Tusting, discreet British accessories brand, opens in Tianjin, China
The brand, known for the quality of its leather bags and luggage, counts Britain's Duke and Duchess of Cambridge among its fans
It is a long way from a sleepy Buckinghamshire village to the thrusting dynamism of China's port city of Tianjin.
But a luxury accessories company that positions itself discreetly has chosen Tianjin for its first venture into China. Tusting, which is steeped in British craftsmanship and luxury leather accessories, has built a loyal fan base among discerning consumers in Japan, where they love British heritage brands, so much so that the country represents 40 per cent of its business.
The fact the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge travel with Tusting's handmade calf leather Explorer holdall is a welcome added bonus.
However, China is a bold venture for the brand and the opening of its shop this month in Tianjin's new Kerry Centre could presage a future opening in Shanghai. The crackdown on luxury giving has hit the top end of the accessories business in China. The value of a Louis Vuitton or Hermès bag is familiar to many; however, in the new era of stealth wealth the price tag on a handmade leather tote, folio or weekender from Tusting is known by very few.
For the record, prices range from US$150 to US$1,400. "Luxury English-made and designed products are more popular than ever and very much in demand," says William Tusting, the brand's sales director and co-owner.
The brand is known for its subtlety and quality, crafting leather clutches, bucket bags and totes for women; folios, satchels and briefcases for men, all in either textured or highly polished calf, saddle and bridle leather; and a range of weekend luggage in leather and waxed canvas.
Nearly all of the designs are quaintly named after villages in Buckinghamshire, such as Marston, Buckingham, Melchbourne and Grafton for the men's bags, and Branwell and Kimbolton for the women's totes. Tusting's factory is set in the lush north Buckinghamshire countryside in a village called Lavendon and has been in the same family for five generations.
Scion of the family, William Tusting, thinks their unusual name may originated from Viking, invaders, several centuries ago. The privately owned business, established in 1875, was originally a tannery supplying leather to Northamptonshire's thriving shoemaking business, and still does today. Two generations of the family work there and the business continues to employ craftsmen and women from the local area - which adds to the authenticity of the brand.
Nevertheless, 25 years ago the family decided to introduce their own accessories line and, after more than two decades, some of those early briefcases are still in use, says William Tusting. "They look wonderful, having matured beautifully and acquired the patina and distinctive personality of a classic piece of furniture."
The bestsellers, he says, are the heritage bags such as the Explorer, Weekender, Encounter, Grand Tourer and Gladstone, "which acquire this vintage heirloom feel" that goes down particularly well with their Japanese clients.
The DNA, he explains, is "a thoroughly British identity - classic designs made to serve our contemporary lives, with elegant craftsmanship and yet genuine robustness built in.
"On top of all this, we remain committed to every piece we make and will refurbish and repair them should a well-used item require it, no matter how old," he says.
Over the years Tusting has worked with Ralph Lauren, who knows a thing or two about packaging British heritage for the American consumer; Aston Martin, for whom they have created luggage for their luxury cars; and the high-end men's shoe brand Church's. It also keeps up with contemporary fashion by creating bags for Richard Nicoll's menswear catwalk shows.
Despite such high-profile collaborations Tusting remains largely under the radar - which is how some customers like it.