Hands on: Skin specialist

Hands on: Skin specialist
ON A JOURNEY: Hughes Low learned his craft from an Hermes artisan, and now runs a business making small leather goods, with a strong following among local watch collectors.
PHOTO: The Business Times

The proliferation of mass produced goods ought to eliminate the desire to work with one's hands. Hughes Low, however, is not a product of the digital generation. Once a quantity surveyor, he has since decided to buck the trend of bargain-priced accessories churned out by sweat shops, and to craft articles out of rare and exotic leathers, often made to order.

For the 29-year-old, this passion for craftsmanship was one that blossomed in childhood when he would help his mother, an interior designer, with her drafting. It was in university that he started tinkering with leather craft to create a bracelet to fit his slim wrist.

Soon, this side hobby grew into a mini online business that sparked his decision to pursue the craft full time. Never mind the fact that a local leathercraft school has yet to exist here.

Writing to established schools and craftsmen for contacts and advice, he finally hooked up with an Hermes artisan and started honing his craft through email correspondence and occasional face-to-face mentoring sessions.

"It was a whole process of re-learning and getting rid of old habits and the techniques I was familiar with," says the local leathersmith, emphasising the importance of having an experienced mentor guide him through the learning process. "Training for me will never be over as there are so many things to perfect and learn, and I am also learning from other craftsmen as well."

Most would find it a colossal risk leaving a stable job to pursue an age-old craft from scratch, especially when its techniques hail from centuries-old brands that used to produce steamer trunks and luggage in Europe.

"Self-learning has a plateau and I would not have known what is the right way to work," he says, relating how he saw the many mistakes he made only when his mentor corrected him. Much like other crafts, the processes and methods of leathercraft can only be passed down from a wizened artisan, first-hand.

Besides, with plenty of established marques offering a plethora of coveted leather goods, sustaining a local bespoke leather label would require a bit more than a few supportive fans with a penchant for croc cardholders.

However, with the modern man becoming increasingly style-savvy, Mr Low began to build his clientele and gradually widened his range of products from wallets, cardholders, gadget cases and folios to include bespoke items and even watch straps.

"Now, straps make up most of my orders, not by choice but by market demand," says the craftsman who enjoys the texture and patterns of exotic skins, despite the fact that they are more challenging to work with.

Catering to mainly watch collectors and clients referred from watch retailers, his typical client is in his late 30s with discerning tastes, and someone who values craftsmanship over snazzy brand names. Mr Low has since grown his business, imparting his skills to four apprentices who share his industrial work space, and often conducts private events during which he showcases his skills and work.

"I think young people now are more gutsy and willing to pursue what they like instead of following a well trodden path," says Mr Low. "My advice to them would be to just plough through and not give up, to be persistent and sincere when seeking help and lastly to just enjoy the journey."


This article was first published on June 27, 2015.
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