A few people in Grahamstown will remember this fact (I certainly don’t) – Rhodes University used to be home to the Leather Industries Research Institute (LIRI). Michael Ginn headed the Leathercraft Division and later went on to teach leathercraft to previously disadvantaged communities in South Africa. He was joined by his son, Andrew and nd so the skills were passed down the generations.
Andrew and his wife, Andrea, started a leathercraft business some years ago, but closed it to pursue other endeavours. Their passion for leatherwork, creativity and family, however, has drawn them back to this creative industry. A family-run business, their children Jemma and Judah are also involved. In essence the business does everything from repairs and custom-made items to leathercraft classes. I am particularly excited to do a class – making my own pair of sheepskin slippers or a handbag.
About a month ago I contacted the Ginns on their Facebook page to find out if they could make me a satchel. I had started walking to work and I found that I needed a bag that would suit this activity. I googled a what I wanted and sent them a message with the image and some other specifications. I got a message back with a quote and I gave the go ahead. Three days later Andrea dropped the satchel at my house. I posted a pic of it online and it caused quite a stir. I was ecstatic. It was a perfect match to my request and Andrew had added a few details here and there that made the bag unique.
I met with Andrea today over a cuppa and chatted about their products and philosophy. The leather they use is local and their products are handmade. Andrew, being the creative within the family, decorates the items with different stains and patterns. Many of these patterns are inspired by traditional bushmen leathercraft and art. They also add a touch of traditional Xhosa beading into their work. The items are truly local and unique.
One of their most innovative products is their sheepskin slippers. I know they are all the rage, especially with our cold winters, but I have always balked at the idea of spending that kind of money on slippers. They are supposed to last, but the sheepskin gets stained and seems a bit flimsy. The Ginns’ slippers are modified. While they retain the traditional elements, they add an additional layer of goatskin to the outer slipper. This is a more durable leather, giving the slippers a longer life. I might even get myself a pair.
You can contact the Ginn’s on their Facebook page or find them on Saturday mornings at the Grahamstown Morning Market outside the Old Gaol on Somerset Street.