Artisan Simon Harding has turned his passion for working with leather into a worldwide business known for producing quality goods. Beautiful belts, wallets, money clips, pouches, and even guitar straps are produced in his studio in Cork. These pieces proudly display their Irish heritage through embossed designs and metal embellishments, which often feature Celtic knotwork, Irish wolf hounds, and other themes that call to mind the Emerald Isle. Read on to learn more about him and Lee River Leather.
Was there someone who inspired you to initially start Lee River Leather Goods?
Simon Harding: My Father inspired me. He actually made belts and moccasins in London in the late 60s early 70s. He still has a leather shop here in Cork called The Belt Shop, which is one of the true independent stores left in Ireland—a very original shop with a very original owner!
Is there a reason why you chose leather in particular?
SH: Leather is an earthy, beautiful material that is very rewarding to work and design with. Man has been utilizing and adapting animal hides to [his] benefit since the dawn of time, and I think we have an innate attraction to it. Leather is clean, pliable and has infinite uses, and is made with very organic ingredients. It is a blank canvas for showcasing our Celtic roots, and can be used for many everyday items. I am constantly surprised at how much abuse our products can take. In an age of mass consumerism it gives me great pride to make something that will last indefinitely. It’s always a pleasure to meet a customer that proudly shows me his old belt, and tells me it’s over 20 years old and still going. It’s nice to be able to work with your hands and design new stuff that you can stand over.
Tell us more about the types of leather goods you create.
SH: My belts are what we made our reputation on, but my new range of high-end leather bags have opened up a new market, mainly ladies with taste! Our gents’ wallets have always proved popular as we offer classic styles, which are very functional, but have beautiful Celtic embossing. Our cuffs are probably our most popular item, as they offer jewelry-like high-quality leather and Celtic hardware at an affordable price. This means that people wear them every day and don’t worry about abusing them. Our leather is for life, so wear it!
What makes Ireland so special to you both—both personally and from an entrepreneurial standpoint?
Personally, I have traveled all over Europe, Australia, the Far East and the U.S., and I am very happy to call Ireland home. From where I live I can be cycling in the Cork hills in 5 minutes, or surfing in the Atlantic Ocean in 45 minutes. Ireland may not be the biggest, but we have always produced culture and talent above our status. Now that I have a family I’m not sure I would live anywhere else, and I would miss the Craic.
From a business standpoint, design and manufacturing are making a comeback here, and although we are [a] small company, it’s nice to be exporting all over the world. Our materials are sourced from mostly E.U. countries, but our raw material (leather), actually comes from Ireland. It’s exported from Mitchelstown Co. Cork to tanneries all over Europe, before the final tanning process. We use a small tannery from Tuscany that we have been dealing with for over 20 years for the finished hides, which are converted into our embossed belts and cuffs.