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At Persauds’ Handbag Factory

March 25, 2011
by the gentle author

Ally Capellino took me to visit J&R Designs in Homerton yesterday, the small East End factory run by the Persaud family where many of her leather handbags are manufactured. Ten years ago, Ally brought some of her first designs for handbags here to be made and over the years a lively partnership has developed that permits her to create distinctive designs taking advantage of the unique possibilities offered by the experience and talent of those who work here – in direct contrast to the standardisation that is occurring in the mass production of bags by overseas manufacturers.

Until fifteen years ago, J&R designs mass-produced bags for large British High St retailers like C & A, Dolcis, Lilley & Skinner, and Stead & Simpson. But as these closed down and competition from the Far East eclipsed the cost of production in this country, most of the bag manufacturing companies in the East End – that once lined the entire stretch of the Hackney Rd – shut forever. Yet the Persauds managed to adapt, and today they thrive by working with small labels and new designers to produce limited quantities of bags to a high standard of finish in fine leather, by contrast to the thousands of PVC bags they once churned out to order.

From the outside, their factory looks derelict, but once you enter through the rusty steel doors, you find yourself in a busy workshop. Here in one long room, lit by the streaming afternoon sunlight, a small number of skilled makers work amidst a breathtaking maze of old machines, workbenches and piles of leather. They sit beneath fluourescent tubes suspended at irregular angles, and amongst hundreds of metal patterns for cutting leather and all kinds of different handbag frames hung in clusters from the ceiling, as if deposited there by a steel spider. At the far end of the room, sits a collection of old frame-making machines upon which all manner of clasps and frames for handbags can be custom-made. In the centre of the space, leather is being cut into the pieces of the pattern and laminated before the edges are sealed and polished. Finally, the pieces are sewn together at the near end of the room.

At the centre of this organised chaos works Bano Persaud, surrounded by her longtime collaborators, placidly slicing pieces of leather and applying soft laminates to the reverse – demonstrating consummate skill honed over half a century making bags. In 1958, her late husband Alfred Persaud decamped to London from Guyana. “One day, dad went to see an Elvis Presley film in Georgetown and decided to come to London and be a Teddy Boy, but when he got here, the Rockers thing was over so he became a Mod.” explained Junior, who runs the company today with his sister Linda, adding cheerily, “And then he met mum on a trip home and it was love at first sight, so he decided not to get married to the girl he was engaged to, and he and mum both became Mods.

Bano’s father had been a tailor in Georgetown and Alfred’s father had been an engineer, so while Alfred went to work in engineering each day, Bano did piecework for bag companies in their basement in Stoke Newington, making handles and pockets. When Alfred was made redundant, they started their own bag factory together and rented the flat above to live with their children, eventually buying the house next door and expanding into it too, before moving to the current factory in 1978. At first, they found that shops would not deal with them directly as immigrants, so they employed English representatives to speak with the retailers.

For Junior who grew up living over the factory, it remains his playground and his personal universe, and the loss of the East End bag industry and its attendant trades is his personal loss. “The whole of the industry is gone,” he lamented,“the board makers, the fittings makers, the knife makers, the leather merchants, the tanneries, the guys who made the PVC, the embossers – everyone’s gone. If you’ve got a handbag factory, you’ve got to do it all yourself now!”

And he led me and Ally over to the forest of old equipment that his father had bought up from bankrupt factories, remortgaging the house to acquire it. His eyes widened in excitement as he explained how these machines allow the manufacture of styles of handbag that no-one else can make, and I saw Ally became mesmerised at the possibilities of the unusual clasps and frames. “There’s so many frames that the world’s forgotten about, it would be a shame to lose them all!” he exclaimed, wrapping an affectionate arm round a device that can make one hundred and ten handbag frames a minute, before changing tone to look me in the eye and declare his trump card, ‘The Chinese and the Indians don’t know how to do a lot of the things we can do!”

Junior stays here through the night working on these machines, committed to keeping the knowledge and culture of a lost industry alive, and through a working collaboration with Ally Capellino he has found a way to give it a future too.

You can watch a film of an Ally Capellino design being manufactured at J&R Designs here.

Nassic – “one of the best machinists in India when he came here…”

Linda Persaud

Bano Persaud

Faisal, the framing plant manager.

Junior designs a template for a sample bag.

Persaud Junior with his Inverted Cropper machine that he and his father built in 1982.

Persaud Senior with his Vespa in 1958.

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40 Responses leave one →
  1. March 25, 2011

    What a great place! I think that there will eventually be a big turn-around back to local manufacturing, based with small companies like this one.
    Obviously, I am a big fan of Ally Capellino’s bags anyway, so it’s nice to see where they are made.
    . . And, ok, I have a personal interest in the support of small businesses!

  2. March 27, 2011

    fantastic work from the Persaud family of artisans…a tonic to read this articel and I totally agree with the comment above , small local high end craft
    - whats not to like?

