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A local, handmade leather venture

3 years ago

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[caption id="attachment_94501" align="alignleft" width="250"] Peiris Leather Studio Owner Vajira Peiris[/caption] By Uwin Lugoda Leather goods make for great investments because when it’s well made and treated with care, it tends to be durable and weather beautifully. However, leather is among some of the most niche segments when it comes to the apparel sector, due to the amount of labour needed for its production. This has also led to fewer leather product-based start-ups in Sri Lanka. However, Peiris Leather Studio is now looking to change that with handmade, detailed, and sustainable leather products. The start-up mainly focuses on leather accessories that help customers in their day-to-day lives, and offers product lines for different lifestyles. Ranging mainly from wallets to gents’ handbags, their product lines also include other in-demand items such as camera belts, ladies’ bags, leather book covers, and iPad cases. Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Peiris Leather Studio Owner Vajira Peiris stated that she first started the company back in 2012 in the UK, by producing small quantities of leather goods and gifts for her friends. “We started this by renting a room in a small house, with just a desk, loom, and sewing machine, and only did leather textiles and fashion accessories bespoke orders.” Peiris had her experience with leather products during her time at university and when she was running private, handmade leather glove manufacturing workshops for both local and international students in the UK. In 2018, she moved both her workshops and the leather company to Sri Lanka, where she showcased her product line in Colombo Fashion Week (CFW) 2018. “Following our appearance at CFW, we continued to do pop-up sales and business via social media in Sri Lanka. Now, we have a small studio at my residence and we have more than 50 leather product ranges.” Currently, the start-up has a growing reach across Sri Lanka, supplying products to three leather-based brands in the country. However, Peiris claimed that the mainly bespoke accessories orders are via their social media. She stated that they design their products in house where their designers-makers create prototypes or begin manufacturing the product right away, after which the leather is stitched either by hand or machine. “The entire process is monitored very carefully, so due to this, we take three to 14 days to complete most orders. Then, we provide our customers with after-sales services. It is a very slow process overall, but we appreciate design, quality, and a smooth finish, rather than quantity and fast fashion.” Due to their focus on quality, Peiris stated that one of the biggest challenges they faced in Sri Lanka was finding designers-makers who understood the design they were going for, that they required quality, and their process. She stated that to overcome this challenge, she hired three young girls who were open to learning new skills and trained them to be designers-makers. She also stated that they faced challenges when it came to finding high-quality materials locally, and high tax rates when importing raw materials and trims they needed for their products.  “In Sri Lanka there are so many short life cycle products that come from China, and even though they are cheap, they are not sustainable. This makes us unique; our products last longer and are a sustainable alternative, which is why we have a huge demand from local retailers.” Speaking on why they stand out, Peiris explained that their slow, quality-focused approach helped them create exclusive products for brands, with some products even being manufactured just once. She stated that they work with suppliers to develop new colour combinations exclusive to them and import high-quality metal trims from the UK, and therefore have high-end designs with reliable quality and excellent finishes. She went on to state that they also provide customer care and support post purchase, with all the products having a one-year warranty and free mending services. After the one-year period, she stated that they will continue to do repairs on their products, however at a small fee. “We advise our customers on caring for the products they buy, how to get rid of mould, and how to use wax, etc. for long use, because with proper care, leather can last for a long time. That way, we encourage customers to appreciate the longevity of the goods and use them for a long time, and even undertake repairs for other leather products they have too.” Furthermore, Peiris stated that the start-up only uses raw materials in the form of recycled waste from the meat industry, instead of killing animals for their skin. She stated that in order to help push this kind of sustainability, they also provide consultancy and workshops to local and foreign brands. Currently, the start-up is doing all its manufacturing in Sri Lanka and selling its products both locally and in the UK. According to Peiris, she is using interns in the UK to do bespoke orders and sampling, however she had to shut down the UK production and workshops due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. She stated that initially, when the pandemic spread, they had to halt their manufacturing both in Sri Lanka and the UK, as labour was unavailable. However once the local curfew was lifted, she stated that they were able to slowly resume manufacturing, and have now returned to pre-Covid levels, with even more orders than they had before. “The one issue we are now facing is supply chain logistics. The accessories and raw material supply chains have been interrupted so it’s hard to come by the required components. Importers are having trouble acquiring the accessories so we have to directly go to manufacturers using websites like Alibaba.” Speaking about their future plans, Peiris stated that they want to eventually set up a local luxury brand in Sri Lanka, since they see a lack in designs and product development on current products in the market which are mainly imported. She explained that she wanted to make buying locally produced craft more meaningful and create an appreciation for the hard work put in by the craft industry. “We want to sell worldwide and create a unique Sri Lankan handmade leather brand that is globally recognised. By doing so, I also want to encourage the younger generation to follow these amazing craft techniques in order to appreciate design and creation of value.”

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