Prolonging the life of your belongings is key to reducing waste and our impact on the planet, but what do you do when your favourite shoes or investment handbag are past their best? We visited The Restory’s London Atelier to find out how they give luxury leather items a new lease of life.
When one of the Eco-Age team members needed their Bottletop backpack restored to its former glory, there was one place they knew would be up for the job – The Restory.
The much-loved backpack, handmade from Amazon Zero Deforestation leather, up-cycled PET plastic lining and enamel painted, hand finished crochet work using up-cycled ring-pull detailing, was stained from years of use, with a broken zip to boot. As we always endeavour to repair rather than replace, and to keep our clothing and accessories for as long as possible here at Eco-Age, we turned to The Restory to give it a new lease of life for years to come.
The Restory, founded by Vanessa Jacobs in 2015, has become a leading innovator in luxury repairs and aftercare. Items such as shoes, bags and other small leather goods can be sent in to its London-based atelier for repair and restoration, where they are carefully assessed and an online quote is provided, with clients given the opportunity to then accept, query or decline the quote. Post-approval, The Restory’s team of artisans bring the item back to life, before returning it to the owner to be worn and loved for years to come.
We visited The Restory’s London atelier to learn more about the restoration process, and meet the team of highly skilled artisans who would be working on the restoration:
THE RESTORATION PROCESS
As is standard with any item that enters the atelier for restoration, the rucksack required a deep clean to remove any surface dust and any stains if at all possible. Yihan, The Restory’s cleaning specialist, cleaned both the exterior of the bag and the interior lining while also focusing on polishing the hardware to ensure it was prepped before going through the restoration process.
Whilst the bag was going through the cleaning process, Laura, one of The Restory’s many sourcing experts, sourced a new zipper for the bag, paying close attention to match the quality and colour of the zip tape and teeth as the original. They then needed to unpick the zip stitches from the old one and line the new one into place. Helena, the team’s stitching specialist, then stitched the new zip with a machine, but due to the construction of the bag, the zip needed to be hand stitched at the ends.
For the next stage, the rucksack was passed onto Catalina, who is one of The Restory’s colour specialists. In order to replace the heavily cracked edge coat, she needed to sand down all the edges in order to remove the original edge coat so a fresh layer could be applied. Catalina then deglazed the main body of the rucksack in order to remove the top layer of leather and any dirt that was deeper into the leather to make the surface more absorbent for paint. Then, as with any item that requires colour restoration, the colour was mixed by hand with a variety of pigments to ensure the perfect colour match. This was then applied to the whole bag in light layers to conceal any signs of staining and wear. The edge coat colour was then mixed and applied to the edges. This is an important part of the process as not only does it strengthen and support the straps, but is also for aesthetic purposes.
For the finishing touches, a satin finisher was applied to match the finish of the original bag and then it was left to dry and cure for a week before being returned.
Meet the Artisans
Catalina Albertini is a Restoration Specialist.
How did you get into restoration? I got into restoration with this job actually. I was always on the design side of the business and found this other side of fashion and thought it would be a fresh progression for my career.
Before joining The Restory I was working in Argentina in a well-known Womenswear brand as a Fashion and Accessories Designer. After that, I moved to London to take the Fashion Artefact Masters (Accessories) at London College of Fashion. Since my background is in Fashion design – both academic and professional – I wanted to learn the craft of leather restoration and broaden my skills.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? Researching and developing new leather techniques in order to restore and extend the life cycle of new products with new materials is definitely the most rewarding part of my work. Also, the positive feedback from clients that appreciate the craft and are happy to receive their items in a better condition is always satisfying.
What is the most challenging? Each product, colour, type of leather and finisher is different from bag to bag. Managing unexpected leather or colour reactions is certainly the biggest challenge we face in the atelier, but again finding a solution is most rewarding. We receive many iconic bags that we have now mastered how to work on, however, there are always new designs with unexpected craft elements which poses different outcomes.
What advice would you give somebody that wants to learn the skill of restoring? Being knowledgeable about different materials, colour theory and how products are built and designed is a really good starting point. But I would just say to go for it! It is a skill that is constantly being developed so as long as you get started with testing, making mistakes and trying again, there is room to grow your skills. Start with an introduction to techniques and materials and then jump into testing your own items. Also, be ready to exercise your patience!
Describe a typical day: Working for a start-up there’s always new projects we can delve into but a typical day involves assessing, organising and restoring items scheduled for the week. I also spend a lot of time researching and sourcing new products, materials, hardware and fittings from all over the world.
Helena Marcon Abud is a Leather Specialist
How did you get into restoration? This was my first job in restoration. I was working part time in an accessories brand when I got in touch with a friend who was working at The Restory. I started freelancing for the company, which I really enjoyed and then a few months later I became a full-time employee.
Prior to joining The Restory, I was working in an accessory brand as a pattern maker and product developer. I have a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design and I worked as a designer for accessories and jeanswear in Brazil. I moved to London to do an MA degree in Fashion Artefact and in that course, I developed an interest in leather and wood. After the MA, I worked as a sample maker at a studio in London where I learnt the craft of bag making.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? There are a couple of things I find rewarding like being able to restore something that wasn’t going to be used anymore. Also, studying the inside of the most vintage pieces and finding out how that bag was made many years ago. Finding solutions and researching new techniques is also a very fulfilling part of the job.
What is the most challenging? Every bag is unique, so basically every bag needs a different set of techniques and finding what is most suitable for each bag is half of the job.
What advice would you give somebody that wants to learn the skill of restoring? It is a job that you need to try, test and create new ways of making so just be patient and keep trying.
What does a typical day entail? We start by doing any research on the item such as seeing how it looked before it was used. Then we will start sourcing anything that we need to get for it and testing the techniques we are thinking about using. Then when I know that I have found the right solution, I’ll start working on the piece.
Laura Olivella is an Atelier Assistant
How did you get into restoration? I used to work in a luxury leather factory as a production manager where we had to do some alterations and personalisation of some of the handbags, however the volume was really minimal. I only started to fully work in restoration in this job.
I came to London 3 years ago to do my masters at the London College of Fashion. After my masters I did some work experience in a well-known London accessories brands. I am originally from Colombia and there I worked across different accessories companies as a handbag designer and production manager which was my opportunity to learn about leather, pattern making and the fabrication of leather goods.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? Definitely the most rewarding thing about my job is knowing that I am approaching design from a different perspective. I am working in fashion design, with beautiful objects but I am not creating new necessities and new products, instead developing my craft by promoting after-care. I always wanted to apply my design knowledge to develop new processes and ideas.
What is the most challenging? Predicting the construction and finding the exact techniques of how the handbags were originally made, so every repair or new part that we create matches the original design.
What advice would you give somebody that wants to learn the skill of restoring? Being motivated is the most important thing, there are so many techniques that you can learn and you have to be patient and learn the basic techniques first. It is important to be aware that expertise can only be achieved with time, patience and practice!
Describe a typical day: At the beginning of each week I always check the items I need to do and I prepare myself to reach my weekly goals. I usually restore two items at a time and I also help to organise the capacity of the atelier. The restoration process consists mostly of choosing leathers, cutting leathers, creating new pieces for the handbags, removing all pieces and sometimes painting and restoring the surfaces of the leather.
Yihan Lu is a Junior Artisan
How did you get into restoration? I find the art of restoration very interesting because all the items from clients always amaze and inspire me. There is always a story behind every item.
After finishing the MA course at LCF, my tutor Naomi introduced me to the head of atelier, Thais. Before that, I was a handbag maker in a local studio in Taiwan and learnt all the leather crafts there.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? This job brings a different insight towards the fashion industry. It’s always a pleasure to see how we can ensure an item will last longer. I am really glad that I can help people to reduce the waste of their accessories and to be a part of a company that aims to encourage clients to be more sustainable.
What is the most challenging? Repairing is always harder than making. As a handbag maker, it’s easier to achieve what I want. But, the work of restoration is complex and you never know what kind of item is waiting for you to fix.
What advice would you give somebody that wants to learn the skill of restoring? Having a basic and broad understanding of the materials and techniques is ideal. Be proactive and creative. Both passion and patience are essential.
What does a typical day entail? I am currently working in the cleaning department. Not only do I do a deep clean of our clients’ items, I also spend time developing new cleaning techniques for different items and their materials. I am also beginning to learn more about the restoration process by helping with doing edge coat and fixing small items.
Learn more about The Restory in our Bringing Business to Life interview with founder Vanessa Jacobs.
Read our interview with Cameron Saul, founder of Bottletop and The Bottletop Foundation, to learn more about the brand.