Last week, I was invited to take a train out west to Bath to check out the Mulberry factory. I wasn't sure what to expect from the day; would it be like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, but with bags? Imagery of rivers of Bayswaters or trees covered in Alexas ran through my mind! The reality wasn't quite as fantastical, but was just as exciting. Mulberry is the only brand who still produces in the UK. Its factory was recently
visited by the Duke of York, who was finding out more about its apprenticeship programme. Click through to find out how a Mulberry Alexa is made!
All images courtesy of Mulberry
"The Rookery," as the factory is known, is located in Chilcompton, near Bath in Somerset. It's surrounded by fields and trees! It employs 190 people and is looking to expand very soon. There are 10 production lines within the factory, one of which is taken up by its apprentices. When I visited on Friday they were making three different bags: oversized Alexas, Bayswater, and the new season Lily.
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Various different rolls of leather are stacked on shelves in a variety of colours and finishes. They used to reach the ceiling, but since the brand now has increased production they are getting through it quicker than ever. The fabrics are sourced from Italy, and the cost of the bag will vary depending on the chosen leather.
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Laying Out the Leather
The bag is built up along the line, much like car production. It begins here with the leather being laid out, checked, and cut. The leather has to be checked for any imperfections before being cut to a strict specification. There are about 25-30 pieces to each bag, so this stage is like preparing the pieces of a jigsaw!
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Preparing the Pieces
All of the pieces are put in a plastic box and sent along the conveyor belt to the next stage. This stage is where they prepare the pieces by inking the edges, stamping on the Mulberry patch, and applying the hardware. The inking is done on the raw edges to seal it and to make the bag look nicer. The panels are put through ovens to ensure everything is dry before moving on to the next stage.
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The plaits are an integral part of the Alexa bag, but they're more complicated than you think. The double ended plaits are hard to keep even and flat!
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Lily (£450) is one of the Autumn '10 bags, and it features a chain handle. Like the plait on the Alexa, this is quite fiddly as the leather has to be threaded through the chain by hand.
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Stitching the Bag Together
The handles are stitched together before being attached to the bag. After all the preparation, the stitching together actually happens quite quickly. The pieces are glued together before being stitched with precision. A lot of people who work in the factory have never sewn before, but as part of the interview process their skills are tested!
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Stitching Lining to the Bag
Finally, the lining is stitched to the bag and it is checked over for any marks or scuffs, which could have happened in the production process.
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So here is a finished Alexa! Each line makes about 120 bags per week, and last week the whole factory made 1,420 bags, which is the highest production has ever been. They're looking to build on this by adding a new line, which will create more jobs.
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There is currently a waiting list of 9,000 people for the
Alexa in oak (£695) so the style looks set to hang around for next season. Have you managed to get your hands on one?
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