From Bristol, with love
With a BA in Fashion Design and Pattern Making, Jessica, founder of design brand Klès, moved to England 10 years ago from a small village in France where she grew up surrounded by nature.
Her big city dream brought her to London, where she worked in Marketing for several years until, after being inspired by the platform Etsy, she created Klès in 2015 to fulfill her creative side.
When craftsmanship meets design
As a fashion student, clothing would have been the logical step to take, however, her frustration in finding a top quality handbag that was affordable and stylish, made Jessica take a different direction.
The concept for Klès was clear for her: combining craftsmanship and design.
With that aim, she started creating her unique collection of leather handbags and accessories.
What do you think that you would be doing today if you hadn't created Klès?
When I left my last job, I didn't want to be an employee anymore and I really wanted to work in a creative field again. I think I would have created a fashion brand in one way or another, or I could be working as a Web Producer for a creative company. This would have been a good compromise.
What would you say the challenges of being a leather artisan are nowadays?
Handcrafting leather accessories takes a lot of time, and in addition to that I do everything else in my business: designing, developing new products, photography, website admin, social media, marketing, order processing… and so on! Another challenge is being seen amongst all the other fashion brands. As an independent designer maker, I can’t compete with the marketing and advertising budget that large brands have.
What does a normal day at the studio look like?
I get up early, at 6:30 am, as I like to take my time in the morning, and I start working at 8 am. I usually do my computer work from home in the morning and I leave to the studio at about 10:30 am. My walk to the studio is 40min long, which is great because I don't need to go to the gym anymore! :D
I make each product to order, so every week is different. I try to group my production into 2 to 4 products with the same leather or finish; it is a little quicker than working on one product at a time. I work until 5pm, unless I’m busy and need to stay at the studio to finish something. I share my studio with two other makers/artists and the space is within a wider community of artists at In Bristol Studio, so I get to be around many amazing creative people all day! It’s amazing to have people to talk to, especially when working on your own.
"My love for minimalist designs happens to work perfectly with the fact that I hand-craft each product myself. I don't use any machinery in my production process, each piece of leather is carefully hand-cut, every stitch is hand-sewn and the edges are hand-finished. "
Could you tell us a little bit more about your creative process when it comes to making a new product?
My style as a designer has always been about clean lines, with no unnecessary details, that highlight materials, volumes and finishes. My love for minimalist design happens to work perfectly with the fact that I hand-craft each product myself. Traditional leatherwork takes time, therefore having simple designs helps keeping prices reasonable. Also, when working with a material as noble as vegetable tanned leather, it makes sense to emphasis this material with a minimalist design. I don't use any machinery in my production process, each piece of leather is hand-cut, every stitch is hand-sewn and the edges are hand-finished.
We understand that each piece is different and unique, however, how long does it take you as an average to make one of your products?
It depends on the product. The larger handbags take between 5 to 8 hours to make (the handstitched ones are particularly time-consuming) and the simplest card holders take about 1 hour to make. I take my time when making my leather products because, when working with leather, one small mistake can ruin the product completely. It is not like when working with fabric for example, that can be unstitched and stitched again if a seam is not straight. Leather will have visible holes, so you will have to re-make the product from scratch.
Why did you decide to use leather for your designs?
Once I decided I wanted to make handbags, it was very clear to me that they would be made of leather. This is simply because this is the type of bags I wear, rather than fabric handbags, I like the durability and elegance of a leather bag. Also, I was curious to discover this noble material I had never worked with before.
What would you like to communicate to the person who purchases one of your products?
The beauty of handcrafted products. I’ve always loved beautifully made objects and garments. They have something very special that you can't compare with mass-produced things. They are like treasures to me, and I would like more people to discover the magic of well made and well designed products. There is also the impact that each item we buy makes on the local economy and on the environment. This is why I try to use the most sustainable materials for my bags and their packaging, and I try to purchase all the materials in the UK. I also prioritise independent stockists, like Cuemars, who in turn help the local economy and the environment by selling more authentic, locally made items from small brands.
A sustainable lifestyle is important to us and to our customers. Could you tell us how you practise sustainability as an independent business?
The type of leather I use, vegetable tanned leather, is a lot more sustainable than industrially made chrome leather. My leather is made traditionally, in Italy and Belgium, with a process including only natural tanning agents like tree bark and leaves. The tanning being made in Europe guarantees the tanneries’ adherence to strict environmental policies.
The fact that I make each product to order or in small batches prevents waste and my handbags are durable, they will last a lifetime if taken care of properly. They can also be repaired. All Klès packaging is plastic free.
Do you have any plans for the near future to increase your sustainability even further? I’m trying to reduce single plastic use totally. With plastic free packaging I’m nearly there, but there are some little things that I haven't found an alternative for, yet. The first example that comes to my mind is stickers. My logo and customer address stickers are plastic free, but they come on a plastic sheet that I throw away once all the stickers have been used. It is this type of “invisible” waste that I would like to reduce next.
If you had to choose only one of your products that you made to take with you forever, what would it be?
I would choose the SCYLLA bag. I have the Matte Black version and I love it because it is just the right size, it goes with everything and it makes any outfit, even the simplest, stylish.