The opening day of the Game Fair was hardly ideal weather for a trade event. Indeed the record-breaking heat was only really a blessing for sunbathers. However, the news coming from another tanner was also extremely positive. Albion Saddlermakers first set up shop 35 years ago, but now run as Albion England from their factory in Walsall.
Their 75-strong team specialise in saddles and are one of the worlds largest suppliers of leatherwear to the equestrian industry. However, six years ago the business made the leap into field sports supplies and now stock over 40 different styles of gun slip, cartridge bag and magazine case.
Fin Green explained: “I’m a shooting man myself so I was looking for a gun slip and cartridge bag, and couldn’t find anything that I liked. Being in the leather game, I saw a few in the industry, but thought I’d make one in the factory for myself and some for my friends. A few more and a few more and now we have a whole department in the factory making purely gun slips and cartridge bags.
“We started off with our ‘Classic’ collection which is our most premium range; gunslips start off at £500-£600, magazine cases for £600. It’s an oiled full-grain leather. A lot of gun slips will have a synthetic fleece, whereas this is a genuine full British wool lining. There’s solid brass fittings, large tooth zips – it’s the gun slip of all gun slips really. We haven’t spared any expense with this.
“We started there, and even though we have all of these collections, the Classic collection range is our best seller – particularly the Classic Cognac flap and Buckle – the best seller by far. It has been going really well for a few years, and people started to ask for more customised gun slips – which is when we moved onto the Virtue collection.
“These are still made in our factory in the West Midlands, but we changed the leather and changed the lining. So this is a synthetic lining. 99 per cent of gun slips on the market have a synthetic lining. It’s still full-grain leather, solid brass fittings, big tooth zip but its a change of materials and just slightly less in terms of the finest details.
“By taking out some of the features we can bring that price point down to around £350. Again thats going really well. The trade really like that one,” Fin adds. “Then we moved onto the Canvas. We started making a few of those in the factory. Because of the labour costs and materials, Canvas gun slips can be expensive, so we found a really good manufacturing partner overseas, who make the canvas slips for us. These are around £140. The trade love them, there are good trade margins and they’re a really good quality product. It does a good job of being competitive in the market. “People will come to us and say, the Classic and the Virtue are made in England, why aren’t the Canvas?”
“We will say, we can make you a Canvas gun slip in our factory but it will be two or three times the price. They soon decide that this one is good! So we can make them in our factory but we need to be sensible and competitive with what is on the market – we can’t produce that in our factory for that price.”
Best Of British
By providing artisan craftsmanship with a finger on the pulse of the latest fashion trends, albion offer a unique service comprising luxury ‘off-the-peg’ accessories as well as fully-bespoke leather accessories. discerning individuals looking for a truly original product can request the creation of their own unique and entirely tailor-made accessory.
With an incredible and expansive choice of the most avidly sought after materials at your disposal, the opportunity exists for Albion’s skilled craftsmen to realise virtually any personalised request including; opting for an exotic leather; a striking coloured leather; adding bold lining to a cartridge bag or gun slip shoulder pad or simply injecting a modern twist be featuring an eye catching zip pull or keeper.
With Canvas gunslips being manufactured overseas for almost two years, Albion also launched their budget leather gun slip at the game fair, retailing for £240. Fin comments: “Once again we have had people come and look at the Virtue and the Classic. They might decide that they really like albion products, but may only have a budget of £250. Where we can’t cater for them from our own factory; we can point them over here and show them an Albion gun slip made to our specifications, our standards, our material and patterns.
“We work very closely with our manufacturer to produce an exceptional quality slip for the money – so we have something for everyone. Now they are here for people to see in person for the very first time. To go with these we have the cartridge bags to match and the pouches. They have all been produced to the cheapest price point; the same albion quality that people recognise.
Bring It To Life
After starting their field sports range with gun slips and cartridge bags, Albion have since added magazine cases to their repertoire, following a customers request. “The first one we made was probably four years ago,” says Fin. “A customer bought a Classic slip and a Classic bag and said “I need a magazine case”. We’d never made one before – we hadn’t even had patterns done in the factory – so we said leave it with us, it’ll be x-amount of money and six weeks later we produced our first magazine case.
“We still see him today, he always pops onto the stand to have a look. We offer more customised things, so we can add initials to give you matching kit and added accessories like license holders and cartridge belts. Basically we are now at a stage where we can provide an entire range of products – from belts, slips, pouches and magazines cases – in a range of prices, and all really good quality.”
“One thing we do like to do is create bespoke pieces. We have some coloured leather slips, this was because we had two pieces of leather come to the factory from a specific tannery; only enough to make one gun slip, one cartridge bag and one magazine case. They are one off, exclusive and completely bespoke. nobody else in the world will have that,” Fin adds.
Providing a personal touch, Albion has access to over 300 fonts for laser engraving, whilst traditional embossing is also available. In addition, gun slips can be made to shorter or longer specifications to accommodate a gun of any size and are available with a selection of different handle styles. Rifle slips can also be made to order based on the guns configuration.
Speaking of their Game Fair experience, Fin said: “I think we have surprised a lot of people who might expect us to be up there in terms of price and quality. So we have had a lot of people come on to have look but then are surprised that we do have affordable options for most people.
“From someone who wants a bespoke, hand- made, ‘made-in-england’ gunslip, to someone who wants a really good gun slip in full grain leather that is QC’s material from Albion then there is a product for you. A Canvas slip for £140 is very accessible, and I think that people are starting to wake up to that.”
“We are a very proactive company in terms on new product development – without ever compromising on quality. We also listen to customer feedback, and those who come on the stand. They ask “can you do this, can you do that?” and if there is enough interest then we can take that feedback to the factory and do it. There is always something new in the pipeline. By the time we come back to the Game Fair in 2019 I guarantee that there will be something new.”