Throughout the centuries leather has always been synonymous with quality and durability with hand-stitched products often outliving their first owner. Els & Co.’s roots lie in this essence of leather; its texture against your skin, the smell of the beeswax we use to preserve it, the way it gets better and better with every passing year. With age it softens to the touch, gains battle scars from use and develops character; charming its owner into wanting to use it.
Els & Company strives to awaken the lost art of leather craftsmanship and to produce beautiful, well designed and functional products that you’ll only have to purchase once in your lifetime. We’re attempting to revive an era when pride in the quality of what you made was more important than how many you could make.
To craft an exceptional leather product you have to start with the best components. And so our products are crafted from the best quality top grain vegetable tanned leather we can find. We source solid brass buckles and clips from small artisanal foundries and our cotton canvas from family-owned weavers that have been in business for over 200 years.
“HAND MADE” is not just a marketing tool at Els & Co. To achieve that genuine old school finish we sponge dye the leather by hand; oil it with our own mixture of beeswax and animal fat by hand; mould it by hand; then painstakingly stitch every single stitch by hand, an art in itself that takes several months to master. There are no short-cuts in our process, but the result is a product that looks and feels like it was made 100 years ago with loads of character and reeking of quality.
Our biggest challenge when kick-starting this journey seven years ago was finding craftswomen, but what a surprise to discover unimagined skills right on our doorstep. We had no idea that our craftswomen would be able to reach such a high level of craftsmanship, wonderfully surprising us all at the amount of latent talent hidden among the millions of unemployed people in South Africa. The beginning was tough and it felt like we would never get there but as the first craftswomen reached 10 000 hours of practising their trade it all just came together, culminating in the incredible products we now sell to globally recognised brands.
But reaching this high level of craftsmanship was not our real victory. The real victory was being able to create an environment for unemployed amaXhosa woman to discover that they were destined to be more than what they ever dreamed they could be. They have an incredible talent and through training and honing this skill, it now provides them with a steady income enabling them to improve their entire families quality of life and leaving them with a real sense of dignity and pride.
What further distinguishes Els & Co. from all other leather mongers is not only that every single stitch is made by hand, but that there is no production line and each and every item is made by one craftswoman from start to finish. The final touch is her initials that she stamps onto the leather, proudly signing her creation.
Our entire team had no prior knowledge of leathercraft before joining Els & Co. But hand in hand we struggled through a very long hit-and-miss period eventually winding-up with an incredible collection of craftswomen who manage the entire production process right up to the final quality control. Make no mistake, even though we help and support each other and gladly transfer skills from old hands to newbies, it still takes around 3-4 years for a craftswoman to hone her skills to that of a master craftsman.
In an attempt to further improve our craftswomen’s lives we’re in the process of putting together a Craftswomen’s Trust that will own a significant share in Els & Co. and put our craftswomen one step closer to their dreams; lifting themselves and their children out of the poverty they were born into.
So when investing in an Els & Co. product you are not only buying a top-end leather item, you’re also buying into a belief that we can all make a difference, one small bit at a time.