After a fish supper, Irn Bru and a Tunnocks Tea Cake we headed out of the centre of Glasgow to meet a heavyweight leather specialist. It was a short drive out into the surrounding green countryside where we met Colin Campbell, the owner and director of McRostie Scotland. The company use the finest British materials and traditional techniques to produce quality handmade leather products.
Traditionally a master saddler and harness makers, Colin took over McRostie’s in the 1980’s and started to learn the ropes from Hugh Mason, Master Saddler, who had worked with leather all his life. He quickly learned the skills needed to make and repair the products McRostie produced for the equine industries. But it wasn’t until a fashion shop in Glasgow asked Colin to produce belts for jeans that a new market opened up for them.
Belts hang on every wall of the workshop, all different sizes, shapes colours and designs. The space was open and clearly split into working areas. Various tools and cutting equipment sat proudly on a work surface illuminated by the large window in front of us and directly behind that in the centre of the room was a table that held a mountain of leather strips and off cuts. The walls were filled floor to ceiling with small drawers, shelves and boxes containing items from specific tooling to various metal fixings. There were horse saddles, stirrups and harnesses, some hanging like trophy pieces and others waiting to be repaired, all hints of the equine past dating back to 1887.
The focus now for McRostie is less on the equine industry and more in the the fashion markets. They now produce products including belts, bags, document holders, kilt belts, sporrans and corporate gifts. However their most popular and best selling belt owes its success to a horse harness Colin used as inspiration for the design. He said “ I love to see products through from the initial design stage right through to the hands on making, you just have to look around this place, there is inspiration everywhere” Their handmade, small run nature means they do occasionally get some strange requests. For example, Colin told us about a traveling circus which came to Scotland. “The circus elephant had a sore foot and they asked if we could make a leather boot for the him, which we duly did! It fitted perfectly.
More recently was the client who came in with a pair of green wellies and asked if I could transform them into a pair of 'Big Banana Feet' for a Billy Connolly tribute act he did. This was more of a challenge, but I think The Big Yin, as he is known in Scotland, himself would have been happy to wear them!"
Everything is produced in the workshop using the best British materials and now sells throughout the UK, Europe and in Japan where the demand for handmade Scottish goods is very high. The handmade quality of each heavyweight piece is unique and the great thing about each item is that the use of full grain, vegetable tanned bridle leather means they will only improve with age and wear.