March 4th 2019 - by Alyson Walsh
After discovering boxes of old, embossed A4-sized leather swatches abandoned in the corridors of their soon-to-be-closed Northampton tannery, Deborah Thomas decided to salvage her family’s leather business (W. Pearce & Co.). Founded by her great-great-grandfather in 1908, the factory had ceased production in 2002; and while some of the artefacts had gone to the National Leather Collection (a whole room of the museum is devoted to the family tannery), a limited amount had been left behind, ready for disposal. ‘It was a rescue job really,’ she says of the launch of her own business Doe Leather, ‘ I didn’t want to waste the materials and it seemed such a sad end to a company that had been influential for over 100 years. It felt important to continue the legacy.’ Deborah had always had holiday jobs at the tannery and after studying a degree in Sociology & Psychology, ended up working for two well-known British bag and belt manufacturers for over 20 years, ‘ It’s in my DNA,’ she continues, ‘my dad had retired but I managed to persuade him to help out as he’s an all-round font of knowledge.’
Deborah and I met last year at the Badger’s Velvet Underground design fair, when her cool gentlewoman style caught my eye. We had a lovely, long chat and she told me about her design studio in Suffolk and commitment to British manufacturing ( all the leather goods are made in a family-run factory in the West Midlands). Traditionally, the leather industry has been male-dominated and many organisations feature a stag as a symbol on their coat of arms. As a female founder, Deborah thought it was time to shake things up and so replaced the stag with its female counterpart, the doe.
Here is Deborah Thomas’s Style Profile:
“I’m drawn to simple but strong lines in the best fabrics that I can afford. I’ve always dressed to feel comfortable and comforted, and to feel like myself. There’s nothing worse than feeling not quite right and having to pull things around and tug at them. Putting on an old favourite (or new favourite) that suits my body and personality is like a homecoming.
I prefer exaggerated proportions like heavily pleated trousers or carpenter jeans and extra long skirts, and tend to choose men’s suiting-type fabrics like twill, wool, silk and brushed cotton. All very durable and tactile. I like it when things are a bit ‘off’, cropped trousers or a slightly longer sleeve. I’m tall and have long limbs (my best feature) and an ill-defined waist (my worst!). Fabrics are important, I have a midnight blue velvet 1980s MaxMara trouser suit that has worn quite well and so I still pull it out. I’ve been wearing it recently with my Veja trainers. If an outfit feels rather smart, tailored or formal, I steer clear of dressy shoes and vice versa. I tend to avoid fuss and flounce.
Usually I’m in neutral colours such as grey, black, navy and white, styled with a stronger green or tan to accent them. I’ll add colour with a shirt or jumper, and recommend investing in the best accessories that you can. I love my socks and will splash out on Falke or Simone Wild velvet for some luxury. I like to know where things are made and try to be as ethical as possible. My jewellery is from Drift, Sia Taylor and Claire Von Holthe; the big brass ring (below) is by Made. Before starting Doe Leather, I used to make my own jewellery – big cuffs and disc necklaces – in leather, of course. And one of my friends is trying to persuade me to introduce this into my range...
The Joseph jacket I’m wearing in my first outfit is much-loved and much-worn, and often mix and matched with lots of other staples. You can’t beat a well-cut jacket and trousers. I think the clothes sit together quite well as where there is volume from my pleated wide-leg Zara trousers on the bottom half so I’ve juxtaposed them with a narrow jacket. The scarf is vintage Margaret Howell and the backpack in bridle leather is from Doe.
The skirt in my second outfit was made-to measure by local seamstress Esthea Evans. I love the thick fabric, slightly A-line silhouette and long length. I plan to wear it to upcoming sales appointments, work meetings and anywhere that I want to feel a bit less casual. When I tried it on at Esthea’s studio she said, ‘It’s so you!’ And it is, so I might get a denim one made for summer.
The Solovair lace ups (which are made in Northampton) are on my feet almost continuously. I always wear flat shoes or flatforms - I have big feet that I used to dislike but now I’ve embraced what my family call clumpy ‘orthopaedic’ styles, I enjoy them. Strappy sandals and stilettos don’t work for me, I would love to wear heels but at nearly 6-foot-tall I would feel like a gargantuan, and I can’t walk in them! Here, I’m wearing a faithful Margaret Howell roll neck, it’s from a small local shop called Homespun and one of my new bag designs, the Cross Body Satchel in bridle leather. We use vegetable tanned leather because it’s kinder to the planet and improves over time developing a unique patina. I believe in timeless, sustainable design; the bags are beautiful, long-lasting pieces. Slow fashion is more than just a fad, it’s a thoughtful rewarding process.”