At Work with Rural Kind

Photography Jody Daunton

​Through our shared values and love of quality craftsmanship and considered design, Another Escape and Rural Kind have teamed up to create a beautifully crafted leather journal.

We visit Mike Watt and Nia Wood, the designers and makers behind Rural Kind, at their studio in rural Wales to understand their design and production process, for which they use simple techniques and traditional materials to hand-make their functional and well-crafted carry goods.

To purchase one of the leather journals please visit our shop. The journals are made from responsibly-sourced, oak bark tanned leather from a small, centuries-old tannery in Devon, UK, and made in the Rural Kind studio, where the journal sleeves are punched and burnished by hand and hand-stitched with waxed linen thread.

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HOW DID RURAL KIND BEGIN?

For quite a number of years before Rural Kind began, we'd both dreamt of working together and setting up a small business that supported a simple, rural, sustainable living. Mike is a trained architect and although he loves designing buildings, he found himself more and more wanting to create something physically with his own hands, while still being able to use his designer's head. While we pondered on what we could work on together, Mike found himself doodling ideas for some simple bags. We had access to an old industrial sewing machine (from Nia's mum) – Nia had sewn on and off for years – and so we found ourselves playing around with some canvas and figuring out how a bag drawn on paper comes to life in canvas. And so, slowly and organically we'd found something which we wanted to make and do together, and in late 2014 Rural Kind was born.

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CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUNDS AND HOW THEY FEED INTO WHAT YOU DO NOW?

We met in the first week of university where Mike was studying Architecture and Nia Archaeology (we are husband and wife). Mike is still a practicing architect and naturally Mike's design background plays a big part in Rural Kind. But added to the Rural Kind mix is our mutual love of sustainability, simple aesthetics and the handmade in both architecture and design in general. These shared leanings have grown and developed within us over the past 10 years or so, and it is these qualities that, perhaps more than anything, have fed into the core of our design and production philosophies.

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WHAT INSPIRES YOUR CRAFT? AND WHAT ENCOURAGED YOU TO BEGIN PLAYING WITH THE MATERIALS THAT YOU NOW USE FOR YOUR PRODUCTS?

We take inspiration from a variety of sources – and more often than not, from non-bag related areas. We are lovers of simple, functional design, so we may find inspiration in the clean lines of a modernist chair, or an effortless junction of materials in a piece of contemporary architecture. But we also find inspiration in, say, a beautifully crafted but ancient wooden table, for its quality of traditional craftsmanship and inherent durability. We love that the variations that naturally occur with handmade objects, and the marks that are left from their use over years, tell small parts of a story of the history of that object. This combination of traditional craftsmanship combined with considered detailing and simple clean lines is at the core of what we love, believe in, and do.

Our love of craftsmanship and the traditional materials used had a big influence on our choice of materials. We want our products to last for a long time and so choosing materials that have been designed and have proven to last for generations and that develop character with use seemed like an obvious choice. Using materials like waxed cotton canvas, brass and copper hardware, and leather was such a natural choice for us, for both their durability and aesthetic. There is nothing like the smell of a beautiful oak-bark tanned hide or the coppery shimmer of a hand hammered rivet.

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SIMPLICITY, FUNCTIONALITY AND DURABILITY SIT AT THE FORE OF YOUR PROCESS – WHAT DREW YOU TO THESE DESIGN PHILOSOPHIES?

Those philosophies are generally what we love in design. We are not fans of the throwaway fashion/consumerist culture that abounds us today and we always knew that we wanted to create goods that would stand the test of time. In our own lives we try to choose quality over quantity, not only so that we reduce the amount of stuff we own and therefore appreciate each item more, but also to tread a bit softer on this Earth of ours. So for us we feel that simple, clean design combined with function is the best way to create an item with some quality of timelessness. Ultimately we want our goods to last many a year while being used in everyday life – and so durability becomes our third consideration – not only in the materials we choose but in the way we design and make each item. We want our products to be dependable, well used, treasured items, that are durable enough to take some knocks and scrapes, and that gain character with use.