  3. Robin permalink
    March 28, 2011

    what a great place to work, home is where your heart is, i know i was there

  4. Linda Persaud permalink
    March 28, 2011

    What My Father achieved… many would have given up on…but he secured our (his childrens) future.. and held his belief.. we merely continued his legacy..

  5. June 8, 2011

    Dear Madam/sir,

    I have a question. Can you make a leather bag for a child.: size 26cm wide, 18cm high. I prefer soft leather.
    Not too expensive leather, but good leather. What other colors do you have ? I prefer soft pink or light blue.
    At first, I would like to have a sample. Later I would like to place an order. What will the price be, for example ?

    I hope to hear from you very soon,

    Kind regards,

    Mrs. E. Fleur
    Rotterdam
    The Netherlands

  6. Ellyas permalink
    June 9, 2011

    What a nice factory from the Persaud family. You give me inspiration.

    I am starting my own handbag label. Is it possible to make 4 handbags for me ?

    When I get you reaction I will give you more details.

    I hope to hear from you very soon.

  7. Elizabeth permalink
    July 8, 2011

    I just bought a beautiful red leather clutch handbag in Toronto Canada. It was in store that sells goods at a discount from stores going out of business or distress sales of various kinds so I don’t know how it arrived here. When I looked inside, it says Made in England by PERSAUD of London. I didn’t know the company but know good quality (I think!) and was very pleased to find this site when I looked up the company. I am delighted to see where the purse was made, and by whom. I enjoyed a few more of your stories of Spitalfields too.

  8. August 1, 2011

    Hi, i am interested in designing my own handbags/clutch bags and i am looking for factory to make me sample if possibile? I really like your story and wonder if you could help me and also how much in average it would cost?
    Thanks hope to hear from you soon Anne

  9. November 30, 2011

    Just fantastic that this tradition carries on and has survived and flourished . There should be many more places like this.

  10. Herman Persaud permalink
    November 30, 2011

    Great engineering skills Alfred.Just like his dad. Customising and refurbishing old machines and equipment to make them going as new.Always going to a higher level.R I P my brother.HATS OFF TO ‘PERSAUDS HANDBAG’.Keep up the good work.Let the flag of the Persauds raise to a higher level.

  11. Sonia permalink
    April 8, 2012

    Hi Herman, Alfred and Lind, I’m interested in designing my own handbags/clutch bags and I am looking for factory to make me samples if possibile? I really like your story and wonder if you could help me and also how much in average it would cost?

    Thanks hope to hear from you soon.

    Kind Regards

    Sonia

  12. Pat everitt permalink
    April 10, 2012

    I am possibly interested in having some shoulder bags made out of fabric would like to know roughly what you would charge.
    Many thanks
    Pat everitt

  13. Renee permalink
    June 20, 2012

    Hi I am looking to design a range of clutch bags, could you possibly help with this?
    if so, could i come and see you.
    please do get back to me to arrange a time
    many thanks
    Renee

  14. Umran permalink
    August 20, 2012

    I am looking for manufacturer and would like to have contact details please.

  15. Jam permalink
    September 14, 2012

    What a fantastic story from the Persaud family. You are an inspiration!!!
    I am thinking of starting my own handbag label and looking for a manufacter and was wondering if someone could please contact me / i could come and see you.
    I would also like to know the costs of making some samples and then take it from there.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Jam

  16. Tayo permalink
    September 14, 2012

    I will like to make some bag sample s and small runs after ward. Please forward me your contact details.
    Thanks.

  17. Amy permalink
    September 17, 2012

    Linda and Junior,

    Do you have an email address that I could contact you on about a manufacturing query?

    Many thanks,

    Amy

  18. Jo Dubens permalink
    October 18, 2012

    I love your website but want to ask do you only manufacture in leather? I have a design for a canvas and leather tote that I would like to show you. I look forward to hearing from you, Jo

  19. Sandra Poku permalink
    November 1, 2012

    Persaud’s Handbag Factory.

    Great to find a manufacturer that is still based in London.
    Do you manufacture with organic leather?
    I’m about to create a collection of leather shopping bags and am curious about your charge fees and turnover time.

