Kevin Wilebore – Keeping traditional crafts alive at Portland Works


When he needed a seat cover for a Lambretta scooter he was restoring, Kevin Wilebore didn’t turn to the internet like most of us would. He decided he would have a go at making it himself.

“I thought: how hard can it be?” said Kevin. “Well, it was hard, but turned out well in the end and I was hooked. From that point people asked me to make lots of different leather items for them. It was just a hobby, using the ironing board in my dining room as a worktop.”

“Then one day I saw an advert about spaces to rent at Portland Works. I went to have a look, was truly inspired by the fantastic craftsmen and women working there – and most importantly, found I could afford the rent. That was the start of Wilebore Hand Made Leather Goods.”

Support from the Portland Works community

After he moved into the Works in February 2019, Kevin’s business grew. “I got so much support and help from everyone here. I was introduced to local companies and my confidence grew as I gained commissions from those and fellow tenants. It’s a wonderful, creative community and everyone helps everyone else.”

Kevin has always been interested in traditional crafts and in those early days, stitched everything by hand – just as it has been done for centuries. He has now invested in machinery such as an industrial harness stitcher and clicker press to speed up some of the processes so he can take on larger orders.

There’s been a lot to learn along the way. “I discovered all the different types of leather to use, and the different ways they were tanned. I really like to use vegetable tanned leather, an old process that is particularly good for metal products as it doesn’t tarnish them. And now I’m experimenting with a rare oak bark tanned leather.”

Hand made with integrity

Kevin produces a wide range of beautiful handmade leather goods including bags, wallets, belts, sheaths and even shotgun slips; all individual pieces made to order. The most unusual item he’s been asked to make is a pair of single sticks used as a sword fencing training aid. “That was a bit more complicated as I had to learn how to hot mould the leather,” he admits. But typical of his can-do approach, when he can’t find a suitable component, he makes it himself. At the moment that includes his special copper belt buckles. “I couldn’t find any that I liked, so I got out the blowtorch and solder and made them myself.”.

Kevin has joined the volunteer Board at Portland Works, which takes responsibility for its affairs on behalf of the community shareholders who saved this historic building from being converted into flats in 2013. He plans to create a product line and promote it on a website. But he is determined to continue to use traditional methods and materials.

“I enjoy making bespoke custom pieces, to create beautiful items made with integrity that are designed to last,” he says. “It’s important to keep traditional crafts alive.”

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