The leather craft is slowly returning to Germany. One great example of fine leather working and precious handbags is the Hamburg based label Stiebich & Rieth. They produce hand stitched handbags using a saddle stitch technique and vegetable tanned leather.
Detlef Stiebich and Julia Rieth, you both worked as designers for fashion brands like Joop, Bogner, Wunderkind, Marc O’ Polo and others. Where did you learn the leather craft?
As designers, in the past we used to follow the classic work process of drawing at the computer. At the expense of work on the product itself having gotten lost.
At STIEBICH & RIETH, we put it upon ourselves to revive the development process right from the start. Thus, we deliberately refrained from using computers, even pen and paper, and approached the forms in an almost „sculptural“ way.
Our styles are created directly within the material, because this is the only way to see how the leather will behave. Prototypes are sewn up to 10/12 times until everything fits – shape, function, and aesthetics.
We work with high-quality manufactures from whom we learned a lot about the craft, the rest was ‘learning by doing’. The saddle stitching with two needles is a very sophisticated and luxurious workmanship. It influences our signature, so to speak.
We’ve made it such, because our leather in combination with the styles we make, could never be processed otherwise.
How many working steps are necessary to produce Stiebich & Rieth hand stitched handbags and how long does it take on average?
Very many steps.
At first, the development of a style is very time-consuming. Until every detail, the shape, the movement of the leather and the look are right, many days pass and many prototypes are made. Once the prototype is ready for production, a paper template is created and digitalized. The leather is hand-picked before it is cut into the blank and every mosquito bite, tear, crease or irregularity is marked so that these defects will not appear on visible parts. When the cut is finished and the leather is checked, it will be cut on a computer. During this process, the holes are punched, also.
The cut parts then go into the edge processing. That means, that all edges are being hand-coloured and polished. This process is repeated until a smooth, supple edge is formed. Afterwards, logos are embossed, some of the leather parts are split or sharpened according to the application, and some parts are pre-glued.
Once all of these pre-production steps have been completed, the blanks are transferred to the sewing factory. The preparations take just about as long as the actual sewing process. Overall, a hand stiched hand bag takes about 12 to 20 working hours.
What is the philosophy of your handbag brand and what are the special functions of your hand stitched handbags?
Re-defining luxury was one of our most important impulses. Our bags should be more modern, discretely elegant, and functional.
The craft and the idea to manufacture in Germany excited us. And so we invested a lot of time in developing our collection, building the brand and the philosophy. The omission of everything superfluous is always an important challenge, as well as making the useful “beautiful” is one of our most important inspirations.
Stiebich & Rieth stands for a modern look, straightforward and reduced and the bags are always produced in limited editions.
A costly production in Germany vs. a comparatively favorable production in Asia. Where do you see the advantages of producing in Germany?
Short ways, good communication and little misunderstanding.
Proximity to the product during the development phase also means that the idea is not lost during the realization by misinterpretation or mishandling of the material.
We have first class craftsmanship in Germany. Due to our processing we almost have no returns or complaints. That pays off. And we can only make sophisticated models if someone is equally skilled in the trade.
These two aspects combined form a luxury product.
More and more customers are shopping online today. Will you have an online-shop in the future where one can buy your handbags directly?
For us, however, it is clear that we can not go the classic e-commerce path and we are still looking for the right, that is our own way. The handling of online-ordered products is partly very delicate. Returns on a handmade product are extremely risky and costly; as soon as the goods are only slightly damaged, you have a problem.
We think about a strategy that involves a mix of digital handling and personal customer contact.
More about Stiebich & Rieths’ hand stitched handbags you will find out on their website.
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