In a previous chapter of his life, Jon Homer was an operations manager for a multinational company based outside Birmingham. Today, he spends his days in his workshop overlooking the duck pond on a farm in Lincolnshire making bags, belts and wallets from sustainably sourced leather.

Jon, 50, and his wife Judy, 49, moved to the farm in 2002, along with their Cleveland bay horse Monty. It was Monty who led Jon to be introduced to a saddlery. The owners taught him how to craft leather to make saddles and bridles, a trade he did for ten years before setting up his business Elemental Leatherwork in 2011.

From draughtsman to craftsman

“I was hopeless at school,” he says. “I wanted to be a draughtsman.” Halfway through his A-Levels, he was offered a job to train with an architect. “At the time, I thought it was a great opportunity, but they started talking about a five year training course and then another seven years after that to become an architect,” he says. “The enthusiasm faded quite quickly.”

After a year working with the architect, he joined an engineering company. “I liked physics and chemistry at school, but engineering was something I knew I could do,” he says. He went on to become an operations manager with a senior position in automotive manufacturing.

Having spent his career in a corporate environment, Jon wanted a change. That’s when he bought a derelict farm in Lincolnshire. “We’ve still got Monty who’s over 17 hands, Pablois the miniature Shetland and he’ll stand underneath Monty in the rain. Bramble the cat lives in the barn - she’s a barn cat but she’s a real fusspot. And then there’s Lucy and Freddie the geese who follow us around, they’re only 14 weeks,” he says. Jon and Judy also have two dogs - a German shepherd, called Max, and an Alaskan Malamute, called Nuc.

“I used to make saddles and bridles and the leatherwork was a hobby to keep my hand in over the winter. The horse world is very expensive and leftover money for saddles and bridles is few and far between,” he says. “Occasionally I’d take something I’d made to a craft gallery. The bags were really popular and I was making more on the leatherwork than the saddles so I decided to concentrate on this,” he says.

Handcrafted leatherwork

All Elemental Leatherwork products are handmade by Jon and Judy. “It’s really rewarding - leather is a lovely thing to handle, touch, smell,” he says. “You’re taking a natural material and creating something beautiful and useful.”

It takes Jon more than a day to make a bag, a briefcase longer, while a cartridge bag for shooting is three and a half days of solid work. “Commissions take longer and I’d like to do more of these bespoke designs - we can customise everything from the lining to the buckles and pins,” he says. “Judy loves painting and she does some of the design details, and hand paints all of the embossed work.”

The leather that Jon uses to make the pieces comes from a local tannery and he also buys end of runs. “A big fashion house might buy 1000 hides and then if there’s 100 left the company buys them and sells them on to me,” he says. “Even the smallest pieces get used. Nothing goes to waste.”

For Jon, the biggest challenge is marketing. “I find the social media side of things difficult,” he says. “Face to face didn’t initially come naturally to me but you get used to it very quickly and it’s good fun.” He sells the bags and belts at summer and country fairs, craft fairs and local farmers’ markets. “Most weekends, we’re at a market showcasing the bags,” he says. What he finds clicks with customers most is when they realise that the bags are completely handmade, and better yet that the person who made them is sitting in front of them.

His advice to others is to speak to customers: “Don’t get carried away sitting behind a keyboard, get out in front of people. You’ll get much faster, more honest results,” he says. “If they don’t like it, they’ll walk away.”

Free business banking for sole traders

Jon first heard about Starling through Facebook, which he uses as an online shop. “I had a high street bank account that was free for a year. After that I used a personal account - my accountant tutted at me every month,” he says.

“I liked the idea of an online or an app based bank. I saw Starling and a couple of others and Starling was one which was a proper bank that was registered - the app looked easy to use,” he says. Within a few minutes, he had set up his Starling sole trader account.

To have a look at the bags, belts, briefcases or wallets made by Jon visit the Elemental Leatherwork Facebook page.

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