Bag designing is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a fifth generation farmer, but for Hayley Hanson it’s a part of her daily farming life.

Courtesy of Hayley Hanson Country

Hayley has been designing bags for a number of years, working from her farm in the Brecon Beacons, deep in the Welsh countryside. But what makes her designs stand out from the rest is that her leather comes from her very own cows on the farm. Her herd comprises of Blue, Angus and Blonde cattle, and much like anything else, the leather bi-product can differ greatly. Hayley explains: “There is a difference between the breeds, but more so between the sexes, a bulls skin is far thicker than a heifers because of all the testosterone, it’s the health of the animal that makes a difference to the leather, much like ourselves, the weather can play havoc with your complexion!!”

An important thing to highlight is where leather comes from. Leather is a by-product, which means cattle are reared specifically for the production of meat. Hayley only ever uses leather as a product of fallen stock or beef production, but she explains there is often misunderstanding surrounding the production of leather, in the belief that cows are killed specifically for their hides. She says: “It’s a VERY common misconception, which goes back to educating the general public on agriculture and farming especially in schools, there’s no point killing a £1500 steer for a £25 skin!!”.

Courtesy of Hayley Hanson Country

During the process, Hayley has is always thinking about the environment. She explains: “I’m very keen on minimising waste and being as efficient, environmentally friendly and  productive as possible, as the leather is a by-product from beef production, I feel there is a high level of respect to be given to the product and every last piece should be used. We make the country range from our own leather offcuts, this is the very, very best, traceable, ethically produced leather in the world, and combine it with a variety of fabrics, from customers own “specials” to Scottish made canvas, our customer is key, what they ask for, what they want , we make.”

The Hayley Hanson Country range is made up of an array of items from tote bags, clutch bags, purses and keyrings. Each item is made by Hayley using both modern and traditional techniques. Every bag has had that special treatment, being hand stitched and then hand wound using a 100-year-old singer sewing machine! You can guarantee this is a bag which is going to last a lifetime!

Courtesy of Hayley Hanson Country
Courtesy of Hayley Hanson Country

Hayley tells me: “People are always surprised at the amount of manual labour that goes into products. We do have a press from repeat jobs, a manual butterfly press, once you’ve cut 1,500 coin purses out in one go, you’re like Popeye!!”

Now, dare I mention that word on everyone’s lips…Brexit…yes I’ve done it… but for an important reason. With so many uncertainties going forward, Hayley says it’s now more important than ever to buy British: “We have the best and highest animal welfare standards in the world, and that follows through to the leather. There will always be people who don’t care about that type of thing, but as we approach an uncertain post-Brexit future, we should all be looking to buy everything from the UK as much as we can, we are an island, but we are more than capable of being self sufficient.”

I am fortunate enough to have one of Hayley Hanson’s small Brecon tote in my wardrobe which I have fallen in love with. The size is perfect for holding all of those daily essentials; purse, phone, make-up and umbrella (100% essential with the unpredictable British weather!). It’s equipped with endless pockets and even has a handy key clip, which – if you are like me and always spend five minutes on the doorstep rummaging through your bag for your house keys – is a must! It’s not just a bag I save for my trips out to a country pub, living in London, the bag has also been a perfect companion for my trips exploring the capital! A bag for any occasion!

To browse the whole collection head to the website or watch Hayley Hanson Country grow via their social media pages:

Instagram: @hayleyhansoncountry_gb

Facebook: Hayley_Hanson_

Twitter: @Hayley_Hanson_

Check out my full interview with Hayley below:

\Where did it all begin for Hayley Hanson Country? We have been making hides for farmers, and leather, and luxury leather goods for some time, I’m very keen on minimising waste and being as efficient, environmentally friendly and  productive as possible, as the leather is a by-product from beef production, I feel there is a high level of respect to be given to the product and every last piece should be used, we make the country range from our own leather offcuts, this is the very, very best, traceable, ethically produced leather in the world, and combine it with a variety of fabrics, from customers own “specials” to Scottish made canvas. Our customer is key, what they ask for, what they want , we make.

Tell me a bit about your products. I love the country range, there’s so many fun and unusual fabrics, vintage fabrics and Welsh blankets,  our core range is really aimed at country loving ladies, who want something really, really well made, British fabrics, and has useful features such as the car key clip, and all the pockets inside, and fabrics that will stick being chucked in the back of a Land Rover, horsebox or cattle lorry, then wiped off to go to Cheltenham races, or a trip to town.

