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An Anniversary

Steampunk Victorian Leather Pen in wooden display box
Steampunk Victorian Leather Pen in wooden display box
Steampunk Victorian Leather Pen in wooden display box

May the Fourth 2021

I knew there was something familiar about today’s date. 

Other than my being a science fiction fan, May the fourth last year was significant because it was the day we announced that we could restart the supply of our non-essential goods to customers (see the Covid-19 info on the Belts site). 

So today marks a year since we began a new normal; one that has continued to evolve, and will continue to do so. We are still sanitising hands and surfaces, wearing face coverings and keeping our distance…

We are delighted to be able to welcome customers into our new-look shop, with the belt maker’s workbench right in the window, and a spacious shopping area inside. 

Those exciting plans I mentioned a year ago became a shop called ‘The Belt Makers and Friends‘ and inside you can now find a good range of gifts and accessories that compliment our belts, and that you might find around a person who belongs – for a part of their day at least – in an office, study or studio. Things like suitable leather bags and briefcases for the trip to work. Other items that brighten your day, such as a smart shirt and cufflinks to team up with a more casual trouser; comfy and bright, British made woollen socks; and leather pens that have been expertly hand crafted from our very own leather trimmings. 

The range is expanding all the time and ‘desk decor’ is an area we are aiming at for the near future. Where will we be this time next year? To quote Dave Lister, of the JMC mining ship, Red Dwarf: “It’s going to be fun finding out!”

Stay safe, people.

Marie

‘An Anniversary’ was written by Marie Buckfield

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The Belt Makers are appearing in John Lewis

The Belt Makers are belt making in John Lewis

The Belt Makers are appearing in John Lewis

At the end of August The Belt Makers will be making belts in the menswear department of Exeter’s John Lewis & Partners.

The Belt Makers are belt making in John Lewis
The Belt Makers will be making belts in John Lewis, Exeter

John Lewis & Partners, Exeter

John Lewis & Partners are keen to work together with other Exeter city businesses, both large and small alike. 

They share our philosophy that Exeter is for life, not just for holidays… and that it’s a great idea to pool resources and share ideas. By doing so, we can keep things fresh for all our customers all year round, and prove that Exeter is a fantastic place in which to find almost anything you could possibly need.

On Sunday 30th and Monday 31st August, Mark, Horace (the stitching pony) and I will be appearing in the menswear department of the John Lewis Exeter branch. 

You can watch us working on belts, live in store, and you will be able to reserve items. We will be on hand for discussions and Q&A throughout the two days.

Join us on August Bank Holiday weekend! 

Mark sewing a belt by hand (colour, 2020)
Mark sewing a belt by hand

Have a browse

Our incredible belts are now accompanied in store and online by a wide range of accessories that will suit the office, studio and working from home environment. 

The shop is open for business 10am-5pm, Tuesday to Saturday and of course the website is open 24 hours.

In store appointments are available for private browsing for just you and your household/bubble, please get in touch if you need this service by filling in the contact form, button below 👇

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If you would like to be among the first to hear our news, direct to your inbox, you can sign up for our newsletter right here 👇

‘The Belt Makers are appearing in John Lewis’ was written by Marie Buckfield

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Summer of Kindness

Close up of our shop window with handwritten chalk pen banner stating Come & Browse, Free Prize Draw, #RetailWeek, #SummerofKindness

Summer of Kindness

Close up of our shop window with handwritten chalk pen banner stating Come & Browse, Free Prize Draw, #RetailWeek, #SummerofKindness
Close up of our shop window with handwritten chalk pen banner stating Come & Browse, Free Prize Draw, #RetailWeek, #SummerofKindness

We’re really seeing the benefit, goodwill and warmth that a campaign like Exeter’s Summer of Kindness can bring to a community. It’s following on from the buddy style plans that were due to happen shortly after lockdown began, but… well… lockdown.

Lockdown prevented the previous campaign launch

The original idea had been to team up with a business or businesses in a different sector or area from us, and come up with a plan to promote each other over a particular weekend in March.

We were going to put simple belt displays in Eat the Bird on Sidwell Street and in Recycled Candle Company on Gandy Street. In return we would display Eat the Bird menus in our shop and have a plate of their delicious wares in store during the Saturday morning. Obviously we would ensure that these were given out to our customers! A display of Recycled Candle Company’s products would reside in our shop too, and I had purchased a number of delightful cacti from them for our own product photography, for good measure.

Suddenly, city-wide, all plans changed; some were shelved, some were axed.

Summer of Kindness is Exeter’s latest city-wide advertising campaign

In a change to that previous billing, our local BID (Business Improvement District, known here as InExeter) have come up with the start of a team rescue plan. They have provided us with delightful paper daisies, that look fresh and inviting, to hang in our windows, giving a clear sign to customers that the campaign continues inside those stores. Participating businesses have been encouraged to team up amongst themselves, coming up with their own appropriate deals or offers that would invite their customers to visit the other businesses too.

