A Few Fine Things have bags of energy in Manchester's Northern Quarter
A talented couple had to fight hard to stop their handbag business from folding. They're glad they made the effort. Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON
Against the odds
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Stuart Randle and Francesca Salvini have sweated blood and tears over the past four years. The couple, who run luxury bag makers, A Few Fine Things, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, have slept on the floor of their workshop - they couldn’t afford the petrol to get them back to the shop the next day - and have worked around the clock for several days at a time in a desperate rush to get more bags ready.
They had just a few pounds of savings, a van and a shop which they completely rebuilt themselves before they could even get started.
But the hard work paid off. Today, they are producing small numbers of traditional, handcrafted leather bags, wallets, card and coin purses for men and women. Francesca said: ‘There were plenty of times we could have given up and I’m sure everyone thought we were a bit mad. We often slept in the basement but we just decided to go for it and we would do whatever it took to get things going. It’s been a crazy journey.’
The 31-year-old has always loved design, fabrics and luxurious materials and previously ran a bag design business she had co-founded. But 38-year-old Stuart, from Blackburn, has a less conventional background.
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He has done everything from working in natural science to teaching children art and photography as well as working as a tree surgeon. He even spent time casting gold teeth. But he has always loved working with his hands and was keen to use his skills for the bag business.
He said: ‘I have always been creative and Fran could see that I wasn’t happy at the time. It was her who encouraged me to have a go. When her previous business stopped she had no income so I quit my job and we started working together.’
They’ve come up with their own traditional methods of creating their designs. The usual processes used by bag makers could only be done on a large scale and the couple could not afford to do this. Producing each bag, which cost between �200 and �600, is a very physical process. Some of it can only be done using Stuart’s strength and every step is done by hand in the workshop underneath their shop. There are 40 different techniques and between 40 and 70 different pieces that make up A Few Fine Things creation.
They originally started using cloth but decided they wanted to make more hardwearing, structured bags with the finest leathers, fabrics, tweeds and silks.
They have enlisted the help of Julie Graham, who once worked on the promotion and marketing of iconic British brand Mulberry. One day they hope to become a household name, sold in shops around the world.
Stuart said: ‘We wanted to make something that would hold its own with the big bag brands like Mulberry. We wanted it to be something we could be really proud of. Bag making is hard. People don’t really realise it, but it is a very physical job. It has been a challenge.
‘We are always pushing each other to keep growing and keep moving forward. We have gone from making things with cloth to these beautiful structured bags. We’re really proud to be producing them from our workshop here and we one day hope to be recognised as a brand with a proud British heritage.’