Lancaster-based manufacturer Tinbox Angel makes luxury leather handbags and quality accessories. Demand for products has meant owner Amanda Gallagher has had to find new ways to ramp up production without losing authenticity.
Tinbox Angel was established in 2014 after founder Amanda Gallagher inherited her mother’s old sewing machine which ignited a passion for sewing. The business started life in Amanda’s home workshop where she made fabric accessories such as aprons and peg bags but three years ago Amanda moved into leather bags and accessories.
The demand for bags and quick turnaround time has led to Amanda investing in new equipment to take her business ‘to the next level.’
Amanda speaks to the Hub about how the Manufacturing Growth Fund helped the company to increase production by assisting with the purchase of key machinery.
I didn’t know how to thread a sewing machine or even use one
We make everything from scratch at our workshop here in Lancaster. This is why we are unique because everything is handcrafted. When I get the hide, I open it up and cut the pattern out and then make my products.
I started the business six years ago, as my children were getting older and I wanted a new hobby. I had worked in recruitment since leaving school and started a business with my husband. But when the children came along, I was lucky enough to give that up and become a stay-at-home mum as my husband carried on with the business.
As the children grew older, they didn’t need me as much, which left me with spare time to pursue other interests. My mum had left me her old sewing machine. I didn’t know how to thread a machine or even use one. A group of friends used to meet for lunch and sew so I joined them and instantly got the sewing bug, and I guess I had the time to nurture that new passion.
I started off with a workshop at home, making fabric products from peg bags to aprons and this kept me full and busy. I then moved to leather, because every time I made a bag it would sell out quickly. There was a demand for the products and I could see the potential of this turning into a growing business.
I knew early on that I was at capacity, so I had to make the decision to somehow produce more
I attended several leather courses and learnt so much about leather. I started making leather products, which include handbags, shoulder bags and messenger bags as well as gift items. Most of the products are aimed at women, but Tinbox Angel also caters for men too.
As the business grew, I moved out of the workshop at home to one in town. This allowed for more space but, also customers can – when COVID restrictions permit – come in and have a look too.
I knew early on that I was at capacity, so I had to make the decision to somehow produce more. My market was there, but I was losing business because people wanted items quicker.
In the meantime time, my husband’s business closed and I became the breadwinner, so we had to make it work.
A year ago, I went along to the Growing Club makers event organised by Boost; Lancashire’s Business Growth Hub. That’s where I met Steve Wilkinson, Manufacturing Advisor from the Lancashire Manufacturing Growth Fund.
He did a presentation on the range of services available for businesses, but I always thought such services were aimed at bigger companies and not for micro enterprises like mine. But I found it interesting and a few weeks later I gave Steve a call, and we started talking about how I could grow the business.
When COVID-19 hit, we decided we could either slide down or use the time to look at moving the business forward – and that’s what I did. I got back in touch with Steve and got things moving.
We applied for a grant to buy new equipment. Steve helped us throughout this process, as he could see my vision and how we could adopt to new production techniques. We were provided with a £4,688 grant which we matched to buy a laser cutter to produce complex shapes in leather quickly, efficiently, and accurately as well as a clicker press and embosser.
The new equipment has not only allowed me to make products faster, but it has taken the products to the next level; there is also uniformity which I didn’t have before.
While I concentrate on the production, my husband has joined me full time and helps with all aspects of the business including the marketing. We sell online through our website and we also have an Etsy shop.
When things go back to ‘normal’ we plan to hold workshops
As the business is growing, we are also targeting new customers including those in the corporate market. We have recently supplied our first corporate order for a local hotelier who wanted to thank his staff for their hard work through the pandemic. We made him a range of personalised bags for 30 staff.
We see the corporate market as a strong revenue driver and we couldn’t have done this without the new equipment.
As a result, we have also seen our turnover double since increasing our production which has given us greater confidence for 2021.
I have also completed a teaching course, and when things go back to ‘normal’ we plan to hold workshops, which means recruiting another member of staff to help with the sewing.
I now know there is help available, even for small businesses like ours, and this makes a huge difference when you are trying to build and grow a business.
The Manufacturing Growth Fund is looking to support new projects with manufacturers across the North West. If you have a new project valued up to £24,999 it will contribute a grant of 36%. For more information visit https://www.manufacturingnorthwest.com/