Preparing a daisy for hanging
Preparing a daisy for hanging

Here at The Belt Makers and Friends, we have teamed up with Frocks in Swing Time (vintage fashions) and The Black Pearl (Italian fashions) on our own Fore Street; Zebel Bespoke (tailoring) who moved from Fore Street to just behind the High Street; and Loake Shoemakers Exeter on Catherine Street, in view of our most excellent Cathedral.

A whole new kind of shop display!

We have mannequins in our shop! Frocks in Swing Time have loaned us a gorgeous, lacy, royal blue dress with a matching sparkling necklace, which we have teamed up with a contrasting bright red, narrow belt. This compliments the nautical theme in their current window display.

The Black Pearl, whose mannequin is called Manny, is cool as a cucumber in a flowing, silky turquoise number, teamed up with a yellow necklace and silver shoulder mini bag. We have cinched in the dress at the waist with a turquoise belt.

Zebel Bespoke have sent us a blue suit jacket and matching waistcoat with a white woven shirt and a tie which picks out tones in the jacket lining.

Finally, we have a lovely pair of leather shoes with brogue patterning from Loake Exeter, in a delicious chocolate brown which works beautifully with the blue suit.

Those other terrific members of our #SummerofKindness team are also carrying items from our stock in their shops, such as belts, cufflinks and braces. They may choose to sell these on our behalf, as well as explaining to their customers where we are and inviting them to visit us.

Now let me tell you a heartwarming little story…

This week we had a visit from a lovely couple from two different continents, trying to get married. They, like so many other couples in the same situation around the world, have been struggling to organise their special day within the confines and uncertainty of COVID-19.

Having had to reorganise our own wedding due to Foot and Mouth disease (back at the turn of the century) we really felt for them.

They had bought wedding shoes from Loake Exeter and they needed to match a belt to the colour. The manager Kelvin sent them to us for a bespoke belt. We made up a couple of different samples for them, in different leather colours with different edge colours, and they picked their favourite.

During the conversation we chatted about cufflinks, and matching them to belt thread colours and to suit linings, and we were able to recommend Zebel Bespoke for the wedding suit. They headed back up the hill to make those arrangements and we will make the belt especially for them.

We were unable to help with a recommendation for the bridesmaids’ dresses as they are all in New Zealand (we did try!)

We felt all warm and fuzzy that we are all recommending each other and especially that we’d helped out some customers in need, in this time of such confusion and delay. I wholeheartedly hope that they manage to have a wonderful wedding in New Zealand, and that the organisation and travel for all the different family members and friends goes as smoothly as possible! 🥰

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Film making: a short but intense journey

Video thumbnail of me outside the rebranded shop front

Film making: a short but intense journey

Video thumbnail of me outside the rebranded shop front
Video thumbnail of me outside the rebranded shop front

Channel 4 threw down a gauntlet

The other boss and I happened to be watching Channel 4 on Friday or Saturday evening. Working with American Express, Lloyds Bank and several notable other sponsors, they played a short marketing piece for a competition to promote independent businesses. The call to action was: make a video.

Channel 4 throw down the gauntlet: make a video
Channel 4 throw down the gauntlet: make a video

Got to be honest, as much as I’m happy to stand in front of people (I’ve called bingo in the past to a hall of 800) and speak about the things that are important to me, the act of filming myself was a gigantic step into a perceptively complicated, and slightly scary unknown. I’ve recorded a few less-than-brilliant Instagram pieces for my charity marathon training but that’s it. No editing; didn’t have a clue where to begin with that.

The prize was for five independent businesses to get a 30 second advert made for them, and be shown on various Channel 4 channels, including during Cats Does Countdown at the end of the month.

8th July 2020

It was thanks to Mark that we took up the challenge; I thought it would be too complicated to consider in the short lead time… we had until midnight last night to apply.

Still shot of both of us filming the video introduction
Still shot of both of us filming the video introduction

A mission of four parts

The task was split into four parts: 30 seconds about the business, 60 seconds about our comeback from Covid-19 and how we keep our customers safe, a 60 second video tour of the premises (had to leave some out to squeeze that in) and they asked for a party trick, also in 60 seconds.

My biggest challenge was going to be the editing. The last time I was anywhere near an editing suite (which was very exciting) I was at college and they used tape. You know, the linear, magnetic kind! You physically cut it up and use special sticky tape to splice it back together in the right place. There was a little guillotine and everything. I was only watching, as that fun stuff wasn’t part of my own coursework.

YouTube logo
YouTube logo

Naturally, I headed to YouTube school to take a crash course in random-access video editing.

