The Craft: The Billingham Bag
I'm not big into politics but if I had the chance to swap our PM for another powerful redhead, I would immediately give Mary Portas that house in Kirribilli with the nice view.
Through her compelling TV shows, the grande dame of retail marketing has systematically transformed businesses, lives and communities across the UK and her latest show, Mary's Bottom Line, continues to showcase her sterling work. It's set in the north of England which was once the heart of the UK's textile manufacturing greatness. However, now that most clothing is made overseas using cheaper labour, these once proud towns and communities have fallen into desperate disrepair. Mary is on a mission to bring fashion manufacturing back to England by creating a saucy line of ladies underwear "Kinky Knickers" using only UK-sourced materials and labour, and to do this she has revived an old textiles factory and selected eight of the thousands of local unemployed youths to man the sewing machines. For most of them it's the first job they've ever had.
After just two episodes it's already apparent how much change Mary is effecting. On hearing the news that the knickers are going to be stocked in some of the world's most famous stores, such as Selfridges, the pride and excitement radiating from the young workforce was almost tear inducing.
I love shows like this that demonstrate true craftsmanship and passion. They invoke a desire to create beautiful things that you can be proud of and that you know will bring pleasure and happiness to those who become their owners. This is the aim of my artistry and I have an affinity towards companies that have a similar passion: Queensberry for their beautiful wedding albums, Hard Graft for their lifestyle and tech accessories, and now Billingham for their superb camera bags.
I've recently been on a quest for a new camera bag. The six I already own still do the job but I needed something different; a bag that would reflect my brand values and the quality I offer my clients. It would also need to complement my preppy wedding day outfits so I can blend in with the guests (well, as much as an Asian guy with an English accent can blend in). That immediately ruled out ninety-nine per cent of bags on the market which, while functional, are black and bland. Of the remaining contenders there was a clear standout: an English company that has been making finely crafted bags for the last forty years.
M Billingham & Co is uncannily similar to the companies mentioned in Mary's Bottom Line. The factory is based in a West Midlands town where everything from bricks to horseshoes and even parts of Concorde were manufactured. And it's still a family run business with employees who have been with them for many years.
The company originally made fishing bags but after realising that many New York photographers were using them as camera bags, production immediately switched to service gear-hungry photographers.
The bags themselves are gorgeous; a feast of heavy waterproof canvas, deliciously thick, vegetable tanned leather, and shiny solid brass fittings. And whilst they are available in black, the most popular colours are khaki and sage green. To sum them up they look less like camera bags and more like weekend bags that you would sling into the back of your MG convertible. In 1970.
Nostalgia's a great thing but the company has also moved with the times by including a QR code inside the bag on the Billingham label. Scanning the code reveals details of the people who stitched and assembled that particular bag. It's a neat little touch that creates an instant connection with the workers back in the factory who have poured their passion into crafting excellent products for people all over the world to enjoy. Just like Mary's teenagers.
My sage green Billingham 335 arrived this week and I'm excited to be sporting it for the first time at tomorrow's wedding. If you're thinking of investing in a fine camera bag then you can't get better than a Billingham. My only criticism is that there is a severe lack of photos of these excellent bags on the web, so here are a few I took earlier.