In 1919, a young man named Jack Tusting returned home to England, having spent the First World War in Egypt with the Royal Flying Corps, to discover that his grandfather had died and his beloved family business – which originally opened as a tannery in 1875 – had been sold off. He re-established the workshop, revived the family’s reputation for dealing in the finest leather and, three generations later, Tusting is making leather luggage, briefcases and handbags that are truly deserving of the phrase “world-class”.
With the house’s new Century Collection now available, we caught up with the fifth-generation brand head, and discovered how the tiniest of companies can hold their own with the global conglomerates when it comes to nailing thoroughbred luxury.
What traits make a leather worthy of use for making a genuinely luxury item?
For me, a luxury product is something which demonstrates elegance, refinement and gives pleasure beyond the ordinary. The finest leathers undoubtedly do this – I don’t believe lesser leathers do – and, as with many fine things, their creation represents the confluence of the best-quality raw materials and the skilful art of a masterful craft.
Tanners who create the best leathers use their exceptional skills to create a finished product that enhances the natural grain and texture of the hide to give a material which is radiant, refined and extraordinary. This can only be achieved by starting with hides which are blemish-free, as truly fine leathers do not permit the various ‘corrections’ which are applied to lesser quality versions to mask imperfections. Thus, a wonderful full-grain calf leather with a buttery texture which is dyed beautifully will be expensive because of the scarce raw materials and rare skills required to make it.
The characteristics which determine the finest leathers may not have changed much over many generations, but they are being added to – provenance is increasingly important for consumers. They want to ensure known and responsible sources being used, to protect welfare standards and our environment. Happily, there have been great changes in this respect.
Are people becoming more attuned with the notion that a beautiful product should get better with age?
I hope so, and yes, I really do think so. Consumers are becoming much more aware of quality and craft and buying a product that not only lasts well but looks better with age. The movement to live more sustainably in order to protect the environment is certainly having an impact and leads people to invest in good quality products. We would not claim that our products are invincible but one of our customers did tell us that his Tusting canvas Explorer fell out of a helicopter and survived without a scratch!
We also offer a repair service for our bags and often have much-loved and worn briefcases that are more than 20 years old arrive for restoration – about 99 per cent can be put back together for their owners, with the ‘soul’ retained but the worn parts replaced. Our bags and luggage remind our customers of key milestones in their lives, of their personal journeys, whether it be the briefcase they had for their first professional job or closing a deal, or luggage for those special trips and voyages, so they do become part of their lives. We think this is one of the reasons why when someone discovers us, they become a fan for life.
How important is the fact that all production happens under the same roof?
It’s always been this way and we wouldn’t want to change it. Controlling the process from end to end means we can manage each stage of our production so that we can ensure any errors and deviations from our standards are identified quickly and corrected. The result is very, very few rejected products at the end of the process, because every member of staff, at every point in the making sequence, is empowered to spot anything that isn’t right.
Why is subtle branding important to you?
Understated, elegant functionality is at the centre of our design ethos – quiet luxury, if you like – so loud branding wouldn’t really sit very well with that. But there is more to it than that – we’re a brand that puts a lot of value into our products, so rather than big them up with a fanfare of branding, we believe they can talk for themselves, and that authenticity is far more compelling than bling to the discerning customer, who values quality and craft above all.
What has been the most important decision – made by anyone in the company’s history – in making Tusting what it is today?
Well we have a long history, nearly 150 years, and I’m the 5th generation here, so no doubt there have been many pivotal decisions made in that time. But my grandfather, Jack Tusting, was someone who definitely made a big impact in the company’s history. He had grown up in the Tusting family business, planning to join the company proper when he came of age. But the arrival of the Great War meant that he enrolled in the Royal Flying Corps, spending much of the war in Egypt. Returning back to the UK in 1919, Jack found things much changed.
During his absence, his beloved grandfather, founder of the family business, had died and Jack was shocked to learn that his step-grandmother had sold off the business, leaving nothing behind. He resolved to start over and rebuilt the business only a short distance away from where his grandfather had started in the leather trade. Therefore, that decision to renew the family engagement with the leather trade was certainly key to our longevity in the business.
Who – dead or alive – is your major inspiration and why?
I’ve always admired the fortitude and resilience of many of the great explorers, but without doubt Ernest Shackelton stands above the rest. His quiet leadership, expertise and resourcefulness are still inspirations for anyone in the 21st Century.
What is your ultimate personal luxury?
After beautiful bags, it’s having time and the opportunity to photograph the natural world around me – it might be Scottish mountains, fledgling swallows or the setting sun. It’s my escape and gives me the chance to save and share some of the little miracles around us that we often miss.