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For the love of leather

PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 November 2014 | UPDATED: 14:41 24 November 2014

Sarah Edwards at work

Sarah Edwards at work

Copyright © Max McClure, all rights reserved

Words: Kirsty Mode Photos: Max McClure

Edwards and Curwin ladies beltsEdwards and Curwin ladies belts

Sarah Edwards’ dream had always been to make shoes and throughout a successful 13 year career in television, including six and a half years working at the Bristol-based natural history unit of the BBC, she continued to fuel her passion. Alongside her day job in the media, Sarah spent her spare time taking courses in hand-stitched leather goods and shoe-making through esteemed establishments such as the London College of Fashion.

When she finally got an opportunity to leave television and do work experience with a shoe-maker, she grabbed it with both hands, going on to spend time doing work experience with a number of different shoe-makers and taking further courses to progress her skills.

Sarah benefited greatly from 18 months spent working at the Jimmy Choo Couture boutique in London. Having initially contacted them about doing work experience, she ended up being taken on longer term by the designer, commuting to London from Bristol on a weekly basis.

Speaking about her time at Jimmy Choo Couture, she says: “It was a very mixed role. I was running appointments but also spent as much time as I could down in the workshop watching how the shoes were made. Part of my job was to decorate them, so I would take a piece of silk fabric and make bows for them, or create a Swarovski crystal design and apply that. It was an amazing experience and it was there that I found my desire to make beautiful goods of the finest quality.”

When Jimmy and his wife decided to take a break and closed the boutique in 2012, Sarah set up her own business under the name Frances George, designing and creating bespoke leather goods entirely by hand, including bags, briefcases and wallets. Asked about the origins of the name, she explains: “My middle name is Frances as I’m named after my dad, and his middle name is George, which was also his dad’s first name, so it’s a family name, of sorts.”

The following year her partner started a new job at Somerset County Cricket Club in Taunton and soon afterwards the couple decided to move closer to his work. With assistance from inward investment organisation Into Somerset, Sarah’s search for a new workshop resulted in her moving her business to the creative hub that is the Willows and Wetlands Visitor Centre in Stoke St Gregory, just outside Taunton. As well as relishing the new location, Sarah has benefited greatly from Somerset’s thriving creative industry and supportive community.

“It’s a really lovely location, and there’s much more of a community and ‘local feel’ here compared to being in a larger city,” she says. “Everyone seems to have a network of people they can put you in touch with and everyone wants to help, which I have found incredibly helpful in terms of developing my business.”

Sarah’s commute to work is now only about 15 minutes, although she still spends a lot of time in Bristol and London, as the majority of her clients are London-based. “I can get to Bristol or London easily, and I’m really impressed with the train service. I can travel to London just as quickly from here as I could from Bristol, which makes it very easy to visit my clients.”

As well as running the bespoke, appointment only Frances George service, Sarah has developed an ‘off-the-shelf’ range of hand-stitched leather goods under the brand Edwards and Curwin that can be purchased directly from the workshop or online, including belts, key rings, dog collars and luggage tags. She is also running one-day introductory courses where students can learn basic leatherwork skills and make their own hand-stitched belt.

Sarah continues to hone her skills, having won a scholarship last year with the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, which funds training to support excellence in British craftsmanship. Through this scholarship she has trained with a number of master craftsmen, enabling her to develop a greater range of techniques.

The first official Frances George collection is due to be launched in November and will include a small number of select pieces in a range of colours, including an evening clutch, shoulder bag, shopper and large work bag. These will be available through a selection of exclusive retailers as well as directly via the Frances George website or workshop. Hand-welted, hand stitched shoes will also be available in the future.

Sarah says that much of her work ethos comes from her time at Jimmy Choo Couture. “It was all about quality – using the highest quality materials to craft beautiful shoes to the best of your ability, and ensuring the most luxurious and exclusive client experience. That is what I’ve taken through to Frances George.”

The move to Somerset has worked out really well for Sarah, both personally and professionally. “My business has grown hugely since moving to Somerset. It’s such a lovely location and has given me the space I need to develop. The supportive community here makes a huge difference to my business, and I love working alongside other craftspeople at the Willows & Wetlands Visitor Centre. The Coates family have been producing willow here for 150 years and have recently developed the site and added the craft workshops. Don Bishop Photography has a gallery here, The Withies Artisan Studio showcases local crafts, and The Muddy Dog Company is now based here too. There’s such a craft heritage in Somerset and it’s a real privilege to be part of it.”

Into Somerset provides bespoke, independent, free-of-charge support for entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes thinking about moving all or part of their business to Somerset. For further information visit intosomerset.co.uk

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