People@Speed: Bags by Rubbertree, leather goodness

The creative couple behind Bags by Rubbertree shares what it is like to be modern-day leather craftsmen.

Ruben and Trina Flores Bags by Rubbertree Rubbertree Design Studio

Bags by Rubbertree scout backpack

Meet the creative couple behind Bags by Rubbertree, a brand that makes you want to dig into your wallet for a chance to tote around quality leather goods in delicious textures and visually appealing finishes.

Working from their UP Village studio, the two share with Speed what it is like to be modern-day leather craftsmen.

What do you sell online?

We make hand-crafted leather bags and small pieces for organizing your life.

How do you stay in touch with your customers and suppliers?

We have a very active Instagram feed. Most of our current work and going ons in the studio are logged there. For our suppliers, we personally purchase everything we use because quality starts with our raw materials, so selection is crucial.

Do you maintain your online account/s, and handle orders, inquiries, and shipments on your own?

Yes, we personally answer all emails and queries on Instagram and Facebook, and handle shipping.

Your photos look amazing. Who takes them?

Thank you. Both of us take the photos we post.

What made you decide to sell your work online?

It was a free platform that we decided to use. We do hope to have a brick and mortar shop sometime soon.

Have you been making and selling these items even before you became an online seller?

We set up our website as we were building our work. We both come from documentation-oriented training in college. We felt it was important to have a history of how our pieces develop and to have online presence. We are also both very OC when it comes to making, so from our first study, we took on the challenge of selling it when family and friends offered to buy them.

What accounts do you follow on Instagram for design inspiration?

We follow other handmade leather makers around the world. We enjoy the community because we get to see what’s going on elsewhere, and we constantly learn from each other. We are primarily designers and we give high regard to fellow designers, even non-leather makers.

Bags by Rubbertree Ruben Trina dSo, how did you start making these items?

It started as a design challenge that we took. We have been in the design industry for quite a while and have been working on computers for the most part. We wanted to go back to working with our hands, and as far as we knew, no one was designing and making hand-crafted leather bags at the same time.

Where is your workshop?

We have a home studio in UP village. We work in our terrace largely due to the material that we use. We need to be in a well-ventilated area. You’ll see lots of leather rolls and all sorts of hand tools.

What tools do you use to make your masterpieces?

We have cutters, metal rulers, all sorts of punchers, and good quality needles and threads.

How long does it take you to finish one design?

It depends on the bag design. Some take a day, while others take several days to make, especially the ones with a lot of parts. What takes the longest is choosing the right type of leather for a piece. We have learned to “read” leather, knowing which parts of the hide are good for what parts of a piece.

Do you get help?

We have a very tight team of four. Both of us do the designing and the cutting, and we have two assistants who help us in punching and sewing the pieces.

Walk us through your typical designing and creating process.

It can begin with a beautiful piece of leather or a bag design that we want to try out. These take turns in being first. Then we draw up specifications and study and plot measurements and make a prototype. We do a “test run” afterwards to make sure the bag rides well on the body and that the bag turns out to be a good piece that will last a long time. Our pieces go through constant editing and critique. We continuously tweak our designs, let’s say we add a little detail on a certain piece, this detail will then find its way to our other pieces that we think will benefit from this addition.

You mentioned earlier that you hope to open a physical store…

Definitely. But when, we’re not sure yet. Haha! We’re pretty happy with our occasional pop-ups and joining art fairs. This gives us enough time to make a good collection before an event.

What are your other design projects, business ventures, and/or hobbies?

We have a design studio that focuses on brand development, exhibit design, product packaging, and the like.

What’s your offline life like?

We have two kids—10- and 6-year-olds. They take up our off-work time. Funny, because offline, we also find ourselves still making bags! We use this time to try out personal pieces that we otherwise cannot do when we service our orders and build up our collection.

What to you is the most crucial part of e-commerce (e.g., taking good photos, being active, injecting humor in posts, using hashtags, interacting with customers)?

Consistency and truthfulness because the clients feel this honesty. Everything mentioned above also plays important parts.

Bags by Rubbertree mini-weekenderShare with us a boo-boo, a funny anecdote, or a major challenge you’ve encountered through your online store.

There’s the occasional “what’s your minimum order?” and “can you make a few hundred of these?” We’d have to beg off nicely and explain that we make all our pieces by hand. No sewing machines or mechanical/industrial cutters. So, it takes time to make them.

Based on your experience, what are the best and worst things about selling your work online?

Best would be that it is always there, 24-7. Someone in England can view our work at a time when we would be sleeping in Manila. Worst, it can take time away from making pieces. Answering queries via email can sometimes eat up time. But this is still a happy problem, not really the worst.

If you didn’t have Instagram, other social networks, the internet, and everything digital, how would you be sharing your handicraft with the rest of the world?

We’d have to try our luck with word of mouth.

Interview by the Speed team First published in Speed September 2015

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