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Meet The Maker: Ali Maclean

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Timeless designs that get better with age, that’s what we love about Ali Maclean’s hand crafted bags. Based in South East London, Ali designs and makes her leather collections from her garden studio, taking influence from the laid-back, easy-going attitude of her fellow Londoners.

We asked her a few questions about Als, her creative practice, the naming of bags and her must-visit places around SE22.


Meet The Maker: Ali Maclean Leather Bags ALS 

How did you get started making bags?

I have always loved shoes and bags from a young age, after art college I studied a degree in Footwear and Accessories at Cordwainers College, specialising in footwear. I then designed for different brands (Shelly’s, French Connection, Nicole Farhi, Hobbs). 

In 2012 I went on maternity leave, and this was when everything changed for me. I didn’t want to be travelling every month to different factories and countries, it gave me a chance to step back and look at my industry, and I realised that the high street at that time wasn’t a place I wanted to be. The creative part of my job was now only a tiny part of what I did. I realised I wanted to start designing and making my own collections, and it has grown very organically since then.


Are there any designers or artists that have influenced your work?

When I first started making I just loved Ally Capelino, and how her brand stayed true to her style and wasn’t influenced by trend or the catwalk, it was just made in England and it was cool.


What’s your process? Do you start with an idea in mind or work it out as you go? 

I used to always start with a sketch and then start to make the pattern from the design, but I have totally changed how I work now because how the bag functions and feels on the body is so important to me.

So now I generally start by stitching leather together to get a vague shape and size I like and then work backwards to make the pattern.

Meet The Maker: Ali Maclean Leather Bags ALS
We’ve seen that you have a wonderful new studio, what does a typical day look like for you? 

I am so lucky that my father in law is a carpenter, and he (with my husband) built me a workshop next to our new house (we’ve just moved). It’s so lovely.

A typical day -  after getting the kids to school, then a quick dog walk on Blythe Hill fields before I start - I generally try and split my week up so I’ll either be going to my leather suppliers which is in Dalston (all the leather is sourced from Italy), or I’ll be making orders which could be from other shops (wholesale) or direct from my website. Or I’ll be working on new ideas, which is my favourite bit.


Do you have a favourite piece or collection?

The Jose satchel – this was one of my first bags & still a firm favourite, and the first bag Meet Bernard stocked. I can make this bag in any colour or leather and it always looks good. A versatile, easy little satchel.

I also love the Iza, as soon as I’d made it I was so happy with it and it has been a popular style. Oh I also love Minnie.


The names of your bags are lovely, how do you come up with them? 

I name them after my loved ones really, my family and my friends, and I asked my mum and dad to look back at my family tree and I'm using all the names from there. So they all have a connection to me. 


How would you describe your aesthetic? 

Timeless, quality, British design that gets better with age.


Meet The Maker: Ali Maclean Leather Bags ALS

We know that you offer a bespoke service, how does that work?
I created a bespoke collection which was exclusively for Meet Bernard last year. Dani had an idea about a bag she wanted and asked me if I could make something like that for them. I loved it! It was great working like that because I made something that I wouldn’t normally make and it pushed my boundaries. I really loved collaborating.


You’re based in London, would you say that your surroundings influence your work? 
I love London, so definitely yes, but more the people I see every day rather than the actual place. The style is cool and relaxed, and a bit “I really haven’t bothered” at the same time, which I love. You only realise this when you travel to other cities, you can always spot a Londoner.


What do you love about SE London? Can you share some of your favourite places with us?

Well, I already mentioned Blythe Hill which is currently my favourite place, especially on warm summer evenings, its just such a lovely spot with the best views and at the bottom is Rise Café, my new favourite coffee spot.

Blythe Hill Tavern is just down the road from me now and is the best place for a pint of Guinness, and there is a pizza van too.

I also just love Alexandra Nurseries in Penge, such lovely little vintage pieces for the house and garden and the best plants too.

Another is Wine & Such. Steph the owner is very talented and amazing and also started her own ‘cocktails by mail’ business in lockdown. Her new shop is def worth a visit!


Are there any South London creatives that we should know about? 

Bleak House Flowers, (who I discovered when I was managing A Shop For Makers before lockdown) Tobby is the most creative florist and designs beautiful fresh and dried displays. I definitely recommend!


Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Crafty Fox Market, which is one of the best markets for makers (where I started selling) has regular spots on the run up to Christmas at Mercato Metropolitano in Elephant and Castle which is a great place to meet with friends for food and drinks. Crafty Fox also have a directory of all their members, which is just perfect at Christmas if you are looking for presents which are unique.


We have an array of Ali's hand-crafted bags in our womenswear department at the moment, each one unique and made to last a lifetime. If you find yourself in East Dulwich any time soon, bee sure to pop by and take a look, we're sure you'll love them as much as we do. 

Great to Meet you..!

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