Come and get inspired as we meet bag maker Caroline Strecker from Rag of Colts at her new studio and shop in Bruton, Somerset where she hand makes beautiful bags which are sustainably crafted from reclaimed leather saddles.
As the leather Caroline uses has already lived a previous life it's worn to perfection giving each bag plenty of charm and character. Hand cut, moulded and completely hand stitched in her studio, Rag of Colts bags are made to last...
Your bags that are built to last a lifetime and will improve with age, that’s something that really resonates with us. What inspired you to create Rag of Colts?
To be honest I didn’t plan to start Rag of Colts - it slightly happened by accident. I was asked to make a few things for a friend - dog collars from repurposed saddle leather. So I had a reason to buy some for the leather and having made a few collars I just decided to make a bag for myself. Then I made one for my mother for Christmas.. and that was the beginning. Friends placed orders when they saw my bag, and then friends of friends - it was a very organic process and very much a side project which helped a lot because there just wasn’t any pressure for it to be anything and it was great fun.
You mentioned when you started Rag of Colts you were vegan, what led you to start working with leather?
It would be more accurate to say I had a plant based diet and had been for many years. I started working with leather after a friend asked me to help make some dog collars for their ethical lifestyle brand. We decided to work with repurposed British saddlery leather - (also called Bridle leather) which is such wonderful quality.
I’d love to know more about the process of making a bag using repurposed saddles…
It takes far longer to use repurposed materials but for me the results speak for themselves. First we have to source the saddles which can be a time consuming process in itself. Once we have found the right kind of saddles - which are becoming quite scarce, we strip down the saddle to its elements. Each saddle has two ‘skirts’ which are the large panels on each side - we use these to cut the patterns for our bags.
Where do you source your vintage saddles from?
Anywhere and everywhere we can find them! Auctions, flea markets, riding schools, private equestrian facilities, private contacts - also as we have more exposure people are starting to approach us with their old tack.
We met last year at a pop up event and since then I have loved watching Rag of Colts grow and more recently open a shop. It’s such a beautiful space and really inspiring, especially in a time where many shops and high streets are closing. Tell us a bit about how the shop came to be and the process of creating a space which truly represents Rag of Colts.
I have been working in a garage attached to my house for nearly seven years. The double doors allowed for great light in the summer but in the winter it was arctic. In the last 12 months we really started to out grow the space and I started to look around for a local alternative.
My new shop used to be called Church Bridge Stores and housed the Post Office. Bruton is a small place and as I ran an online business, I was in the post office often, shipping the bags that I had sold. Aidan and Julia who owned and ran Church Bridge Stores became friends and knew I was looking for a space. I had actually promised myself I wouldn’t take on or open a shop so when they suggested I pop in and have a look at the space I wasn’t really paying attention. It was a couple of days later - literally in the middle of the night lying awake that I realised what an amazing opportunity it could be and I rushed down the next morning - to be told the space was almost definitely already spoken for. My heart sank - Aidan was just waiting for a phone call to confirm. But as I had seen it first - by a whisker, I was given first refusal if I could say yes immediately.. so I just said yes! The rest has been a rollercoaster of all sorts of highs and lows and every emotion you can imagine!
Where my work bench is now used to be the Post Office counter - so where I now make the bags is where I used to post every single order and commission from the very beginning of Rag of Colts.
Rag of Colts is located in the beautiful village of Bruton in the Somerset countryside. Tell us about the creative community in Bruton and some of your favourite local artists or craftspeople?
Yes I am so lucky to live in a place that celebrates creativity in the way that Bruton does. We have Hauser and Wirth on the doorstep and their smaller gallery Make is a constant source of inspiration. We have the wonderful Cabbages and Roses HQ down the road, artist and ceramicist Richard Pomeroy is my shop neighbour, I also adore the work of Colette Woods who is at the other end of the high street.
Running a business and being a mother can be a real balance. How do you navigate that?
The first thing I did was find an assistant. When Stanley was 4 months old I realised it was a sink or swim situation and I needed help. I was very lucky to find Lydia who is now my right hand woman. I couldn’t ever have got to this point without her support. I decided being a mother was my priority but I didn’t want to let my business go. It’s really not easy at times and it can feel like I’m not giving enough of myself to the business or to my son - which can feel quite demoralising. Stanley is three and a bit now and has grown up in my studio which I hope will be a positive example in his life. He has just started nursery a few mornings a week which gives me a little time to focus solely on work.
What exciting plans are on the horizon for Rag of Colts?
Next year is a blank canvas at this stage - we have lots of ideas but opening the shop has been a huge project and I just want us to find our feet and get into a good rhythm. Workshops are coming and we are putting together a program for that. Pop ups are coming... and we can’t wait to host you!
(watch this space for news of a CHAPTER 2 shoemaking demo and pop up at Rag of Colts early next year...)
Describe your fashion style…
functional! I have two dogs and a three year old and my work is with old leather in the studio so my clothes need to be hard wearing. I am usually in jeans or workwear dungarees, with a T-shirt and big jumper. There's no heating in the studio!
What do you admire about Chapter 2?
I love everything you do. I love every detail from your design and photography to your stunning collection of footwear. I loved how they look and now I own a pair I love even more how they feel. I’ve lived in grubby trainers for years and years... you’ve turned me!
I like to think that shoes take you on adventures big and small, where will your Jackdaw Boots take you?
Everywhere I go! The fun thing about owning such a beautiful pair of boots is it’s really inspired me to dress accordingly- from the ground up as it were. My favourite moment in the year is when I travel home to Scotland and I can’t wait to take my Jackdaw Boots with me.
Caroline wears Jackdaw Boots in Black
Visit Rag of Colts to support a small independent shop and maker:
Rag of Colts, 14b Patwell St, Bruton, Somerset, BA10 0EQ