After some searching, a few false starts, and downloading three or four different editing apps on to my phone, I found one that was recommended by a YouTuber and partner, who demonstrated (badly) how they had used it to edit a video on their own channel; shot, edited and uploaded entirely from their phone. It seemed to be a good app that would do all the things I needed but there were gaps in the presentation and I was missing valuable info.

Onward!

No more time to dwell on that! Next we needed to have an idea of what to say and also where to say it. I didn’t want the first two sections to just be a head shot of one of us doing a ‘piece to camera’ as that didn’t seem to me to be very exciting. I’m not sure that ‘exciting’ actually describes the finished result… but it’s certainly not all headshot interview style.

Marie in front of some belt shelves
Head shot interview, TBMF style

One thing I was sure of was that I wanted to have both of us in it. There are personalities behind independent businesses and these needed to be represented. Oh my, though: 30 seconds to describe my business? A near impossible task. Perhaps in future I can learn how to add a web address graphic to relevant sections to give more detailed information but yesterday was not that day. Had to go with the extreme abridged version.

Am I a diva for insisting on a script?

We timed each section and I realised that if I was going to speak clearly enough, I needed to limit even further the number of words I used. It got to a point where, when we wanted to talk about normal things, that we discuss with customers on a daily basis, we couldn’t remember any of the words we used! Having completely forgotten how to speak, it was time to sit down, quickly gather thoughts onto paper and start again.

We were on a roll (no pun intended) by the time I stood outside the shop, gesticulated enthusiastically at the signage, and shouted across the road in the hope that the tiny phone mike would pick me up!

Finally, the party trick

Party trick? Did they mean juggling? The only thing we can do that people love to watch is make a belt appear in front of their very eyes.

Mark at the bench smiling with 3 finished belts
Job done!

This normally takes around an hour and a half of careful placement of each and every tool stroke so we were going to have to be artful to fit this into 30 seconds. I was already thinking along the lines of adjusting the video speed… I was putting a good chunk of faith into being able to fathom the missing jigsaw pieces in my editing knowledge, by the time we got back home after filming was over.

It’s all in the teaching

Knowing that the editing was going to take place on, let’s face it, a tiny phone screen, meant that any further research needed could take place on the laptop.

Thankfully I found a great tutor. A no-nonsense, down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is Australian called Justin Brown from Primal Video. If you ever need any modern editing help, do try him out. It was a great relief to find a presentation that I could easily digest in the even shorter, short time remaining.

Following his advice I worked backwards and found the right clips. Justin had clearly demonstrated how to pull in different recordings, and quick ways to cut out extra work so although we poured over this project, from scratch, non-stop for around 9 hours, it could have taken so much longer and not been completed at all.

A good result

For a first, very green attempt, I’m pretty pleased. Obviously there’s huge room for improvement but we went with what we had, which at the start of the day, was just the phone! We learned some new skills, got our entry uploaded, finished filling in the web form and hit the go button.

For future reference, uploading three and a half minutes to YouTube, and waiting for it to process and become available for watching, takes the best part of an hour. I’ll bear that in mind for next time…

Please do have a look and tell us what you think!

‘Film making: a short but intense journey’ was written by Marie Buckfield

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It’s a brown and silver day today!

Brown and silver group picture of: The Full Monty briefcase, Dark Havana leather belt, Blue Alhambra porcelain trinket tray and Celtic Knot cufflinks

It’s a brown and silver day today!

Brown and silver group picture of: The Full Monty briefcase, Dark Havana leather belt, Blue Alhambra porcelain trinket tray and Celtic Knot cufflinks
Group picture of: The Full Monty briefcase in dark brown and gun metal silver, Dark Havana brown leather belt, Blue Alhambra porcelain trinket tray and Celtic Knot cufflinks in silver coloured rhodium plate

I had got stuck on a section on the website…

… so I had to do something else for a bit. I needed to take the product photos for Henry’s most excellent leather briefcases and bags so I greedily picked my favourite briefcase to begin, and brown and silver began to take over my day.

The Full Monty Briefcase in Dark Brown with gun metal silver coloured fittings by Henry Tomkins Leather - main image
The Full Monty Briefcase by Henry Tomkins Leather – main image

It’s a Brown and Silver masterpiece

Henry calls this The Full Monty

And with good reason. All Henry’s briefcases can be ordered in different colours, with extras or with other changes, however, this comes with the full works. The whole shebang. Nay, it’s the pinnacle of the briefcase department.

Inside the main section are three separate compartments, with a total of seven additional internal pockets. I’ve counted! These are ready to hold whatever you need to fit inside them, including pens and a phone.

A handy zip compartment is accessible from the back and the look is completed with a locking front fastener and two buckle straps.

The Full Monty also comes with a fully adjustable shoulder strap with integral comfort panel. The comfort panel is fixed in the middle and the strap can be adjusted from both ends so you can always be sure the comfort part is right where you want it!

