually recruit through the leather courses they run.

We don’t really find people with the existing skill set so we can’t really place an advertisement saying we’re looking for people. So often people come here through the intern route or they come and do a course then stay on later to work for us.

Explains Roosa, who heads up the education programme at the studio. She introduces me to Holly, who looks up from painstakingly adding details to a glorious handbag, it’s perfectly formed, beautifully crafted and probably worth more than my first car. Helena goes on to explain;

“I was doing my final collection when I came here. I ended up learning and working with the studio and doing the courses and that turned into an internship and now I’m freelancing.”

It’s not just Helena who’s benefiting from this nurturing, creative environment. Roosa explains they have an ever growing list of freelancers, who have each been trained in the traditional ways of leatherwork by the studio.

It’s about keeping the skills alive. It’s a dying craft, especially in the UK, there’s not that much of it going on anymore so it’s nice to be part of something like that.

“We still do everything in very traditional ways. Obviously we use machinery but we do a lot of the finishing touches, like etch dying the corners completely manually, so it’s a very traditional way to work.”

What also sets this small London studio apart is their emphasis on not setting minimum orders – a common manufacturing rule that can leave designers with hundreds of unsold units. Instead Studio Vrahamis focuses on creating exceptionally high quality items in very small numbers, allowing designers to have a uniquely collaborative process with the people making their designs. This means that the small factory can be filled with some very interesting prototypes, a quick scan through some of the past creations reveal a host of eclectic interiors and accessories.

“That’s what fun about this place, no project is the same as the previous one. They’re all very unique and you do meet a lot of interesting people” adds Clara, who studied at the London College of Fashion before coming to work at the studio, where she is the Floor Manager.

“It’s an absolutely amazing feeling seeing something go from a design to a finished product. I’ve been to a few catwalks where I’ve made the accessories and you get this euphoria of running around finishing something and the next minute you just see it on the catwalk and it looks fantastic. It’s really rewarding.”

But what is the future for these small local studios? Do they stand any chance against Britain’s bargain trends? Do designers value the skill, artistry and handwork that goes into making their products?

We’re starting to see a ‘Made in Britain’ trend. I think people have become much more aware of the ethical side of fashion. Sweatshops are no longer ok.

“Instead people are looking to pay a little bit more for something produced closer to home, where they can actually see the process and I know a lot of designers really appreciate that.”

The studio has been open since 1990 and is currently expanding, investing in new teaching spaces and taking on a lot more production. They have experienced a steady growth period for the last few years and the future looks bright for them. Leatherwork may not be set to overtake Hogwarts on Britain’s exports list, but this nurturing quality studio is definitely keeping it’s traditions alive.

Photos by Sofia Okkonen.

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