Do you have a favourite? It’s got to be the bestseller, the small Brecon tote, though I don’t actually have one, as they sell out before I get to keep one!!

So, the leather is from your very own herd of cattle? You have Blue, Angus and Blonde cattle, do you see a difference between your hides? There is a difference between the breeds, but more so between the sexes, a bulls skin is far thicker than a heifers because of all the testosterone, it’s the health of the animal that makes a difference to the leather, much like ourselves, the weather can play havoc with your complexion!!

All of your leather is processed and tanned here on the British Isles – would you say this is rare to find now? Yes, it is, there are tanneries left, amazing tanneries, but they are getting less, and it’s so important for British agriculture to keep them going, as cattle farmers we need to secure the onward supply chain for the WHOLE animal, not just the meat, the offal, bones, tripe, hooves, tongues etc, and this is vital and the responsibility of EVERY producer, butcher and abattoir to work together, we breed for carcase traits, but we raise an animal, and it’s the responsibility of every farmer to do their best to ensure not only a respectful and quick death, but that every part of the animal has a use, a future and reason for being. That’s something I feel very strongly about.

Courtesy of Hayley Hanson Country

All of your leather is processed and tanned here on the British Isles – would you say this is rare to find now? Yes, it is, there are tanneries left, amazing tanneries, but they are getting less, and it’s so important for British agriculture to keep them going, as cattle farmers we need to secure the onward supply chain for the WHOLE animal, not just the meat, the offal, bones, tripe, hooves, tongues etc, and this is vital and the responsibility of EVERY producer, butcher and abattoir to work together, we breed for carcase traits, but we raise an animal, and it’s the responsibility of every farmer to do their best to ensure not only a respectful and quick death, but that every part of the animal has a use, a future and reason for being. That’s something I feel very strongly about.

In the making of your bags, you mix it up with modern and traditional ways…I am intrigued what are the traditional techniques…? We use a lot of traditional tools, hand stitching, and the bulk of what’s made in my workshop are stitched on a hand wound 100 odd year old singer sewing machine, is very relaxing, and easily controlled, we cut nearly everything by hand if it’s made here as well, with old school cardboard patterns. People are always surprised at the amount of manual labour that goes into products. We do have a press from repeat jobs, a manual butterfly press, once you’ve cut 1,500 coin purses out in one go, you’re like Popeye!!

Courtesy of Hayley Hanson Country

You only ever use leather as a product of fallen stock or beef production? Would you say there is a common misconception about the leather industry -that cows are often killed just for their hides? It’s a VERY common misconception, which goes back to educating the general public on agriculture and farming especially in schools, there’s no point killing a £1500 steer for a £25 skin!! Also the term “cow skin rug” is very misleading. “Cows” is a term used incorrectly very frequently, what people really mean is Cattle, cows are the grand mummas of the herd, often living until grand old ages, well on our farm any way, there’s many a farmer been close to tears telling me his best, most favourite cows is needing to go off and he would like the hide back. Every hide we do for another farmer is precious, and much loved, and has a story, in nearly 8 years we have only not managed one home successfully, which is very sad for the owners, and for us as a company, as we know how much the hides mean to the farmers.

You’re a fifth generation farmer – am I right to guess you are the first in your family to branch out into designing bags? Ha, yes I am, well I think I am, farmers wives are traditionally pretty nifty at doing most things, fixing and sewing, repairing and making do, I’ve always liked bags and shoes, being a bit on the more comfortable size of a size 14 (ha ha) bags and shoes are more universal and you don’t need to be a size 8 to have nice versions of bags and shoes.

How important is it for people to support small businesses like yours – particularly small British leather companies? Its vitally important that people buy British, we have the best and highest animal welfare standards in the world, and that follows through to the leather, there will always be people who don’t care about that type of thing, but as we approach an uncertain post-Brexit future, we should all be looking to buy everything from the UK as much as we can, we are an Island, but we are more than capable of being self sufficient.

What does your typical day involve? Oh my gosh! Start early, get some coffee on the go before the kids get up, I’ve three under 5 so they all need getting ready, dressed, breakfast and off to school, preschool and nursery for 8.45am. Home, breakfast, workshop/designing/making/phone/sorting thing/feed cattle/check cattle/farm work/sort hides anything and everything, clean the house make the kids lunches and dinner etc, school run, homework etc, I do all the accounts and VAT and  that once the kids have gone to bed, in the quiet with a gin and tonic!!

Thanks for reading,

Lois x


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