Meet Your Maker #1 Honest Thomas

  • When you see Tommy in his workshop you can tell that he’s not pretending. You don’t get much more authentic than a man in a workshop, skilfully hitting a piece of metal on an anvil to make something beautiful. The objects that fill his working space and his look are all very stylish, but this is real style and genuine substance.

There are some colourful stories about his past, some of them are probably true, but that’s for another time and place. For his working life he started out as a mechanic in his dad’s garage. Tired of spending his days pulling bits off cars, only to replace them with other bits, he wanted more. He didn’t thrive working in the field of assembly, instead he wanted to create. He wanted to work out how to make things and then make them better. After time served as a joiner working for other people he set up his own business making what he calls “dry goods”.

Products come and go from his range, depending on what he feels like making. He’s not a fan of mass production and he does like to enjoy his work so if it’s not on the menu you’re not having it. Depending on what he’s into at the time you will find belts, wallets, wrist bands, reworked pocket knives, key hooks and leather pouches on his website.

Before we started HebTroCo we were fans of his work and Ed was the proud owner of an Honest Thomas wallet and a belt. When you look at his work you see something that has been engineered. It sits just right and has been made to look really good whilst being used for a purpose. After a couple of years it will start to look worn in rather than worn out. Signs of wear add something to the piece. The opposite of disposable, it will outlast your lifetime and be found in years to come, in a vintage shop by someone else to cherish.

As soon as we set up our company we asked Tommy to make stuff for us. He cut, stamped and sewed the leather patches on the rear waistband of our first pairs of trousers, all by hand. Our volume of production and the erosion of his patience eventually required a new process for this job.

We liked wearing proper sized belts and had designed our trousers to take inch and a half wide belts with ease. Tommy’s next engagement with us was therefore as a belt maker. He had a really good source of best quality British sourced and tanned leather and was making some lovely copper buckles. Tommy doesn’t buy in the buckles that he puts on his belts, he makes them himself. He’s a perfectionist and his own biggest critic. If it’s not right then it does not pass. With various detail changes we had the Ultimate Belt, which sold as a limited edition product.

Wanting something that was distinct from what he was himself offering, we all put our heads together and came up with the design for the Garrison Belt, which we now sell.

The Garrison Belts sells for £200-250 because it takes good materials and the time of a skilled maker. It’s also a product that is unique to us and we’re very proud of it.

A casualty of the globalised mass market is our connection with the process of production. We don’t see that many people actually making stuff. Instead we tend to see lots of shops or indeed lots of websites. We see the product and we see the price. If companies make loads of stuff they can push down the price and they find the cheapest, far flung places to make stuff in it can be made cheaper still. The cost is low wages for the people doing the making and a high cost for us all in a drop in ethical and environmental standards. We don’t do things that way and we pay our suppliers proper money for a job that takes time and skill.

We only use full grain oak bark tanned leather which is also known as vegetable tanned. It comes from Bakers in Devon, the last remaining oak bark tannery in Britain. The tannery has been on this site since Roman times. Acidic tan is soaked out of oak bark in cold water. Hides from the West Country, are then soaked in this for 12 months until they become strong and hard wearing leather, with a nice even colour. Finishing is done by hand with natural oils and greases added to protect and feed the leather, as well as emphasising the natural grain and colour. We use bridle butt which is the premium part of the hide.

Tommy cuts the hide into belt strips, sands the reverse side smooth, skives or bevels the edges and cuts pieces to allow accommodation of the buckle and burnishes the edges of the strap.

We supply Tommy with 8mm thick copper plate which we have water jet cut into buckle blanks. Then he sets to work to shape this raw material into a buckles. Square edges are sanded off then into the forge it goes. After fire comes the hammer. You can hear the tone change as the metal hardens on his historic anvil and the surface starts to take on the marks of both the hammer and the anvil. The prong is made from copper rod and the buckle stamped and numbered. The belt is put together with saddler’s rivets in Tommy’s clean room and custom cut to the customer’s specified length. The end product is a heavyweight champion in a world of lightweight pretenders. Just like it’s maker.


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