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CAN YOU TALK US THROUGH YOUR DESIGN AND PRODUCTION PROCESSES, AND HOW YOU TAKE YOUR PRODUCTS FROM CONCEPT TO FRUITION?

It all begins with a few doodles on a piece of paper. No, that's wrong. It actually all starts with a function. Maybe someone needs a bag to carry vegetables home from the allotment, maybe it's a bag for short walks in the hills, maybe it's a sleeve to hold and keep safe a notebook or two, one that you want to keep with you at all times. So then come the rough sketches. Ideas are explored between the two of us, and we discuss functions and details (and inevitably seams!), and quite often the sketches lead onto small folded paper or cardboard models (I think this harks back to a time at Architecture School when Mike loved to make models!).

Then we take the idea further and create a mock in simple white canvas or rough leather. This is when we really start to understand the size of an item, how it hangs, how it feels to hold, and what might need tweaking or changing.

It usually takes two or three prototypes before we get close to a design we feel is working – it's massively important that the things we make fulfil their intended function and that they look good, and bring a smile whilst doing this. So testing is key, and it can take a couple of months of use and reflection before we're ready to put something out there.

The final stage is to make sure we're confident with the product's construction; we make templates and draw up a method and final panel layouts so that we can make the same thing over and over (it's amazing how quickly we forget how to do something if we haven't made it for a while).

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RESPONSIBLE PRACTICE, SUPPORTING LOCAL PRODUCERS AND PRACTITIONERS, AND UNDERSTANDING THE SUPPLY CHAIN ARE IMPORTANT TO RURAL KIND – COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT THIS?

In our own lives we are trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle by supporting local producers and makers, thinking before we buy, and making small changes to lessen our impact on the environment. It was naturally important to us that we carried these values into our business. Naming ourselves Rural Kind was a reminder to ourselves of the things that we value – not just that we are a rural type of people – but also that being kind (and responsible) to the environment, to other businesses, to our customers is important and inherent in our business choices.

As far as possible, we want to know where our materials come from. We try really hard to source materials from the UK, so that we limit our carbon footprint but also so we know that the materials are produced responsibly and ethically. Our leather, for example, comes from the last remaining oak bark tannery in Britain. It took us a lot of time to find this old small tannery based in Devon, and we chose them not only for their wonderful, full grain leather, which uses the gentlest and slowest tanning process there is (it takes a full 14 months to turn a raw hide into leather), but also, and perhaps more importantly for us, because they use local hides from cows from the southwest of the UK.

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DOES LIVING IN RURAL WALES HAVE AN IMPACT ON YOUR WORKING PROCESSES, WORK-LIFE BALANCE AND GENERAL WELL-BEING?

We are both naturally quiet people who much prefer to be walking and exploring the quiet hills of Wales and watching the changing seasons in the countryside, to venturing into busy towns and cities. We are big lovers of the outdoors and always feel refreshed after spending some time in quiet countryside. Working for ourselves means we have the flexibility to slip out when we need a recharge, and this certainly helps us maintain a good work-life balance. We love working on our little business but we are big believers of a slow-paced kind of lifestyle, taking time to enjoy everyday moments and getting outside.

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WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT FROM CREATING RURAL KIND AND CRAFTING YOUR BEAUTIFUL PRODUCTS?

Patience. To take time to enjoy the process. That practice makes better (never perfect). To stick to your values.

It is so easy in a world of social media and fast fashion to get swayed from what you really believe in, to second guess yourself and to loose touch with the reasons behind why you are doing something in the first place. It's good to be in touch with the outside world, but we've learnt that maybe it needs to be held at arm's length sometimes.

One of the other unexpecteds that has come out of Rural Kind is the connections we have made with other likeminded makers and creatives. There is a real and growing community out there, which is really exciting and fulfilling to be a part of.

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