Peter Sipiano

Peter came to the UK in 1969 and spent a few months at school, before being able to officially leave aged 14.5 years old. A few months later, he started work at a nearby handbag factory responsible for bench work – prepping the materials ready for use to make bags. After a year of this, he moved on to riveting, turning the basic bag inside out ready for dressing with accessories.

He moved company and as his bench work became more sophisticated, Peter's new employers were keen for him to develop new skills in cutting and making patterns. He went to college to learn about these areas and soon realised what he lacked as a creative designer, he more than compensated with his abilities as a pattern-maker.

Within 10 years, Peter was regarded as one of the best bag pattern-makers in the country. He headed up the work for the UK's leading stores and major high street chains (Debenhams, Boots, Salisbury, etc). Throughout the 1980s, manufacturing was also moving abroad to enable retailers to keep fashionable bags and accessories accessible and affordable for the general British public.

Working with global suppliers helped Peter develop another fundamental skill in the bag business – budgeting and planning for volume orders abroad. While manufacturing costs were far cheaper in Eastern Europe, the Middle and Far East, timelines were now far longer. It created new challenges too, as the samples Peter and his team made were sent to factories around the world where he could no longer directly brief and supervise the work. Added to this were language and cultural differences. Peter overcame all these, perfecting the art of instructing suppliers worldwide, ensuring they frequently produced faultless bags on time and within budget.

Just over 10 years ago, Peter was headhunted by Gina Shoes to become their Head of Handbags, helping them to grow into one of the UK's most successful fashion brands. Since 2010, he has worked as a consultant to various brands and designers.

In 1997, as part of his determination to keep the traditional skills of bag making alive in the UK, Peter started to teach at Cordwainers College, which later became part of London College of Fashion. The college has its origins in East London's Leather Trades School and the most highly skilled leather workers were called 'Cordwainers', derived from being able to expertly handle the soft, durable goatskin leather known as Cordwain (the finest leather available) that came from Cordoba in Spain.

Peter remains committed to developing new British talent and is currently setting up a centre to continue to teach the art and craft of making beautiful handmade bags.