Interview with Athene English from The Great English Outdoors


February 28, 2015 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?

AE: I am 59, Leather Worker and Owner of The Great English Outdoors.


VR: Your educational background?

AE: I trained as Leather Worker in the East End of London.


VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your leather enthusiasm)?

AE: I have one son, he is also a craftsman and is a Picture Framer. He also appreciates fine Leather work


VR: …and your parents and siblings’ reactions back when you were younger?

AE: I come from a family of artists so everyone was very encouraging. My eldest sister is a performance artist, younger sister is an Illustrator and my brother is a Land Artist.


VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides working leather?

AE: I love being outside and enjoy fly fishing, walking and riding horses, I also enjoy collecting Textiles


VR: How did you first become interested in artisanal goods, and when did you turn your eyes towards leatherworking? Why this material over others?

AE: My mother left a copy of Sidney A. Davis’s book ‘The Saddler’, I was supposed to be going off to study Landscape Architecture but I read the book and realised this is what I wanted to be. I trained as a Saddler and, having ridden horses professionally as I was growing up, I already understood the needs of the competitive rider. Many Saddlers have never ridden horses so I had an immediate advantage. I was lucky enough to be able to work in the amazing 200-year-old Russian Reindeer Leather – the Stradivarius of all leathers. This remarkable leather is richly aromatic and grained with a distinctive cross hatched finish. It remained undiscovered in a shipwreck, a Dutch ship, the Meta Catarina, at the bottom of the sea for 200 years and was finally recovered by divers in 1978. This precious cargo from St. Petersburg was destined for Genoa.


VR: How have you gathered your knowledge of the trade — from books, in-house training, workshops or somewhere else?

AE: I studied at the prestigious Cordwainers’ College in the East End of London. Having completed my training, I settled in Gloucestershire where I started a saddlery. Amongst my clients was the Princess Royal, Princess Anne. In 1989 I moved closer to my family roots and established a business in Hay on Wye. Having always worked in leather, I began making a line of luxury leather goods, and business grew and diversified. I began making beautiful leather wallets, purses, handbags, belts and dog collars, and working with the amazing 200-year-old Russian Reindeer Leather. My collection of leather goods reflects the saddler’s emphasis on strength and durability.


VR: Please describe how your company was born and what goals you set for yourself in the beginning. How have you been received so far?

AE: The business continued to develop and through my passion for collecting textiles I started collecting Welsh blankets, because these textiles reminded me of the materials used in saddlery. We now buy and sell hundreds of old Welsh blankets, antique tapestries, and vintage quilts.  Following William Morris’ maxim, ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’, I also began to sell objects for the house and home, made locally, where possible, and ethically sourced.

As the shop in Hay on Wye gained in popularity, I started a Mail Order business and then later set up a retail website. Over the years I have become very well-known and frequently appear in the Press.


VR: Have you any particular style or detail philosophy for your wares?

AE: Good design, excellence of craftsmanship and the best materials. Simplicity and functionality.


VR: Why should Keikari’s readers choose you over other British leather artisans?

AE: I offer a niche product with a strong foundation in traditional craftsmanship, integrity of materials and an element of exclusivity.


VR: Who or what inspires you?

I look back to my roots, the stables where I worked, and try to make leather goods that look beautiful but are to be used everyday and will last.


VR: What’s your definition of style?

AE: Simplicity in design, something that you recognise at once, a piece that stands out alone for its beauty of line.


VR: Finally, have you any tips for identifying quality leather and make?

When I see a fine example of leather work I am excited, I want to touch and handle the piece, to examine the lustre and the natural patina, which is only recognisable in really good leather work.  I look for the quality of the stitching and check to see the quality of the fittings.


Photos: The Great English Outdoors


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