Meet the Maker | Gary Billingham, Factory Manager, Ettinger

Each week we ‘meet a maker’ from within the Walpole membership, shining a light on the highly skilled craftspeople creating British luxury products and experiences. Today, introducing Gary Billingham, Factory Manager at Ettinger, who describes his journey from pattern maker to factory manager – making over 1,000 different products for his customers along the way.

“I am the Manager for the Ettinger Factory in Walsall, and started working for the company in 1979. My first position was a ‘Clicking press Operative’. This involved learning about every product that we make and knowing what leather and linings must be cut to make each product. With hundreds of products and tools to remember, this is quite a complicated job and you must select the best parts of the leather and make sure that there are no marks, veins or blemishes on any of the parts or shapes of leather that you cut out.

After a few years, I started to become more interested in the art of  ‘Pattern Making’. This is the starting point when you take on an idea or a drawing to create a product and to do this you must know every aspect of the manufacturing process to ensure that it can be made. On a standard billfold wallet, for example, there are around 20/25 patterns to produce all the components required. Over the years I have made over 1,000 different products for our customers, from something as simple as a leather pouch to hold a pencil sharpener, to much more complex designs for wallets and bags.

Whilst I was learning to make the patterns, the company decided that it would be a good idea to learn the other aspects of the manufacturing process and in particular, how to work out how much material goes into each product and how long it takes to manufacture each one so that I can then work out its ideal selling price.

As there are so many different types of leather that we can work with, I have also worked closely with tanneries to learn all the different tanning processes that they use to process the skins and have had to select skins before they were finished to enable us to get the correct quality that we need for our products.  This gives you a unique insight into what leather works best for each product and whether you need a soft or hard leather or even a large whole hide, a side which is half of a whole hide or a small skin.

Once I had mastered these skills, the next step was to become a ‘Production Manager’ who oversees the production of all orders in the factory and speaks to customers on both a production and sales level and orders all the materials needed to produce the orders.

Now that I am the Factory Manager, I still do all the above but am also responsible for the day-to-day running of the factory which these days includes a lot of paper work as we increasingly get asked by customers for documents on the materials we buy.

The thing I enjoy most about my job is creating new products. I like the interaction with customers when they are starting new projects and then making the patterns and samples and finally, when these products are being sold all over the world, it is a great feeling knowing that you were there at the start of the process.”

Find out more: