Meet The Makers: Chapman Bags
Chapman Bags are one of the last remaining bag manufacturers left in the UK, and in The Foodie Bugle Shop we stock a number of their most useful tote bags, fishing bags, travel and shopping bags and leather satchels.
Their sturdy, classic, covetable creations have been purchased through time by Prime Ministers, members of the Royal Family, rock stars and TV personalities as well as foragers, fishermen, hunters, riders and travellers from all over the world.
The company was originally established by John Chapman in his home in Burgh-by-Sands, Cumbria in the 1980s. Now the bags are made in the Tannery Road factory in Carlisle, employing 16 people who make between 8000 – 10 000 bags every year. The manager in charge of the factory, Giles Anderson, used to teach bag making at the London College of Fashion.
The building is part of an old industrial site dating back over three hundred years. Recent excavations near the workshops revealed the old water mill which once powered the site’s industrial activity.
The canvas bags are made with multi-layered, waterproof, hardwearing bonded canvas, made and dyed for Chapman. Leather bags, like the Reiver satchel, are made from British full grain vegetable tanned leathers, which are of the highest quality obtainable. They age well, and with a little cream rubbed in, the patina can make the bag look vintage. Solid brass hardware and 100% cotton military-parachute grade webbing, woven on a shuttle loom in Britain, complete the look.
Each bag is handmade from start to finish, just like a Saville Row suit. The material is handcut from traditional patterns. The material pieces are then machined, stitched, crafted and shaped by hand, and then checked and signed off individually. There are no computers taking the place of human eyes and skills. The company logo is a snail, symbolising a slow, careful approach to manufacture. Slow food, slow bags!
Sometimes customers visit the factory by appointment, in order to have bespoke bags made entirely for them, or have old bags, that have been passed down the generations, repaired and renewed. The business also has a showroom in trendy Shoreditch in London – a de rigeur location for the foodisti-trenderati.
John Chapman retired from the company, and since 2006 ex-banker Dan Chamier has been at the helm, as CEO and owner. He is of Huguenot heritage, although his ancestors were not silk weavers or bag makers, but rather churchmen and lawyers.
I asked him what he thought was the reason behind the Chapman brand’s loyal following, and this was his reply:
“We are an authentically and exclusively British made product with a genuine field sports heritage. Many others imitate those qualities, almost none actually live them.”
So what does an average day look like for the CEO of a global British bag brand?
“There are no average days, really. It’s more of a seasonal thing. The first half of the year is sales and development focused, the second half tends to be production and factory orientated. I generally spend three weeks a month in London, where my family is based, and a week a month at the factory in Carlisle, where I stay in a local pub up in the hills surrounding the City.”
More questions – when he travels around the world does he always look at other bags to see how they have been made, the stitching, the style etc?
“Yes it’s very embarrassing, but I find myself staring at other peoples bags the whole time.”
So do I, and I am not even a bag maker! Does he think that the bag maketh the man?
“No, but it’s a shame when a really well dressed man lets it all down carrying a plastic bag. I just don’t get that.”
So true. What Chapman bag does he use the most and why?
“I use a Large Folio when I am wearing a jacket in town and a Rambler when casually dressed. For luggage I use a Traveller 24. I also find the Chapman Rucksack great for cycling and hiking.”
As an Italian, always thinking about “la bella figura”, it is of no surprise to learn that Dan is showcasing the brand at Pitti Uomo fashion exhibition in Milan.