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April 5, 2024 —

Meet the Maker: Michelle Wong of MW Makes

Influenced by a background in architecture, Michelle Wong of MW Makes creates handcrafted leather goods with an emphasis on simple geometries, clean lines and functionality.
Michelle Wong inside the MW Makes studio creating handcrafted leather goods
Hand stamped leather purse inside the studio of Michelle Wong handcrafted leather goods
Shelley Welti
91 Magazine online content editor,

Photography

Sherion Mullings
Photographer,
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Hi Michelle, why and when did you decide to start your business? 

Since working in architectural practice, I have missed some of the processes that were involved with studying architecture, for example producing beautiful drawings or assembling intricate models. In reality, buildings take such a long time to materialise, that often the design process feels quite detached from the craft of making. 

This understanding led me to attend an evening leathercraft course and I started my business in 2018 as a means of working with my own hands. Working with leather allows me to explore design and craftsmanship at a (much!) smaller scale and I’m thoroughly enjoying seeing designs come to life. 

Michelle Wong inside the MW Makes studio creating handcrafted leather goods

What had you done previously? 

I still work as an architect during the week and then run MW Makes on the side. It’s tough but I really enjoy doing both! 

How would you describe the brand’s ethos and your signature style? 

Simply designed and traditionally made. I think it’s quite clear that my designs are influenced by my background in architecture, particularly the stem vases. Each item is carefully designed with an emphasis on simple geometries, clean lines and functionality.  

All products are made from vegetable tanned leather and are handmade from start to finish, using traditional  saddlery techniques, such as saddle stitching and hand burnishing. The result is a collection of simple, yet functional items that are made to last. 

“Each item is carefully designed with an emphasis on simple geometries, clean lines and functionality.”

 

Michelle Wong inside the MW Makes studio creating handcrafted leather goods

Inside the studio of Michelle Wong handcrafted leather goods

Can you tell us a little about the processes used to create your work? 

I use traditional saddlery techniques to make all of my products, such as saddle stitching and hand burnishing. Saddle stitching is a form of hand stitching, where the thread has a needle attached at both ends. Both needles are threaded through each hole, meaning the stitch is locked at every hole, making it very strong! 

In terms of materials, I work exclusively with vegetable tanned leather, which is tanned using tannins extracted from vegetable matter such as bark, unlike the more commonly used Chromium tanned leather. Vegetable tanning is an artisanal process, which takes weeks instead of days. As a material, vegetable tanned leather ages and changes over time, which means the items will grow and develop a beautiful patina over time.  

Which is your most popular product? Why do you think that is? 

The Long Envelope, probably because it’s so versatile! It can be used to hold glasses, sunglasses, pens, pencils, make up, suitable for any occasion really. People like to have them personalised for gifts. 

Michelle Wong inside the MW Makes studio creating handcrafted leather goods

Tote bag inside the MW Makes studio

Hard question: do you have a favourite product? 

The Elements Series stem vases. I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with the wet molded leather techniques recently to make them. When I bring them to events, people are always surprised to hear they’re made completely from leather.  

We bet! What does a typical day look like for you? 

A typical leatherwork day (usually at the weekend for me) involves heading to the studio, coffee in hand, working on some orders in batches. If I have time, I’ll experiment with a new technique or prototype a design. 

Inside the studio of Michelle Wong handcrafted leather goods

Michelle Wong inside the MW Makes studio creating handcrafted leather goods

How do you approach PR and marketing? 

A lot of my marketing is via Instagram and my own newsletter. I have gone through phases of pitching my work to publications, but finding the correct fit and dedicating time to the process can be challenging! 

If you were to share any words of wisdom with readers looking to start a creative business – what would  you say?! 

Don’t worry about it being perfect – it will develop over time and be better for it! 

Michelle Wong inside the MW Makes studio creating handcrafted leather goods

Inside the studio of Michelle Wong handcrafted leather goods

“inspiration comes from meeting a lot of other makers and creatives at events and in the studios.”

What’s been your highlight so far? 

Meeting lots of wonderful people at different events! A highlight has been receiving The Leathersellers Award at Cockpit Deptford which offers both a subsidised studio for three years and business mentoring. 

Speaking of your studio, how does your location inspire you? 

I’m based in London, so I would say most of the inspiration comes from meeting a lot of other makers and creatives at events and in the studios. I love being at Cockpit because it’s a real opportunity to learn from the other makers who are experts in their own disciplines.  

Colourful leather purses inside the studio of Michelle Wong handcrafted leather goods

And finally, what’s coming up for you over the coming months? 

I’ve got a couple of leathercraft workshops lined up, which is exciting. I’ll also be preparing for my summer shows soon; Craft Festival at Bovey Tracey and Cockpit Deptford Open Studios, which are both in June. 

QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS

Describe your work in three words: Minimal, timeless and functional.

What are your creating rituals? Clear desk, clear mind (although it doesn’t last for long!).

Tea or coffee? Coffee.

Mountains or sea? Sea.

Night owl or early bird? Night owl.

I wish someone had told me… that being passionate about what you’re doing is the most important thing!

www.mwmakes.co.uk

@mwmakes

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