    Regards

    Sandra Poku

  20. November 16, 2012

    Dear Sir/Madam:
    Glad to hear that you’re on the market for Leather.
    This is Sunny from Ningbo Bridge Synthetic Leather Co.,Ltd, specializing in manufacturing all kinds of synthetic Leather for bags in China.
    We have been in this industry for over 10 years with good quality and pretty competitive price. More information pls visit our website: http://www.bridge-china.com.cn
    Should you have any questions, pls do not hesitate to contact me.
    Many thanks & Best regards.
    Sunny

    ——————————————————————————–

    Ningbo Bridge Synthetic Leather co.,ltd
    Room 310,Bridge Building,No.579 RiLi Road,Yingzhou Distirct,Ningbo,Zhejiang,China 315001
    wibsite: http://www.bridge-china.com.cn
    Email: sunnycai1985@163.com
    tel:86-574-89018313
    fax:86-574-89018315
    mobile:86-13586575746

  21. Grace permalink
    December 7, 2012

    Wondering if the Persaud family is still manufacturing bags, and if so, how to get in touch with them. Thanks

  22. Rachel permalink
    December 9, 2012

    Hi there. Love your story . Please could you tell me if you are still manufacturing
    If so please could you contact me on the email address provided
    kind regards
    Rachel

  23. Ola permalink
    January 3, 2013

    Lovely work. I have been searching for a quality leather bag manufacturing house in the UK for some time. I started a leather bag line last year and had to outsource manufacturing post failing to find a local partner here in the UK.

    If the Persaud Family is still in business, please contact me via the email address above.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    thanks
    Ola

  24. January 5, 2013

    Hi,

    Would be interested in developing a range of tweed and leather bags….. please contact me..

  25. Anneline permalink
    January 7, 2013

    Hi,

    I am looking for a quality leather bag manufacturer in the UK as I would like to have an antique bag rebuild from scratch. Could you please let me know how to get in touch. Many thanks!

  26. Toyin permalink
    February 8, 2013

    Hi,
    That was an amazing story, keep the flag flying, please get in touch.
    I’m keen to discuss about manufacturing and samples.
    Best Regards,
    TN.

  27. February 10, 2013

    I am looking to reproduce a handbag , produced by flemish tapestries
    The uniqueness of the bag, is , that it has interior gussets at the sides, is closed with a zip, which comes from each side, so it is possible to see right in to the bag, when it is opened. Would you be able to help?

  28. Chris Scopes permalink
    February 16, 2013

    J & R are the foremost bag makers in the UK, apart from maybe Mulberry. They make some beautiful bags for London’s leading fashion houses. The pictures give a slightly ramshackle appearance to the factory but actually it runs pretty efficently. Mum , Junior and Lynda are just the nicest people and I am proud they are on my customer list. All the leather you see in the photographs came from Conceria Tempesti, Italy’s leading tanner of handbag leathers.

  29. Charlotte permalink
    February 21, 2013

    Hi,

    Great story to here of a local London based business.

    I am very keen to discuss the possibility of ordering some quality leather bags.

    Please can you contact me on the email address provided. Look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Thank you

  30. Mario Polend permalink
    March 23, 2013

    junior call me 665-939-635 nice webside

  31. Mario Polend permalink
    March 23, 2013

    MARIO POLEND

  32. Debbie Thorpe permalink
    April 22, 2013

    I am looking for a manufacturer to produce leather handbags for me. Can you get in touch please?

  33. April 26, 2013

    I am on a look out for a manufacturing firm just like this. Small runs and personal. Can I please get contact details to forward my work over? And plan a visit. Thank you.

  34. Dan permalink
    May 17, 2013

    Hi,

    Could you tell me how much it would cost to produce a sample from drawigns? I’d provide materials.

    I’m working for a small london based designer looking to get some samples made.

    cheers
    Dan

  35. Morenike Banks permalink
    May 26, 2013

    Hi, would like to know if you still manufacture bags, if yes please, send me an email.thanks

  36. Susan permalink
    July 16, 2013

    Please could you tell me if you would be able to make some samples of hand bags I have designed and cost. Many thanks

  37. Diane hall permalink
    September 11, 2013

    Your factory looks fabulous! – what a privilege to see.

    I have been making leather handbags for myself for many years now. So many friends and strangers have commented on them and asked me to make one for them but I have been reluctant to because I do not want to compromise on the quality or finish And struggle with this because i don’t have the correct machinery. I am thinking about creating a small range to sell but need to get the price/quality right

    Can you help? Can I come to your factory to see what you do and to discuss this further?

    Sincerely

    Diane Hall

  38. January 14, 2014

    Hi there,

    Such a fabulous story and so glad to see local quality production still thriving. I too, like many people on here, am looking for small runs of leather handbags for a website and a new store that has opened. Could you please contact me on the email provided as I am very keen to see what you can offer.

    Kind regards
    Megan

  39. Steven permalink
    March 27, 2014

    Hi,

    This is such a wonderful story and good to know that true craftsmanship still exists in Britain.

    I am interested in starting up my own bag line is there a chance you can email so I can come down please.

  40. Robin permalink
    April 4, 2014

    What a great story, i lived it.
    I can still smell the leathers and glue and remember the many years i spent working at the Factory with my sister and brother-in -law and later whenever i visit London my time is spent at the Factory with my niece and nephew.
    For me and my family it is still home for our heart are still there

    Keep up the good work and the legacy

    Love from Canada

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