The Belt and Bag Shop is unassuming and modest. Nestled in Droitwich High Street – it would be easy to overlook it. That, however, would be an enormous mistake. As behind the cyan frontage is a leathermaker who, despite being very modest, is a master of his craft.
Nick Williams, 58, has been handcrafting luxurious bespoke items out of leather using his own unique processes and methods since the tender age of 22. His talent, passion, determination, and grit got him noticed and landed him the opportunity to design a pair of leather trousers for the one and only Roger Taylor from Duran Duran.
“That is my claim to fame!” Nick laughed, “Leather was all the rage in the 80s. It seemed everyone was wearing it. Jackets, shoulder pads, leather trousers! It was a great time. I was fresh out of Cheltenham college where I studied pattern making and I decided to strike whilst the iron was hot.
“I had good connections with the local hair stylists, I would make leather clothing for them, and they would tell their clients. Word spread and I got quite a name for myself in my hometown of Birmingham. I carried on like this for a while, networking and making bespoke clothing for whoever asked, really! People had money to spend and wanted to treat themselves back then.
“In 1989 the bubble burst. Money was tight again. People couldn’t afford £450 on a leather jacket – but they would stretch to a belt…Making clothing from leather you end up with a lot of offcuts, so I began patching belts together with them and I suppose that is where it all started!”
Nick set up a shop in Bromsgrove in 1992 and sold his unique belts all over the midlands at craft fairs, markets, shows and races until his booming business outgrew the premises and he was on the hunt for somewhere new.
“I needed more space and a new adventure,” he said, “My girlfriend at the time found a shop in Droitwich Spa that had been empty for years and told me I needed to go and have a look. In 2001 I packed up and moved into number No 35 on Droitwich high street. Before I officially opened, I was working late getting the shop ready and a load of drunk lads were walking past down from the pub. They were shouting and tapping on the window. I remember thinking ‘god what have I done, moving here’ – but once I opened officially, I knew I had made the right decision.
“I was a hit! People were coming from far and wide to come and see what it was all about. It was fantastic. The town was different then to how it is now. It was all hustle and bustle. I was surrounded by good old-fashioned traders and manufacturers – some of them are still here to this day. In 2003 I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a second shop just across the road with a bigger workshop upstairs. I let out No 35 to a florist – she has been there for 18 years now, and I moved in to No 20 where I am today.”
Nick has successfully created a network of loyal customers from both across the UK and locally due to the individuality and quality of his bespoke 100 percent leather wares.
“I am a one-man band” Nick says, “I make everything I sell by myself, from the design to the finished product it is 100 percent my creation. Everything is tailor made for the customer, from the colour choice, the size, the buckle, and the style of the belt. It takes me roughly an hour and a half to make a belt or a small clutch bag now. When I started it would have taken me a full day! It Is a skill I have developed over many years.
“I also use glove leather for my belts which is quite unusual. Normal belts you buy from big brand names use hide leather which is tougher and not as nice. Glove leather is soft and feels beautiful, but it is not sturdy enough to be a long-lasting beautiful belt on its own. To make it stronger I created this process of laminating the belts which gives them a much longer life.
“Because I source glove leather from the tannery, I am able to make creations in the most beautiful colours. Most belts are navy, black or brown, I create items that are bold and full of colour, lime green, fuchsia, turquoise. I have around 200 different colour leathers in the warehouse above my shop. All these things together make my business unique and special – I don’t think there is anyone else in the UK doing what I do.”
Nick ends his story with a heartfelt plea – support craftsmen and women and shop with independents.
“We have had a hell of a time of it,” Nick admits, “We have all suffered, what seems to be knockback after knockback with the pandemic and the increase of online shopping. I am just so happy that my customers see the value in what I do and are fiercely loyal and supportive. Small business like mine need your support. You could buy a belt on Amazon, of course you could, but I can guarantee it won’t be made especially for you with love and care and expertise.”
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