Last week I visited up-market luggage brand Chapman Bags. Based in an unassuming industrial estate on the outskirts of Carlisle, its very ordinary country location ‘oop north’ belies it’s ever-increasing celebrity following.
Members of the royal family and many politicians over the years have been photographed carrying a stylish Chapman bag, not to mention a whole host of other manly celebrities including seasoned telly traveller Michael Palin, Roger Moore and the uber-talented actor Damien Lewis. Not surprisingly the brand’s focus has historically been on mainly male, field sports lovers. More recently however, Chapman has branched out and expanded their ladies range – a sophisticated collection of canvas/leather bags aimed at the lady-about-country.
Chapman’s owner Dan Charmier took over the company 10 yeas ago. Passionate about reinvesting in British manufacturing he has proudly stayed true to the brand’s roots and remained Cumbria-based. Although the company now boasts a London-based showroom, the design and manufacture remains steadfastly Cumbrian and is now 4 times the size since taking it over from the original Chapman family. Keen to push the brand’s Cumbrian roots, Dan has struck up partnerships locally with the likes of Herdwick (those gorgeous tweed bags) and more recently, adopted Michelin-starred chef Kevin Tickle as its brand ambassador. Sporting a rather stylish ‘foraging’ bag, The Forest Side’s Head Chef has added even more gravitas to the label’s country trend.
Walking round the factory with Dan I am struck by how slick the whole operation is. Separated into distinct areas where each individual process of the manufacturing takes place, the teams of cutters and sewers work seamlessly (no pun intended) together to create each Chapman piece.
The quality of the end-product owes itself to a neat operation of individuals who are obviously very skilled at what they do. With prices ranging from £150 for a fishing bag to around £300 for rucksacks and holdalls, I think the brand is very reasonably priced. Obviously the more leather included in the design, the higher the price but even then, you’d be hard-pushed to find a better quality piece of luggage in the designer marketplace. Just goes to show how much money is spent on the whole marketing and shopfront shebang with other mainstream brands.
A Londoner at heart, Dan makes the journey up to his beloved factory at least once a week. When quizzed about his opinions on the ‘grim north’ he has only positives to say, in particular regarding Carlisle and the surrounding Eden Valley. He has found a second home in The Blacksmith’s Arms at Talkin which he says quite simply offers good beer and great people. During the summer months he walks up the fell behind the back of the pub to take in the beauty of the valley below. “A breathtaking view”, he tells me, “and the perfect antidote to London living.” Well, us hardy Cumbrian folk wholeheartedly agree… of course.