Handmade Leather Goods Australia - Made On-Site In Tasmania
Alex Mileham·November 16, 2021
At Lake Leather we have been making handmade leather goods on-site in Australia for some time. We produce a wide range of goods, from belts to bags and a bit of everything in between. In this article we are going to meet our makers and have a look around our Tasmanian workshops.
We inherited our making on-site from Ian Lake, the previous owner and establisher of Lake Leather. He started the business some 40 years ago out of the back of a panel van in country NSW. Ian grew up with his parents both doing leatherwork on the kitchen table, so his leathercraft came from his childhood, taught by his parents. His mother was a gifted leather carver and could create beautiful portraits of people, as well as the more traditional images of animals and classic floral patterns.
Striking out on his own, Ian bought an ex-council panel van from an auction and set off travelling up and down the coast of NSW, chasing the surf breaks. He would set up a table in the shade of a tree and spend his days between surfing and making belts and dog collars in his makeshift studio. Ian would make the rounds of the country markets of coastal NSW, selling his handmade belts and other goods at the weekend, making and surfing during the week. As the needs of his family grew, Ian settled in Cobargo, NSW, and set up the original Lake Leather shop there. He continued to make belts, collars, bags and more at this location for many years. After relocating to Tasmania in around 2000, the first Lake Leather was established down here in the quaint village of Evandale. Our Campbell Town shop followed a few years later.
Handmade Leather Goods Australia
The workshop was set up in the Evandale, Tasmania premises in 2007. Much of the machinery – industrial sewing machines and a shear press – came from the Blundstone factory in Hobart when they moved their production offshore due to increased costs. Lake Leather acquired the machinery and Ian’s dream of a workshop on-site in the Evandale shop was born. Fast forward through the years to today, and we now have two workshops, the one established some 14 years ago by Ian, and our new sheepskin slipper workshop that we got up and running a little over a year ago. We have two makers in these workshops, Annie who has
been with us since the beginning, and Shirl who joined us about a year and a half ago, when her job at the nearby airport car hire was no longer an option. Georgie, the current owner, is also a leather worker having attained qualifications in saddle, bridle and harness making from the world-famous Society of Master Saddlers in England.
Georgie moved to Tasmania from the UK in 2007, just missing out on applying for Annie’s job in the workshop. Despite growing up in England, Georgie’s Tasmanian heritage goes back many
generations to the 1850s (see our previous 2-part blog A Bit of Local History to read a fascinating account of her great-great grandfather’s exploits). She first started working for Ian the following year, and her leather craft was a good addition to Lake Leather’s skill set. She would make belts behind the counter in the shop when it wasn’t too busy, and do repairs and make patterns for little items like keyrings, rifle slings, guitar straps etc. Georgie worked for Ian for 10 years, gradually
taking over the management of the business from him before taking the leap and purchasing the business in 2018. Making sure Lake Leather keeps our ever-growing range of handmade leather goods made in Australia - and especially in Tassie.
The slipper factory came about when Lake Leather’s long-term slipper supplier from Melbourne decided it was time to retire. They originally approached Ian
about purchasing their set-up, not realising he had sold the business to Georgie. Ian passed along their info and a meeting was set up to inspect the machinery and materials available to purchase, with a promise to come over to Tasmania and help get the novice slipper makers up and running with their new enterprise if needed. Georgie, liking to bite off more than she can chew, decided to lean in and purchased the entire kit and caboodle and set up the Tasmanian Slipper Company.
The machinery was shipped over from Melbourne and set up in the garage of the Evandale shop. The workshop was ready to go in Feb 2020, just as covid came to town. Our first two weeks out there produced nothing anywhere close to saleable, and just as we decided that we definitely needed some guidance from the experts – the borders were shut, and we had to fend for ourselves. We gradually worked out for ourselves that you hold it like this, not like that; that you pull it this way, not that way, and all the other little tricks we have developed to improve our production. It gradually all came together. It’s been a long road, but we are finally consistently
producing slippers that we are proud of, learning all the time and improving on our technique. We are working in the background on getting the Tasmanian Slipper Company’s website ready for launch this autumn. Get on our social media @lakeleather and @tasslipperco to follow our pages and keep up with all our news and developments. We are proud to be doing what we are doing, manufacturing on-site and keeping it local…keeping it Tasmanian made.
Meet The Makers
Who are you?
Annie: Annie Sotheran.
Shirl: Shirralee ‘Shirl’ Rigby.
Where are you from?
Shirl: From the ‘high country’- English Town (near Deddington).
What do you do at LL?
Annie: Belt making, sheepskin slippers, leather handbags & purses, aprons.
Shirl: I help in the making of slippers, and cutting out leather for purses, bags, earrings, bookmarks etc.
What did you do before?
Annie: Soft furnishing and curtain manufacturing.
Shirl: Rental sales agent at Avis car hire.
How long have you been at LL?
Annie: 14 years.
Shirl: Going on 2 years & still learning heaps.
What do you most like about your work at LL?
Annie: Making quality products that customers appreciate and use on a regular basis. Creating patterns and producing products of my own design and working with a variety of different leathers and materials.
Shirl: The friendly atmosphere of all the people that work here and the thrill of making beautiful things out of leather and sheepskin.
What does it mean to you when someone buys one of your creations?
Annie: That my skills are appreciated and practical.
Shirl: “Oh boy!” I get a really big head and smile a lot and say, “Why yes, I know I am clever, thank you very much.” ;-)
What is your favourite item to make?
Annie: Belts and handbags.
Shirl: Slippers, but I am learning, so everything I do is always exciting. Every day is different. Just don’t ask me to make Santa Clauses…because I don’t like doing that!