Driving Miss Daisy
PUBLISHED: 13:52 30 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:54 20 February 2013
One of the last surviving West Country glove-making firms, Southcombe Gloves in Stoke-sub-Hamdon, has been supplying, designing and making gloves since 1847. Words by Abbie Elliot
Southcombe Gloves is run by the fifth generation of the Southcombe family, and still operates from its original tannery at Stoke-sub-Hamdon. Husband and wife team, David and Caroline, moved out of London over tenyears ago to run the 160-year-old family glove and leather business, and over the last two years, Caroline has brought a new lease of life to Southcombes fashion gloves, which had declined over the years. Southcombe Gloves has evolved to be one of the last surviving glove-making firms in an area that used to flourish with over 50 other glove-making factories.
Southcombe Gloves is launching its new winter range in the next few months normally when the temperature drops below six degrees, things get busy! This years winter range includes many different designs silk-lined, cashmere-lined, frill leather, English suede, sparkle leather, buckled and buttoned. Traditional glove-making methods are combined with creative design and an array of colour palettes to bring together a range of stylish and practical gloves that have a long-lasting, flexible fit and an immaculate finish. For example, the English suede gloves are made using English sueded leather made from Southcombes own tanned and dyed leather. The company also makes gloves with pique stitching (stitching on the outside of the glove to make the inside of the glove more comfortable); the specialist machines that make pique gloves are no longer made, and there are a limited number left.
Standing the test of time
Inside each pair of Southcombe Gloves is 160 years of glove-designing and glove-making expertise. There are two sides to the company: Caroline works on the fashion side of the business whilst juggling motherhood and David has developed a range of specialist gloves for the police and military, and fire, chemical and water-resistant gloves for the fire service.
Southcombes fashion gloves had declined over the years as the company was almost exclusively making highly technical leather gloves for fire, police and military customers. One day, looking around the tannery, Caroline found some beautiful 50s- and 60s-style gloves that had been made for a customer who never collected them, so she decided to sell them on eBay. They sold so quickly that Caroline and David decided to make three original designs for selling directly to customers. This very part-time, evenings only job (to fit in with having three small children!) took off, and in two years she had developed the range and brand, and started making beautiful leather gloves for other clients. Caroline is adamant that the brand stays true to its roots as a traditional Somerset glove company, while also reflecting one of her biggest passions new trends and beautiful designs.
Caroline says: Glove-making skills run through our veins. What sets our gloves apart is how they are cut, which makes a real difference to how they fit, feel, look and last. We use a traditional method called table cutting, which involves examining each individual skin to see the particular amount of natural stretch. The leather is pulled up lengthways and widthways by a skilled table cutter to ensure that a fixed and measured amount of stretch is cut into the leather across the width but not in the length. This ensures gloves give gently widthways but not lengthways, so you dont get overlong glove fingers every time you pull off your gloves.
After leaving college in the 1980s (where she shared a house with Nick Clegg), Caroline worked in publishing in Cambridge, then moved to London and worked in mail order fashion for many years, with brands such as Racing Green. She then worked as a freelance designer and copywriter, and worked with Top Shop, Blooming Marvellous, Urchin and Monsoon/Accessorize.
Caroline met David when she was on holiday in Egypt 16 years ago. After two years of busy London life together, they made the decision that David would move down to Somerset to run the 160-year-old family glove and leather business. Caroline couldn't quite bear to leave London at that time, so she stayed in London working as a consultant. They commuted between West London and the South West for two years the best of both worlds! When Caroline was pregnant with Eve, their first daughter, Caroline left London and moved to Dorset full time.