New apprenticeships in the bag

New apprenticeships in the bag

Apprenticeships are not necessarily in high tech skills, there are also good careers to be had in traditional crafts, as Handbag Clinics apprentices show.

Handbag Clinic, which repairs accessories from the world’s leading designers, is training three new apprentices to meet rising demand. The company’s rapid growth means it needs a constant intake of apprentices, who are given on-the-job training in cleaning, repairing and restoring designer handbags.

It offers a range of cleaning, protection, stain removal, repair and restoration services. Handbag Clinic in Newcastle also stocks a range of second-hand designer handbags.

Currently, the firm, which launched in 2013, employs 25 people, including the three recent apprentices. However, managing director Ben Staerck is aiming to take on two new apprentices every month this year.

Along with taking on new staff, Handbag Clinic, has also increased the size of its repair workshop in Burnopfield, County Durham, by 15% to 3,800 sq ft. The expansion comes after the firm opened its first store on Chelsea’s Kings Road in 2013 before launching on Mosley Street, Newcastle.

Handbag Clinic is now servicing around 600 handbags every month, including brands such as Chanel, Hermés, Celine and Louis Vuitton. Staerck says: “The service we provide at Handbag Clinic is so unique that it is impossible to recruit someone who already has the exact skillset we need.

“All of our apprentices are given on-the-job training to make sure they are able to do whatever it takes to make a designer bag look like new, whether it is giving a Hermés Kelly a complete coat of colour, repairing the handles on a vintage Gucci or removing an ink stain from a cream-coloured Celine Phantom. The techniques have to be just right as we’re dealing with customers’ bags which are worth hundreds, often thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands of pounds.”

Handbag Clinic usually looks for candidates with an arts or creative background when recruiting new apprentices. While many already have some sewing and needlework skills, they are taught all the other necessary skils at the Handbag Clinic repair centre.

Staerck’s younger brother Adam, who is the firm’s training and development manager, teaches new recruits everything from how to clean handbags to how to remove wine or ink stains or to provide a full colour change.

The three latest apprentices, Luke Keers, Terri Suniga and Victoria Knight, are now able to carry out a restoration which would include a full exterior and interior clean, and a colour match performed to the most original colour on the bag, followed by a full recolour.

Adam said: “What are seen as traditional skills like sewing are at risk of dying out. While a few decades back, people wouldn’t have thought twice about taking up their own seams, sewing on a button or darning a sock, those sort of skills are in danger of becoming a thing of the past.

“While being able to sew is by no means all that is involved in the highly-skilled restoration work we carry out here, it does give a good starting point. We’ve had projects which have meant entire bags have had to be dismantled and put together again with new stitching, so having a basic understanding before starting work here does help.

“But just as vital is the right attitude. It’s not as easy as you would think to recruit the right people. We’ve had several instances where interviewees simply haven’t turned up. Those we do take on get the opportunity to gain a unique skillset in a rapidly growing company.”