I thought it would be wise to put a group together while I had the camera and the opportunity. Hmm, now what goes with a very dark brown briefcase with gunmetal fittings…?

How about a nice brown and silver belt?

Dark Havana belt with stainless steel West End Roller buckle and yellow trims by The Belt Makers
Dark Havana belt with stainless steel West End Roller buckle and yellow trims by The Belt Makers

This shade of brown is called Dark Havana. A very traditional colour for English saddlery, it is an ideal, all purpose colour for when black is little too dark but nearly black will do perfectly.

The silver coloured stainless steel in the West End Roller buckle is non-rusting and extremely durable. Having a roller on the buckle is designed to be kinder on the leather than not having one, however, it has to be said that the quality and standard of leather used in these belts puts the choice of whether or not to select a buckle with a roller, simply down to preference.

Following the silver theme

If your lover deserves a symbol of your depth of feeling, perhaps a pair of these cufflinks would be a useful and daily reminder?

A knot without an end, this design is, of course, widely known as a symbol of never-ending love.

Teamed up here with the utilitarian colour and nature of the stainless steel buckle, the silver coloured finish is achieved with practical, non-tarnish, rhodium plating.

Somewhere to keep them

It can be easy to lose track of tiny things. Our cufflinks are such a lovely product to handle; and to lose one, or both, would be a sad thing indeed. I would recommend keeping them together in a receptacle that is just as eye-catching… so it’s obvious that is has been made for an important job.

Alison Miles designs and makes these stunning pieces in her Shaldon workshop. Porcelain is delicate, it’s true, but it takes no time at all to become used to handling cufflinks in conjunction with this material that can bring so much aesthetic and tactile joy. Her lovely, textured trinket trays are available in lots of different shapes, sizes and colours.

Somewhere to keep things together. Cufflinks in a Trinket Tray
Somewhere to keep things together. Cufflinks in a Trinket Tray

Our web guru, Aaron from Takeoff-Development, was easily able to fix my website issue so I wasn’t stuck for long. Just long enough to take you on a two-tone wander through a small section of our shop…

‘It’s a brown and silver day today’ was written by Marie Buckfield

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An Introduction to TBM & Friends

TBM and Friends shop front

An Introduction to TBM & Friends

TBM and Friends shop front
TBM and Friends shop front

It has to be said, this has been the strangest year of our lives, and not in the way we expected

The original plan, after moving all sites under one (much more convenient) roof, had been to give all of the different TBM belt lines more space to breathe; to fill our much larger shop not only with Classics, Borders, Raises and our characteristic hand sewn patterns, but also with plaits, braids, inlays, guest leathers and, when the product reaches our requirements, to venture into the world of vegan leather substitutes.

The global coronavirus outbreak has changed things somewhat

As mentioned in our About TBM & Friends, we have witnessed the struggle faced by some of our fellow artisans and, not being bin collectors, food providers, doctors or nurses, we tried to think of other ways (in addition to social distancing and hand washing, etc) that we could contribute to the National Effort.

… and so TBM & Friends was born

We put out some feelers , talked to a number of local artisans who had lost outlets, and curated a collection of products that would work with our belts. Items that could be found in an office or studio setting, or in the dressing room of someone nipping across the hall to their work from home den.

Things besides our beautiful hand made, leather trouser support solutions, such as lovely cufflinks that you will really get a buzz from wearing, braces that are hand made in England, also available with button hole ends, leather wallets; all these supplied to us from a company only about 8 miles from our shop.

Braces, cufflinks, wallet

Natural fibre socks in wool, sometimes also with cotton, are not made in commercial volumes quite so close to home but we have found a maker further north who produces these items that are soft, colourful and… wait for it… machine washable!

Socks

Elegant and functional leather briefcases and bags are hand made by an artisan only 2 miles from us, so close! These are incredibly practical and delightfully comfortable to wear; guaranteed and repairable. You don’t really need to look any further for a bag that will suit your needs, as you can customise not only the colour but the number of pockets, pouches and zips, should you wish to place a bespoke order.

The Full Monty Briefcase

If you are looking for desk or study solutions, you can also find those here. Perfect porcelain pen pots, mini planters, trinket trays and lighting solutions are all in stock. Colourful and uplifting lamps and soy candles to light your way, CO2 absorbers for a more comfortable atmosphere, and somewhere to keep together all those things you can never quite put your hands on.

Colourful Textured Porcelain Pen Pots

Elegant and functional is the name of the game in this shop. If it’s actually useful, look for it here. If it also looks, feels or works in some stunning way, search for it here. We aim to raise eyebrows and expectations… and support local artisans, wherever we can.

Browse the website, pop into the shop… you are assured of a warm welcome!

See you soon,
Marie x