Fusing clean-lined, functional design with traditional leathercraft, Anna Walker is the new name to know when it comes to forward-thinking leather bags. A former stylist, Walker applies modernist touches to minimal silhouettes - working with local artisans to create relevant, trend-proof pieces. Keeping production small-scale for minimal environmental impact, everything is made by hand in her South West London studio and specialist workshops in East London. We stopped by to see her in action.
What influenced you to pursue leather-craft? Ironically, I've never been - and still don't - consider myself to be a 'handbag person'. Back in 2012, I wanted a simple leather bag which, at that time, I couldn't find anywhere. After going to the excellent Power of Making exhibition at the V&A, I felt hugely inspired to create the bag myself. Learning to work with leather and respect such a beautiful material all stemmed from here.Shop Anna Walker
How did you learn your trade? I studied Fashion Design at the University of Westminster so learnt to pattern cut and sew there but working with leather and making accessories has been totally self-taught.
Where do you look for inspiration? My dad is an architect so I've grown up with a love of space, textures and light. Recently I've been particularly inspired by modernist interiors and Japanese minimalism.
How long have you been in this studio? Just over a year now. I share the space with my husband Matt, he's an illustrator. Before this we were in a shipping container which was basically like working in a long corridor! I love the height and big window that we have here.Shop Anna Walker
"Keeping everything small and local keeps things dynamic...I love that I know the people who cut and construct each piece."
How many people are involved in the making/production process? Not many! I design everything myself and some pieces I cut and construct too. For the more complex items like the bags I work closely with a small workshop in Homerton, the team there are experts at working with leather and share my passion for the detail of the make.
Is keeping small-scale important to you? Absolutely. Keeping everything small and local keeps things dynamic. It's more environmentally friendly as I'm not constantly shipping things back and forth across the world. I love that I know the people who cut and construct each piece.Shop Anna Walker
What does a standard day in the studio look like? I try to start or end each day by walking to the studio - I'm lucky that (with a slight detour) I can walk along the river to get to work. It's a beautiful part of the Thames! At the studio, I'm a bit of a one-woman band so am usually trying to do lots of things at once - research, design, photography, production management, keeping on top of my online store, organising pop-ups… there are no standard days when you run a small business!
How do you go about sourcing your leathers? The majority of the leather I use comes from a single tannery in Tuscany. It's part of a consortium of tanneries who adhere to very high ecological and ethical standards and are dedicated to preserving the ancient traditional techniques of Italian vegetable tanning.
Can you tell us about your creative process? I've got a constantly evolving moodboard of imagery which I'm always adding to and taking away from. I tend to do a lot of painting and drawing to play around with colour and shape. I also often mock things up in three dimensions using card and a stapler which has resulted in some bizarre little sculptural objects!Shop Anna Walker
What's the starting point when designing a new collection? I don't design whole new collections each season, instead I will introduce new colours - I might tweak an existing design and perhaps introduce one or two new products. I like having core designs that I can have fun with and keep fresh through new colour combinations and design details.
How long does the entire process take? It really depends but, with for example the Faraday Cross-body, from initial designs and sampling to production and being available for customers to purchase, the process took around six months. For this bag, I designed bespoke brass hardware that I had cast in Hatton Garden, so lots of extra research and development went into this product.
"I want to create bags that can be used for years to come, so they need to have an element of timelessness and durability."
What are the attributes of a well-designed bag? I think ease is important - a bag shouldn't add complication to your life! No fiddly clasps or unnecessary compartments. Also, longevity of use. I want to create bags that can be used for years to come, so they need to have an element of timelessness and durability.Shop Anna Walker
How important is functionality? I'd say it's crucial- a bag or an accessory without function would just be a decoration!
How do you ensure this in your designs? I make working samples that I test out and live with to see how they hold up to daily use. By using the products, I can see what does and doesn't work and therefore hone the design through this experience.
How does it feel to see people wearing your bags? It's so rewarding, I get such a thrill! It especially makes me happy to see something looking well used and well loved. I'm always tempted to go up to people and tell them that they've got one of my bags but I (usually) stop myself for fear of coming across a bit weird!
What's your design ethos? Simple, clean-lined functionality, using materials with integrity.
Is being sustainable important to you? Of course, I think it should be to every business - big and small. We have a responsibility to our planet, especially within this industry. I make use of my leather offcuts to minimise waste, my packaging is all recyclable, and I use leathers that are toxin free and are as low impact and as kind on the environment as they can be.
You previously worked as a stylist, has this influenced the way you design/create? I think it has influenced the way I present my work more than the designs themselves. I love creating the imagery of my brand and I still feel like a stylist as well as a designer!Shop Anna Walker