Above Holborn Viaduct in central London is an old office building, now an open-plan studio space for creatives including Kingsley Walters, a leather worker and canvas bag maker. Rolls of leather await his expert hands and an array of finished bags occupy the walls and shelving, while a loop-stitched denim banner created by a friend hangs from a trestle table. “I want my friends and people of my generation to wear my stuff,” he says. This is the reason why he tries to keep the prices of his pieces as low as possible. “Everyone is still becoming,” he says of his friends, “so they won’t spend a grand on a bag!”
Kingsley moved from Kingston, Jamaica to south-east London with his family when he was 11 years old. After finishing school, he worked as a chef for a few years before studying bespoke tailoring. After realising how tailoring techniques could be transferred to leatherworking, he left his day job and began creating small leather goods to sell at Broadway Market in Hackney.
“At that time, all I could make was a lanyard, and a bookmark,” he says. “I don’t think I had the confidence to make any kind of bag until two or three years ago. I wanted to be able to understand everything first.” The first bag he made was a portfolio style for a laptop, taking inspiration from a vintage piece he had. “As I develop as a designer, I pay attention to what my friends are wearing, and what everyone around me is wearing. I’m inspired by the past, but I also live in London in 2022.”
Kingsley demonstrates how he creates his Medicine Pouch for TOAST, which echoes traditional, heritage pieces such as a Medieval coin purse, but “with improvements.” He deftly cuts two pieces of leather with a scalpel and pierces the holes for the strap cord to run through. Then, he burnishes the edges of the pieces of leather and clips them together before sewing the back inside out. After being turned the right way, the bag is threaded with a slender leather cord, which forms the strap.
The Redchurch Tote has extra steps, requiring internal and external pockets, seams and copper rivets on the straps, which for this piece are made from Italian leather. His materials are sourced from the UK in general; the calfskin used for the Medicine Pouch is vegetable-tanned in Northamptonshire, while the copper rivets for the Redchurch Tote are made in a traditional foundry in Walsall. Offcuts of leather are used to make cardholders, or washers inside of the bags, so little goes to waste.
Kingsley teaches regular workshops in his space, from small leather goods to bag making. “I want to build my brand to a certain level and then go back to Jamaica to do workshops with the kids there,” he says. “I want to do something for the community. If you don’t see someone doing something, you don’t realise the opportunity is there. I want a kid to find it interesting and see it as something they can do. That’s the reason why the workshops for me are an emotional thing, I want to share that understanding with people.”
Interview by Alice Simkins.
Photographs by Tami Aftab.
Watch Kingsley create one of his Medicine Pouch Bags on our Instagram.