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Start up: Native luxury

With a foothold in the UAE and the UK, Lewis Adams is building a brand that celebrates the enduring appeal of handcrafted lasting leather goods that improve with age

It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.

There is a refreshing honesty to Lewis Adams. The transparency of his mission to produce ethically made hand crafted leather goods is clear to see in the bags, wallets and other carry goods that are gaining in popularity in both the UAE and the UK. Adams sat with us to talk about his business and how MadeByNative was started. 

I come from North Yorkshire and a labouring background. I’ve always been hands-on with my work. My interest in leather was piqued when I received a gift from a friend’s grandfather – his name and date were stamped on the leather (1924) and I can remember thinking how amazing it was that something like that had lasted so long. My interested in craft and woodwork prompted me to take some leather courses and I started making bags and pieces from leather as a hobby, for friends and family.

I’ve been trained in saddle work, which refers to the method used to stitch pieces of leather together. Even though I’ve only been making leather goods for six years, it was only quite recently that I decided that I wanted to make a full time occupation out of the work I was doing. Until that point I’d been working as a brand consultant – experience that came in useful when establishing my own brand.

It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.

The key philosophy behind MadeByNative is to take the best tried and tested materials from around the world and to make products that last, becoming ever more attractive with age, with each one hopefully telling a story. In the same way that the wallet I received from my friend’s grandfather had marks and scratches on, my products are designed to become objects that people will want to hold on to for years to come. 

I didn’t want the brand to just be my name. I think the risk with that is that the brand can become a bit central to just one person, and I’d like other people to come on board, maybe coming under the wing of MadeByNative who can help to diversify our product offering by bringing skills with wood and glass as well as leather. I don’t want the brand to be focused just on one person’s vision, but more focused on the materials and techniques and making things that last. 

Saddle stitching is a traditional technique. Using two needles, stitches are sewn so that they are intertwined, something that is impossible to replicate using a machine. We’re not using saddle stitch for some misplaced nostalgic reason, there’s a strength element to saddle stitching, ensuring that nothing’s going to break, even if you pull really tightly. We also use linen thread, which subscribes to our ethics and ethos that no plastics are used in the making of our products. It’s a lot more expensive than polyester and nylon, but it’s really strong. We also use natural beeswax to burnish the edges of our products, which are then vegetable tanned in Tuscany.

The brand was established in the UK and developed in the UAE. We’re working towards finding a space that can contain both the workshop but also a retail corner where people can visit for custom orders or made to measure services. Recent collaborations include custom orders for Maserati, Akin Barber & Shop and local banks who might require special gifts for VIP customers. Given the way in which heritage brands are growing in Asia and the Middle East, I wanted to capture that market from an early stage, rather than spend many years in the UK or Europe building a presence and then having to start from scratch once I was ready to export. This way I can grow organically, whilst still making my products available to an international client base.

The first test for me was to see whether I could live with this as an occupation and to figure out whether it was scalable as a business. I also needed to see how people would react to it and whether they’d be susceptible to the educational side of our materials and the techniques employed – there’s a cost that comes with sourcing only the best top grain leather, vegetable dyeing and saddle stitching by hand and I wasn’t sure if people would understand that.

For me, MadeByNative works. The first year has gone well so now I’m looking at how I can scale my business, how to bring people on board and hopefully find some partners. We’re looking to grow slowly over a long-term scale, rather than run before we can walk, so we’d be looking for partners who share our vision and who can help us grow globally as well as regionally. We have a good presence in the UAE and a little in the UK and America, but I think the right partnership could really help us leverage that. If you think of the luxury leather goods industry as a race of the tortoise against the hare, we are definitely the tortoise in that scenario but I’m pleased about that because we’re running a marathon not a sprint.

Whilst I really enjoy making things but I know at some point I’m going to have to take a step back in order to run the business better. I always think the best managers are the ones who know everything about the brand. I really admire Paul Smith because he used to cut the cloth in his business, and he used to sew. He knows all of the details and for that reason I really respect what he does as a craftsman and businessman. Once I take a step back, at least I’ll know all of the details and I can then bring on more senior and experienced craftsmen, which will only strengthen MadeByNative. I always think you should work with people who are better than you as it only serves to make the whole of your output greater than the sum of its parts. 

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