Simon has a puzzled look on his face.
“You want what?”
We’re stood in a small room surrounded by large, colourful reams of luxury leather. Simon is holding a sample book and casually leafing through it like a Sunday newspaper supplement. The owner of a successful leather wholesale business founded by his father, the realisation that we’re not here to buy his premium off-the-shelf stock coincides with the book being tossed casually aside onto the cutting table.
he says, eyeing us curiously,
We walk through a large warehouse where more rolls of leather tower above a cutting bench which is maybe 25 metres long, adorned with all sorts of scissors, stamps and tools. We exit into a yard which contains two things: a large shipping container and Simon’s Mercedes.
Simon wrenches open the door to the container it doesn’t get opened often being careful not to dirty his blue shirt or scuff his gleaming shoes. Inside, hundreds of bulging plastic sacks are piled precariously, haphazardly strewn across the floor. Each sack has a two digit number scrawled in marker on its side: the weight of its contents.
We edge inside navigating the gloomy assault course by keeping to a thin tract of available floor space, the exposed wiring from the long-since shattered strip lights tickling the tops of our heads. The walls, once white, give some of the wonderfully offensive graffiti an authentic rusting patina.
Simon reaches for a bag at random, unties it, and pulls out a tangled mess of remnant leather. “String vest,” he murmurs. It takes me a while to realise what he means but eventually it clicks. The piece of leather he holds has been punched, cut and trimmed to the extent there’s barely anything left of it, now only a tangled mess of tendrils. He pulls out a second piece and a third, all the same. He reaches for another bag.
“This is more like it.”
He extracts an almost immaculate article of leather and scoffs. “That’s outrageous. This sells for 12 pounds per foot! And there must be eight feet here. It’s pristine!” He flips over the leather and gestures to the stamp on the back. The tannery this piece has come from is Italian and renown for supplying certain companies who make very expensive shoes.
“For all the bespoke shoemakers that visit here, they’d pay £100 for this. I should really have it in the shop. It’s almost half an entire skin.”
Even Simon seems temporarily shocked at what he’s found among his own scrappage.
He begins rummaging again.
“Look at this piece here.”
He holds up another sizable off-cut with a few obscure shapes stamped out of it.
“Manufacturers will get two or three pairs of shoes out of a skin that costs them £200. They’ll sell the shoes for three grand a pair. Turning a few hundred quid into ten grand isn’t bad, is it?”
He gestures to the bags strewn around him.
“To them, this is useless, not worth having. To be honest, I didn’t want any of it either. The factories make me take it. It’s been in here for years.”
“Where would it be otherwise?”
“You can’t sell it?”
“Occasionally someone comes by and buys a bag or two, mostly hobbyists making stuff in their garage. But in general, no, I’m stuck with it.”
For a second Simon seems genuinely afflicted.
“I’ll be back in 30 minutes,”
he says, making for the container door.
“You’ll have to sort through it. Take what you want. Pay by the kilo. Don’t make a mess.”
A quick estimate derives the following: there are roughly 150 bags, each with an average weight of around 30 kgs. That’s almost 5 tons of remnant leather sat, idle, in a shipping container owned by a small family-run business on an industrial estate just outside Northampton.
A frantic search through the bags ensues and all sorts of odds and ends emerge. Some is truly beyond use. But much of it isn’t. Thirty minutes later, we leave with a bag choc full of the good stuff.
“What’s in the bag?”
The taxi driver asks.