Hand-made leather bags

Report and pictures by: 
Ariffin Jamar

His bedroom is dominated by a cluttered work table. At night it is illuminated by a single lamp. An array of severe-looking tools of his trade – awls, blades and chisels glint in the light. In this cramped space in his parent's four-room HDB flat in Bukit Batok, Mr Xie Hui has carved out a name for himself designing and creating leather goods.

From python skin smartphone cases to sling bags, laptop cases and studded bracelets. Even iPad covers with looping, willowy designs painstakingly carved into them. Though such leather work is often seen as traditional, Mr Xie is looking to win a new generation of fans for his artistic creations.

"I want to break away from the traditional," says Mr Xie, who wants to be seen as a leather designer, not a craftsman. To him, the term "craftsman" suggests someone churning out plain pouches and wallets.

At 25, he claims to be one of the youngest crafting leather products in Singapore. But he says that since he started four years ago, there has been a spike in interest among the young. The self-taught leather designer started dabbling in the art back in 2008, leafing through books and what little information there was on the Internet at the time. “I was attracted to leather because of the way it ages, how it lasts for a long time and the versatility. We can make almost anything with leather.”

He used his skills to make some pocket money under the name Stone For Gold. It was only last year – after finishing his national service – that he decided to turn his hobby into his career, turning Stone For Gold into an actual brand.

Mixed reactions It’s certainly a departure from his original path. He graduated from the LaSalle College Of The Arts in 2009 with a degree in Interior Design. This path has led to some problems at home. "My mum is happy as I’m doing well but my father doesn't really understand what I'm doing," he says. But Mr Xie is finding some success, receiving orders and commissions not only locally but from the US, Australia and Europe.

Crafting leather is a precise, time-consuming art. A leather laptop case can mean an entire day of work – from 10am to 8pm. He says the tiny, complex engravings he carves into the hide are an exercise in patience and the most challenging part of his work.

While mobile phone cases are his most popular product, he also creates less popular items like a python leather roll-up tool pouch and even a leather butcher's apron.

He says: "There's so much I can do with a single piece of leather, why restrict myself to just one style?"

This article was first published in The New Paper on December 24, 2012.