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BA Cordwainers Fashion Bags & Accessories students answer Ethiopian production brief

Isabella Kerovirta, Winner
Isabella Kerovirta, Winner

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Published date
30 June 2015

Five students from BA (Hons) Cordwainers Fashion Bags & Accessories: Product Design and Innovation are to have their designs showcased at the next round of international trade fairs as the result of a project with Pittards, one of the world’s leading leather tanneries.


Pittards set the students a brief to focus on their Ethiopian production to design a collection of bags. The focus was to address the challenges designers face when working with the demands and capabilities of raw materials and location whilst remaining true to the company’s ethos.

The students described the brief as a ‘real challenge,’ because the local Ethiopian fine gloving-weight sheep and goat skins are not naturally suited to bag construction. This process usually relies on more structure and body. The students explored local craft skills, traditional techniques and technological innovations that could maximise the beauty of the soft lightweight leather. There was also a need to minimise the use of hardware and trims as they are difficult to source in Ethiopia.

The students rose to the challenge, producing an amazing array of designs. Debbie Burton, Pittards’ Marketing Director and Tsedenia Mekbib, the General Manager and Commercial Director of the company’s Ethiopian manufacturing arm (who had flown over especially to judge the work) had trouble in shortlisting the finalists due to the impressive standard of creativity and craftsmanship.

The five students selected to have their work showcased are Nadina Goodman, with her fringed, jellyfish duffle; Yi Zheng, who created a minimalist ‘bag for life’ shopper; Sophie Davatwal with her delicate smocked leather handbag and Joe Mangan who designed featherweight sporty backpack. The overall winner was Isabella Kerovirta whose slouchy butter-soft tan shoulder bag ingeniously combined structure with softness to create an interesting concertina effect. The first prize is a paid placement in Somerset.

Isabella Kerovirta, Winner

Isabella Kerovirta with her winning design

Other pieces that got a special mention include  Max Cunningham’s squashy drawstring bag, which was a sophisticated bag inspired by ‘My Little Pony’;  An intriguing bamboo and leather design by Japanese student, Mizuki Ichinose which was inspired by Orian’s lantern carried to light the way of upmarket prostitutes of the Edo period. Charlie Wilkinson’s also received a special mention for his bubble textured bag inspired by Ethiopian opals,which cleverly avoided using any hardware apart from a simple interior zipper.

BA (Hons) Cordwainers Fashion Bags & Accessories: Product Design and Innovation course leader Lindsey Riley said:

The students learned a lot from the constraints imposed on them by the character of the leather. They needed to think outside of the box to make this work and they all delivered. I am really impressed with the ingenuity and diversity of their designs.