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INTERVI EW SARAH WI L L IAMS


After two years the job had become part time and Sarah was already busy working on her own designs and products at weekend and evenings working out of her mum’s garage.


“After five years I was made redundant,” she recalls, “and this gave me the shove to finally go it alone and set up my own label.”


By now Sarah was renting a workshop and shop space in Leominster as well as teaching one day a week at Nottingham Trent University – quite a commute – but this gave her the confidence to consider offering workshops herself.


The workshops give participants the chance to try their hand at making their own bag completely from scratch.


“Sometimes people are surprised when I get them cutting out their leather pieces. I think they expect it all to be done for them and they just stitch it together.”


The courses are suitable for complete beginners, and starts by showing students basic leather skills, firstly by learning and practicing how to hand stitch leather. This is followed by marking out, choosing the appropriate leather, hand saddle stitching and then finishing the raw edges, which gives the end product a more polished look.


On the courses, students will make either a backpack, satchel or saddle bag.


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Raised in Leominster, Sarah began her fashion career at Hereford Art College where she studied a degree in Design Crafts. After a year out travelling, she decided to continue her studies, honing her leatherwork skills, with a Masters in Fashion Artefacts at London College of Fashion.


Whilst at London Sarah scooped two impressive prizes which really gave her a foot on the industry ladder. She was a winner in Selfridge’s Bright Young Things competition, the prize being the opportunity to display her wares in one of the windows at the Oxford Street store for six weeks and sell her products through them. She also won an international competition aimed at fashion graduates in all fields and as a finalist was flown out to Italy for an all-expenses paid trip for four days to be judged by major industry figures.


“It was amazing,” she said. “The Selfridges deal really helped establish my name. In Italy I won 5,000 Euros which you have to put towards launching your own range and then the following year I was flown back again for that’s year’s judging. It really was a great experience and opportunity and also got me lots of media coverage in the fashion press which was great.”


Unsurprisingly, her success both at university and competitively led to a job as leather goods developer for a factory in Walsall where she was responsible for helping to bring a variety of products to market, including wallets, I-pad cases and bags.


“This was such a great experience and I learned so much working with people who had been in the industry for years. Although my courses were designed to help you set up on your own, I learned so much more working at the factory than if I’d gone it alone straight away,” she said.


Although all the bags are made to Sarah’s designs, participants can choose their own colour combinations fastenings and stitch colouring so each creation is unique.


“I think my friends and family thought I was a bit mad when I started the workshops but they have proved really popular. I think the Repair Shop on TV has helped as people can see what can be done with leather. Some people come for more than one course just so they can make different style bags.”


Unfortunately lockdown has meant all courses are currently suspended, but having recently moved house it has allowed Sarah to set up a beautiful airy workshop and studio space at home.


Luckily lockdown hasn’t stopped Sarah working and she says online orders have been busier than ever.


Williams Handmade offers a wide range of luxury leather products from purses and handbags to smaller gift items like key rings and glasses cases. Her collections include a few core items but each year she will introduce new items and while black and tan are a mainstay, a new palate of colours is used each year too to keep things fresh.


All her leather is best quality English or Italian leather, and she only uses product that is vegetable tanned as it is most sustainable, natural and environmentally friendly. Everything is personally handmade by Sarah and mainly sold direct through her website, previously at craft fairs and a few items via online store notonthehighstreet.com


To visit the online store where all products are available or for details of the courses and to register an interest, visit williamshandmade.com


Photos by Lydia Harper and Fiona Murray LIVE24-SEVEN.COM


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