For the better part of a century, Ettinger have been meticulously crafting some of the world’s finest artisanal leathergoods - pieces that elevate everyday items through exceptional construction and considered design.
Ettinger has been part of the Crane Brothers offer for a decade now, and today we’re thrilled to be able to speak with the brand’s chairman and CEO, Robert Ettinger, about their incredible history, the complications of their craft, how they’re approaching sustainability and his favourite pieces from the new collection.
Can you give a short overview of the brand’s history and what makes it so special in the leathergoods market?
The business was started in 1934 by my grandfather. They in fact came over from Prussia, which was then part of Germany, where they were military tailors. They had a business a bit like Gieves & Hawkes, making uniforms and suits - that sort of thing. They came over in the Thirties and I suppose they were making things. They didn’t go into tailoring in the UK but they started a small factory in London. In those days, like in most cities, there was a whole area of London dedicated to leather manufacturing from the middle ages and beyond. In London, that was between Smithfield and the Angel Islington. When I was a kid there were still 25 or 30 factories making leathergoods. Mostly they were specialised - one would make suitcases, another wallets. Leather was made in that area because it was near the Thames and the river was good for tanning, and Smithfield was a meat market so that’s where you get your leather.
About 25 years ago the area became gentrified - London was moving out and it became offices and shops and that sort of thing. We decided to move the business and we bought a much larger manufacturing business in a town north of Birmingham called Walsall, which was a much bigger manufacturing town than London. The factory was built as a leather factory in 1890, and we’re still in the same building. Typically for factories in those days, it’s a very long, narrow building with lots of windows, so they had light to work with as they didn’t have electricity when they first opened. We now do have electric lights I’m glad to say! It’s a great place, it’s got a lot of history and a lot of people who work in the company have been there for generations. Our two general managers, their parents and grandparents worked in the same factory making leathergoods. So it’s a wonderful place to go and see and we’re very proud of it and what we do.
If we think about Ettinger in terms of aesthetics and craftsmanship, what would you say the brand’s fundamental philosophy is?
Our fundamental philosophy is to use the very best ingredients. We source the finest leathers and linings and everything to make high-end, very high quality leathergoods. We’ve always been at the top end - we do believe we’re the highest quality and that’s partly achieved by people’s attitude. It’s not just the knowledge of making the product, you have to have the right attitude. It’s got to be a sense of mind, you have to care what you do and be proud of what you do. That’s what we instill into everyone in our business - then you’ll create a wonderful product.
You obviously grew up around the business - what was it that made you want to make it your own?
I went and lived in Germany and Canada as an apprentice in various companies learning about business. When I came back in my early twenties I then decided I wanted to be a ski instructor. So I went up to Scotland and did my exams and I was a ski instructor for a few years. But my father sat me down one day and said “look, what do you want to do Robert? You can be a ski instructor but there is also a business.” And I decided then to join the family business. And I must say that now, many years later, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve done. I look forward to coming in, designing products and working with customers. It has meant a lot to me and I hope I’ve instilled that into everybody working in the business as well.