The Interview: Robert Ettinger, Ettinger

Robert Ettinger
Robert Ettinger

Founded by Gerry Ettinger in 1934 this eponymous, British-made accessorises business is still family owned and proudly celebrating its 85th year. Now run by his elder son, Robert, who joined the business in 1980, who took over the reins from his father when he became the managing director in 1995. The company was granted a Royal Warrant to HRH The Prince of Wale the following year.

You can always pick out an Ettinger,” says Ettinger. “Our designs, our leathers and the bold use of colours very much sets Ettinger products apart.

“Where possible we use British leathers and the finish of our products is second to none. Our designs are real classics and we use some lovely colours, many of which feature boldly on the outside of our products.”

Ettinger lets the product speak for itself and while it hasn’t quite become a British household name, its growing clientele, who still regard quality as paramount when buying leather goods, has kept the business busy.

“Ettinger is now a multi-million-pound business and specialises in making leather bags and accessories – everything from purses and wallets, to photo frames, stationery items and bags,” he says. “The portfolio is extensive and lots of the products make great gifts which can be personalised with initials.

“We also now offer our first Ettinger ‘Bespoke’ service which is already proving popular and items can be ordered by visiting our London Showroom in Putney and at retailer Trunks Shows internationally,” he says.

While the family name isn’t British, the product very much is. “The name Ettinger is a Swiss/German name and if you go to the town of Davos in Switzerland where the World Economic Forum is held, you will see the name everywhere, but my family has been in England for generations now,” Ettinger explains.

“My role in the company is managing director and we have a great team at our head office in Putney running everything from sales, to marketing, PR and accounts. We will certainly continue as a family affair for the foreseeable future,” he says.

The head office is in South West London while Ettinger’s manufacturing centre, today, is in Walsall. Ettinger was originally manufactured in St John Street in London’s historical leather quarter, Clerkenwell, near the Smithfield meat markets.

Manufacturing moved north. Ettinger had been working with one of Walsall’s oldest manufacturers for some time and when, in 1999, the factory was up for sale, the company decided it was time to increase its own manufacturing capacity and so bought the factory including its skilled workforce. Traditionally, Walsall is at the heart of saddlery, harness and small leather goods making in England.

“So much manufacturing in the UK has moved abroad, particularly products where price is all important therefore going to countries where salaries are lower makes it impossible to compete,” says Ettinger. “However Ettinger has always been at the top end of the market and this has allowed us to continue manufacturing all our portfolio in the UK at our factory in Walsall just north west of Birmingham,” he adds.

Making fine and quality accessorises is an art form that requires a trained and dedicated workforce. “We now take on young people in our Walsall factory whom we train for five years to produce our products,” he says. “Interestingly, in the last few years we have actually found it easier to find young people to learn a skill which is good news and a much-needed shift in attitude to keeping these beautiful and highly-skilled crafts alive.”

Ettinger

What are Ettinger’s thoughts on Brexit? “We feel that either before Brexit or quite soon after, all of us in Europe will come to our senses and have a customs union – that’s the only way we will continue trading with each other on an even basis,” he says.

Ettinger has become known for its bold use of interior colours in its choice of leathers. The extensive collection includes a full travel section include jewellery rolls and travel boxes.

I get a lot of ideas and inspiration when travelling on business as I see how different markets embrace difference accessories and how they are using them,” he says.

Only goods made by Ettinger for Ettinger feature the company’s stamp. “In the early years, when my father was building the company, we did make private label and for many of the leading department stores both here in the UK and overseas,” he says. “However, since taking the decision to establish Ettinger as a luxury British brand, we no longer do this and only make Ettinger products or jointly branded products for collaborations.”

This type of premium quality doesn’t come cheap with men’s wallets coming in around the £225 mark, going up to briefcases at nearly £2,000.

“In celebration of the company’s 85th anniversary this year, we have also created a beautiful leather-covered notebook with illustrations by the British artist, Rory Dobner, embossed on the leather cover and inside the notebook. Proceeds from this notebook are also going the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) which is the charitable arm of the Royal Warrant Holders’ Association and helps up-and-coming artists and craftspeople develop their businesses,” says Robert.

What are the future plans for Ettinger? “Our real focus for the future is international expansion.” says Robert. “Through our website we already sell to customers in over 210 countries, but we are also keen to expand our wholesale business and are focussing a lot of time, energy and budget in the US currently as American customers are second only to the UK online.

“We also continue to export a considerable amount to the Far East and have been looking to develop in China and also in the Middle East. Europe, interestingly, is also really receptive to Ettinger products and we have been spending time there too,” he says.