Demand for UK-made luxury leather bags is growing in Japan


Hand-sewn in the grounds of Cholmondeley Castle, Rutherfords’ bespoke leather bags are experiencing unprecedented demand, which has seen the company record a 400% increase in sales over the past year. last year. With the Japanese market accounting for 70% of sales, the export market has been crucial to its success.

What started as a hobby in 2012 for Rutherfords founder Alex Hughes quickly became a quest to revive the almost forgotten art of English leathercraft handcrafting.

Using 100-year-old techniques and tools, the former lawyer has combined her husband’s engineering background with meticulously hand-finished elements that give each piece its own character and history. Today Alex employs 4 leatherworkers and has developed an apprenticeship program with the University of Chester for undergraduate fashion and design students.

Rutherfords has sought advice from the Department for International Trade on how to export safely during the coronavirus pandemic. The company has managed to create a socially distant working environment, allowing it to meet orders from Japan and also to enter new markets in the United States and Europe, doubling its export destinations from 4 to 8 countries as online sales have taken off.

Alex Hughes, founder of Rutherfords, said:

After completing a two year apprenticeship with one of the UK’s top leatherworkers, I knew I wanted this stint of knowledge to lay the foundation for the business.

Luxury leather goods often become family heirlooms and every piece we put together should embody that sense of devotion. This feeling transcends the business and I hope one day I will pass Rutherfords on to our talented team so they can keep the name and the craft alive for many years to come.

Anyone considering starting a small business should look outward, and working with the Department of International Trade (DIT) has made exporting our products overseas so much easier. I encourage companies to contact DIT to understand how rewarding exporting can be, as it has certainly helped us in Japan and subsequent markets.

A trade agreement with Japan will help us reduce our tariff and non-tariff barriers to continue expanding our presence abroad.

Rutherfords has been working with the Department of International Trade since 2018, to maximize its export strategy and facilitate shipping logistics to Japan.

Earlier this week, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss announced the start of trade talks with Japan, with textile and clothing manufacturers among UK industries set to be among the biggest winners from lowering trade barriers with Japan.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said:

Rutherfords is an example of the benefits a small business can derive from exporting and the additional benefits it could derive from a free trade agreement with Japan.

Japan is one of our main trading partners, and a new trade agreement will help increase export opportunities, stimulate investment and create more jobs.

In the year to March 2020, the UK exported £1.6m worth of leather bags to Japan, an increase of 14.1% on the previous 12 months, the Japan ranking among the top 5 export destinations for UK leather bags.


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