Who is Sparrowhawk Leather?
My name is Fiona Ritchie. I am a leather artisan specialising in bespoke, hand made leatherwork and I make all Sparrowhawk Leather pieces. I am married to Nick Gibb, a former Virgin Australia Training Captain and now Chief Flying Instructor with Journeys Aviation NZ. Nick and I share a passion for aviation, boating and classic cars. I work from our small farm in the Hunua Ranges, south of Auckland, New Zealand.
Our property (left), Fiona with our 1964 Cessna 172E (middle), Nick in the flight deck (right)
A rare skill
There are few, true, leather artisans.
Offshore mass production using sweat shop labour has shut down tanneries, high quality leathergoods makers and industry training. In the meantime, consumers are confused why their shop bought, low priced, "genuine leather" pieces have "fallen apart".
I've noticed a small resurgence amongst young design graduates "playing" with leather accessories. Their lack of leather knowledge and traditional techniques, has produced flimsy, impractical pieces that soon deterioate and disappoint.
Authentic leather pieces, made using traditional artisan techniques improve in look and patina over time and with proper care can last a lifetime.
Left: Compact ladies wallet with stainless steel nameplate
Middle: Aircraft logbook with rock embossed cover and embossed pilots wings
Rigjt: Notebook cover with custom laser engraving and locking pen holders & portfolio with stainless steel nameplate
How did I start?
It started when my Nick, showed me the leather pilot logbook cover he'd bought over 30 years ago, when he first learned to fly. It had been an expensive purchase then, but then so was training for his commercial pilots licence. Made to order from hand dyed leather, the brown leather cover was thick and robust. While its machine stitching was showing signs signs of wear, over time it had moulded to his logbook and developed a beautiful, aged patina.
Nick's original logbook cover (left), the first logbook cover I designed and made for him (right)
Having filled up 3 aviation authority logbooks, of varying sizes, Nick wanted a leather cover for his current logbook, and eventually covers for the other two. He wanted something special of the quality of his original cover, but preferably hand sewn. Nothing was available locally or overseas.
Self imposed apprenticeship
I designed my first logbook cover. With no training available in NZ, I negotiated 3 days private tuition at a working tannery in Sydney, and flew there to make the first logbook cover. On return to NZ, I embarked on a self-imposed apprenticeship, researching and practicing time honoured, traditional leatherwork methods including carving, embossing, dyeing, grooving, punching, hand sewing and burnishing.
I've now made over 400 pieces for delighted and complimentary customers in New Zealand and Australia, and have made logbooks for pilots in the US and Hong Kong.
Work in progress photos for hand carved wings and prior to hand dyeing
My designs are aimed at meeting functional needs, particularly for pilots. When asked by a pilot to design a "wallet" to hold a NZ CAA pilot licence and medical certificate, I found other pilots had a similar need, so I designed the piece.
Prompted by customer need, I have also developed optional add-ons to some pieces including pen holders, pilot licence pockets, snap and magnetic tab closures.
Single pen holder (left), NZCAA Licence & Medical Certificate wallets (middle), NZCAA licence poocket (right)
The colours I recommend for various pieces are based on their suitability for the personalisation type (e.g. browns with antique highlights for carving, light colours for laser engraving) and colours I know to work well together. Some customers and I have worked together to try new colour combinations, and we have both been pleased with the outcome.
While I appreciate that some customers seek replacement of a favourite piece, or a reproduction of another's design, I consider this copying and unethical.
With my website, I am now receiving orders from Australia, the UK, UAE and Hong Kong, with the majority from New Zealand.
The word is getting out and orders are increasing. I am improving the Sparrowhawk Leather website to better show the wide range of customisation and personalisation options.
49 Cowan Road
Hunua RD 3
+64 210 229 7102 +64 9 292 4736
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