Life is not a straight line. Whilst some people discover their path early in life, others career their way towards their chosen vocation, taking time to discover what it is that makes them tick and the things they value most from their day-to-day. John Hagger, founder of Tanner Bates, would be the first to place himself in the latter camp.
It wasn’t until he was 45 that Hagger decided to move to the market town of Walsall and train as a saddler and bridle maker. Coming from a line of leather guilders and glovers, it was a return to familial roots of sorts, as John spent embarked on a leather making course and two subsequent years of devoting himself to better understanding where leather comes from, how it’s made and how it behaves. It was from these potted beginnings that Tanner Bates was born.
Today, the Devon-based business focuses its attention on leather accessories, and is headed up by the equally skilled duo of Rick Burns-Howell and Matt Nesbitt. With combined experience of over twenty years, they continue to carry the torch that John ignited, and at the core of their approach is an unwavering focus on quality over quantity. This bears out in both the way that the team work — every item is made entirely by hand – and in how they source their leather. Working closely with small British and European tanneries, and using only the finest hides available, it’s a point of continued pride just how transparent their supply chain is.
"We're passionate about provenance and keeping our legacy light on the planet", explains Rick, "and so we seek out suppliers whose values align with ours; small family run tanneries who produce full grain vegetable tanned leather in the traditional way in small batches, using hides from local animals, a byproduct of the meat industry". This focussed and uncompromising process to procuring their materials is fundamental at Tanner Bates.
"Our supplier relationships are of the utmost importance to us", Rick confirms enthusiastically, and it's undeniable. Starting with the best raw materials is an enormous factor in creating the beautiful, long-lasting final product Tanner Bates has become known for.
However, in focusing solely on their sourcing approach, we run the risk of diminishing Tanner Bates’ involvement in the process, and the value and longevity they add once the raw materials have been acquired. "Each product is entirely handmade here in our small workshop and it's an intimate journey from hide to product involving many individual processes". From the cutting of the leather to the final stitching, every step is intentional and considered. "We craft products designed to, with care, last a lifetime", Rick tells us, and it's true. Channelling generations of skill and expertise that have been refined and passed on, the product becomes an embodiment of craft, care and skill. As a natural product, each hide is also bursting with character with every natural mark telling a small but important story.
What's more, the handcrafted nature of the product means despite consistency across products at a broad level, on close inspection every item will bear the mark of its maker for the final owner to enjoy.
From there, it’s then over to them to make their own marks over time. There's a tonal shift when Rick begins to talk about these marks of wear and use, referred to as a patina. "The first
mark is always the
most painful, but it also
marks the beginning of your piece developing its own story. Each
mark will go deeper into the leather with every application of Hide Food
, deepening and darkening in colour, eventually transforming and taking on the familiar look of well loved vintage leather. Developing a patina unique to its owner and giving an insight into its life, this is a journey which cannot be rushed – it has to be earned".
This winter, we’re pleased to have created a small run of carefully created leather coasters with Tanner Bates. Made from hides produced by La Perla Azzurra, a small Tuscan tannery that is renowned the world over, La Perla is a proud member of the Consorzio Vera Pella Italiana. This is a consortium that regulates, preserves and guarantees the production of vegetable-tanned leather made in Tuscany through its quality trademark.
Regarded as the highest quality of leather available (due to the fact it's minimally processed) the process of full grain vegetable tanning means that the surface has not been mechanically buffed or sanded. "Every natural mark and blemish is therefore visible and the leather retains maximum strength possible". Slow and labour intensive to achieve, vegetable tanning embodies Tanner Bate's ethos and approach. "It certainly goes against the modern mass production and ‘grain corrected’ leather we have come to expect from so many brands", admits Rick. Tree bark, water and time are the only ingredients used in this all natural process, and combined they transform the raw hide into the final, world renowned leather chosen to create our Tanner Bates x Workshop Coffee Coasters.
The hide has then be carefully cut into individual pieces, precisely embossed with our W logo and decoratively stitched. The final stage is polishing, which takes place one coaster at a time. The result is a understated but undeniably beautiful. "They have a lovely weight and feel, without being overbearing", Rick tells us. "The rich deep brown tones reflect, compliment and echo the same sumptuous tones of your delicious coffee. We think they're handsome partners".
We're inclined to agree.
Our limited run of Tanner Bates x Workshop Coffee Leather Coasters are available to buy in our online shop now. Find them here.