East London's Hidden History, Hannah Crosbie
Reading Time: 4 min
Although thought of as the epicentre of all things industry and business, London has fallen far behind its peers in recent years. The city used to be the epicentre of the industrial revolution and the go-to for quality goods steeped in heritage; has now become the face paying lip-service to loyal customers, one that has, over the years outsourced its production to other countries (often for cheaper) whilst retaining the British stamp of quality.
These century-old industries don’t exist in a vacuum, though, quite often they’re phenomena that have generations of family, skills and community in the surrounding areas.
The leather goods industry is no different.
When French peasants escaped persecution in the 17th century, they settled in Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Bethnal Green and the surrounding areas; out of reach from the powerful city guild. Since the invention of the loom and then the sewing machine in the late 19th century, the East End saw a boom in textile production, a movement that earned Britain its stripes in the fashion industry, and a reputation for only producing quality leather goods.
Rumour has it that the entire upper half of Brick Lane - now home to cereal bars and vintage clothing shops - used to sell leather goods. From handbags to jackets to home furnishings, Brick Lane and its neighbouring boroughs were a hub of production, with hundreds of leather workshops producing for any brand worth their salt, but now in the Dalston area, there’s only two.
So, what happened?
It’s a silent war that the fashion industry isn’t shouting about, or, rather, doesn’t want to. And why would you, when the majority of big brands are now producing elsewhere?
It’s the battle that inspired the founder of Paradise Row Nika Diamond-Krendel three years ago, reading about the displacement of communities, the loss of skills gained through generations of craft and the subsequent gentrification of her local area inspired her to found a brand that would reignite the local leather industry. Every time you buy Paradise Row, you can be sure your piece has been crafted in Dalston by leather-workers who have been making wonderful things with their hands for nearly 20 years.
How sure are you of the origin of your other leather goods? It’s a question we all need to ask ourselves and I’ve certainly been asking myself recently. Next time you buy a ‘British’ leather product, be conscious of the communities, lives and culture behind something seemingly small; it could be your decisions that shape the next industrial movement, for better or for worse.
Words: Hannah Crosbie