Fashion houses create an endless line of leather goods, but for a true lover of leather, the real value of the material lies in craftsmanship, which can turn an item into a one-of-a-kind piece of leather artwork.
Last month, our junior reporters visited artisan Ryan Lau Tsz-hin in his BEIS Leather Workshop, at the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre, in Shek Kip Mei. During four hours of instruction he helped them create unique leather accessories.
Let them tell you about their experiences.
Assorted products made at The BEIS Leather Workshop, in Shek Kip Mei.
Making leather goods is fun, but you have to brace yourself. There is a lot of noise created by all the hammering of leather. The strenuous nature of needlework also makes your hands sweat a lot. A huge amount of concentration is required, too. The workshop has made me admire artisans all the more for their dedication and patience.
Emily Ting, Imogen Butler and Simon Leung (left to right) work on their key-holders.
I decided to make my own leather keyholder. I soon realised how precious a piece of leather handicraft could be. From cutting to stitching, it is never easy to turn a piece of leather into a useful item from scratch. The stitching part was the most challenging. During the process, I had to hammer a punch, a special nail-shaped tool very hard, to make holes in the leather. It was quite a sweaty job
The polishing part was much easier. With just a few scrubs of leather polish, my product was given a brand-new shine. Although the keyholder I made doesn't look all that good, I think the hard process of creating it makes it special in my eyes.
I made a more environmentally friendly bracelet than the usual ones. I used old bits and pieces of recycled materials. The outer part of the bracelet was made from a belt that had once been used in a sewing machine; the buckle came from a water pipe.
First, I measured the width of my wrist and left some extra space at both ends of the strap. Then I dyed my bracelet with coloured inks. The next step was to punch four holes in each end. After that, I stitched it up with wax thread and polished it with some CMC powders, which made the surface of my bracelet smooth with a nice shimmer. For the final step, I added the buckles at both ends.
Lau's leather-making skills were self-taught from books. "Learning it is not difficult, but mastering the craft takes time, effort and skill," he says.
Creativity is also essential. Lau makes products to meet the precise requirements of his customers - from wallets and mobile phone cases to camera-holders and dart-holders.
Setting up workshops was quite a challenge when he started, he says. High rents everywhere meant that it took him and his wife a long time to find a suitable location.
Initially he and his wife were renting various studios by the hour and also running short sessions to give leather-craft classes. It was only in April that they finally settled into their studio at the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre in Shek Kip Mei.
In addition to their main workshops in Shek Kip Mei, Lau and his wife also hold regular classes in Causeway Bay, Chai Wan, Tai Po and Macau.
Imogen Butler and Simon Leung show off their key-holders.
A leather purse, wallet, or shoulder bag may look simple and inexpensive. However, this is a general misconception, Ling says. "It is always frustrating when people ask why our products are so expensive," she says. "Many don't realise the effort we put into every piece."
During their workshops Lau and Ling show participants how much time and skill is needed to make each piece of leather craft. Hopefully after a couple hours of cutting, hammering and stitching, those taking part will begin to appreciate the true value of handmade leather goods.
Lau and his wife have an ambitious plan: they hope to save up enough money to open their first cafe in five years' time, where they will sell leather goods and hold workshops.
In pursuit of a dream
Artisans Ryan Lau Tsz-hin and Catherine Ling Yuen-shan teach the junior reporters Janet Tam and Samantha Lau.
Rarely do people manage to turn their hobbies into careers. But Ryan Lau Tsz-hin has done just that. "I've always had a keen interest in leather craft ever since I was small," he says.
His interest in leather craft was so strong that he decided to leave his job in information technology at IBM in 2010 and start his own leather workshop business.
Lau had stumbled upon a book about leather craft by chance and realised he could turn his hobby into a proper career. At first he started making leather handicrafts in his spare time, but soon he chose to quit his job and work with leather full time. "After working in IT for 10years I didn't want to work in the business any more," he says. "I wanted to pursue my interest in making leather products."
His wife, Catherine Ling Yuen-shan, says: "At the time I thought he was taking a huge risk. However, his skills with leather improved as time went by. His handicrafts were beautiful, and I started to think it could be a long-term investment."
Ling quit her job at Disneyland last year to help with her husband's new business. She now works at BEIS Leather Workshop as the sales and marketing manager.
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