Ethnology is more than a leather brand.
Ethnology takes the philosophies, rituals, and heritage of black cultures and mix them with a western perspective. This results in products with a very interesting mix of simple clean lines and subtle, yet impactful Caribbean and African details.
All beautifully hand-crafted in their London studio.
Ethnology was developed by Chanelle, who thrives on re-imagining discarded leather into simple small everyday purses, wallets, bags and accessories.
Let’s chat with her to find out the story behind the brand and what inspires her.
Tell me a bit about what yourself and what you do ?
My name is Chanelle Joseph, born and raised in Hackney. I am the one woman band behind the the small leather goods brand Ethnology. I’m a self taught leathersmith learning most of what I know from vintage leathercraft books and watching other leathersmiths on Youtube.
I also work a part time job for a clothing reuse charity, encouraging Londoners to donate their unwanted clothes for to a good cause.
What inspires you ?
I’m inspired by the style and expression of my Grandparents as migrants from the Caribbean to Britain. Like many travelling from Caribbean during Windrush the beautiful luggage and style of clothes they wore spoke resistance, strength, and personality which I try to convey in my products.
Heritage is also a great inspiration for me, the simple and subtle designs with African accents is a salute to my heritage with a western perspective.
How did your creative journey start and what led you to work with leather ?
I set up a craft workshop targeting people affected by a breakdown in their mental health. When word got out what I was doing I received various donations of amazing fabrics including a load of deadstock from the fashion industry. This is where my love affair with leather was born.
What excites you about your work ?
I love that I am constantly being challenged by my work. Being self taught means I am constantly learning new techniques to add to my raputoir.
I also love when a customer sends me a picture of their aging leather product, which looks even better then when they first purchased it from me.
How important is sustainability to you ?
Sustainability is a multifaceted concept that encompasses a variety of environmental concerns. I choose to focus on the issue of waste as way to highlight how over consumption impacts negatively on the environment. I use waste leather as a rebellion to fast fashion to highlight and to encourage people to invest in an item that will last decades rather than matter of months.
Supporting local business is also an important aspect of sustainability for me. I use my local leather merchants to source deadstock, fittings and to assemble elements of products.
Is there a trend that excites you at the moment ?
Wellbeing seems to be something that is becoming more and more popular in recent years. It is a trend I’m happy to follow. The repetitive nature of leathercraft offers a therapeutic medium for me. I enjoy running craft workshops to show others how leathercraft can act as a tool in managing good mental wellbeing.
What does your typical day look like ?
I work part time, so typically I spend my evenings working on the business which is mostly admin, and research for new leathercraft workshops and products.
Friday’s are my make days. On this day I will review any orders to be made. Make a quick stop to my local leather merchants, where I add my logo stamps to products, replenish finishings for products such as stud closures. I then cycle down to my studio space which is based in Somerset House where I start the making process.
I mainly hand stitch my products so I pre score a stitching guideline, I then use the line to hammer holes in preparation for stitching. I use the traditional saddle stitch to hold the pattern pieces in place, arguable the strongest stitch that can be used. After some polishing the item is ready for shipping.
What does success look like to you ?
Seeing random people in different settings using my products.
What’s next for you and your brand?
I’m currently finalising my summer collection. It will feature a total of 10 products and my first backpack! I’m really excited and can’t wait to launch it in a few months.
I’m also working on a series of workshops currently taking place at Makerversity on Wednesday 24th and 7th February, featuring a leather bracelet and wallet workshop using reclaimed materials. This is the start of many workshops I will be running across London this year.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting a sustainable brand?
Decide what element of sustainability is important to you and go for it!
What is the one book that you would recommend for people to read ?
If anyone has an interest in learning more about leathercraft check out Art of Hand Sewing Leather by Al Stohlman.
Chanelle has been kind enough to offer our readers ( meaning you ! ) 20% off her leather-crafting workshops, just use code “JAM20” when you sign-up. Hopefully see you there !