Made in Devon: Will Bees’ bespoke bags and pouches come in over 500 fabric styles
PUBLISHED: 12:43 03 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:55 06 July 2020
The man behind outdoor fashion brand Quba launches a collaboration with the former fabric designer of Libertys
Creativity is in the blood, coursing through the veins of people who are able to make and fashion wonderful things out of less impressive effects.
This county has plenty of these folk dotted about the wonderful landscape and Will Bees is one such person.
Having always possessed a creative nature, Will has built an impressive career and his own bespoke handbag business with the Devon coastline as part of his inspiration.
A true cottage industry, Will Bees Bespoke was born from a hobby in the designer’s home study in Salcombe, where he grew up and his heart lies.
“I’ve always had an interest in design but it started with architecture and interior design, and then I fell into clothing. I’ve always wanted to create and make,” Will recalls.
Having launched his own outerwear business, Quba Sails, with a friend in 1996, which produced unique jackets from reclaimed canvas sailcloth, Will then found himself ‘off work’ as a stay-at-home dad, and that is when the creative juices flowed even more.
He explains: “I had a brief period of a couple of years as a house husband because my wife works. I had an office and sewing machine at home and I wanted to do something creative.
“I just did loads of research whilst I wasn’t looking after the kids - and that’s a long time to research - and I kept coming back to this same idea, which was the multiple use of fabrics, limited styles and everything personalised.
“And over the period of that two years that I was lucky enough to have off - well, have ‘off’ in inverted commas as childcare is harder than work - I just kept coming back to that idea.
“In the office at home we made up bags and samples and, as we made it up and it turned into a physical product, it became obvious to me that there was a commercial element to this as well. That is when the opportunity to get Island Street arose.”
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Island Street is home to the Will Bees Bespoke workshop and retail space, housed in an old boat shed in the sought-after town.
With the front of the shop being both shop and workshop, the back opens up onto a slipway and then the water – it is the perfect backdrop for vintage craftsmanship using the finest materials. This little boat shed is where everything happens, from the making and designing to the selling.
“Initially, it was meant to be only for a couple of hours in between dropping the kids off [to school] and picking them up,” says Will. “It was meant to be a hobby where I could open a front door and occupy my mind for a couple of hours. But the hobby turned into a job because we were lucky enough that people wanted to buy the product.
“Interestingly, we started by placing what I thought at the time was a relatively large order with a UK manufacturer before we started making everything ourselves. But we sold out of the smaller products - the pouch and the mini pouch - because we ordered enough to last us from August to December, and we basically sold out within three or four weeks. It all just went at such a rate. It was meant to last about six months and it lasted only a few weeks.”
Handcrafted using traditional techniques, the beautiful bespoke bags and accessories - many adorning the signature bee design - come in a range of styles, using over 500 fabrics and two types of vegetable-tanned leather. Each accessory is custom made and personalised for the customer with their name or initials by embossing.
“Our products are virtually unique,” says Will. “We only use top quality textiles - linens, tweeds, plain, patterned, striped, checked - and luxurious natural vegetable-tan leathers. All our suppliers are UK-based and, most importantly, everything is handcrafted in England using traditional techniques.”
So, what does Will Bees love so much about Salcombe and why has it kept him here for so many years?
“I like the access to the water, that’s what does it for me,” he says. “The use of the boat, the beaches, where we can get to where people probably aren’t. The cliff walks, looking at the sea is what keeps me invigorated. My days off revolve around children really so, what were old hobbies of windsurfing and surfing, are now building sandcastles and jumping off the back of the boat in wetsuits with kids.”
NEW RANGE WITH EMMA MAWSTON
Will Bees has joined together with well-known designer Emma Mawston to create an exciting brand new range. Emma is the former head of design for Liberty Art Fabrics Interiors, part of the iconic London designer department store Liberty, which produces its own luxury fabrics. Now a freelance, she has teamed up with Will for this new project.
Visiting National Trust sites across Devon and Cornwall, Emma has spent time drawing bee-friendly flowers which has been used to produce the new flower-and-bee-style fabric for this exquisite range.
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