When a brand starts with a handcrafted leather piece made solely to express its affection, the future is bright. How’s that for custom-made?
The creative mind behind ESDE bags is driven by personal experience, which takes the form of a wild & romantic upbringing in East Germany. Each product tells a story and you can practically feel the passion behind their handcrafted pieces as soon as you touch them.
We sat down with Ronny Schröder, founder & designer, to talk about the brand’s birth & evolution — and the custom-made leather pieces they keep producing.
Get comfy, dive in, and get into our chat about sustainability, experimentation, craftsmanship, and, of course, leather.
The brand clearly has a deep and personal relationship with leather as its primary material. Have you always been creatively attached to this medium?
Yeah, it all started with another infatuation designing classy Scandinavian fisher knives, all made with natural materials and traditional techniques that are more than 500 years old.
I needed to make some shelves for the knives and I touched some veg tanned cowhides for the first time, and I was totally blown away with what you can do with the material.
You could mold it, sew, cut, burn, laser, coat, etc. And then the inspiration came to make bags. Not just small or merely good bags (like everyone else’s), but the most beautiful bags which I would love to find in one of my favorite stores.
You said about the brand’s work process: “we decided to make it a bit more difficult for us.” What sets your creative process apart from the others? And why is it worth it?
That’s a tough one. First of all, I wouldn’t say that I’m better or anything, it’s just how I personally define the perfect leather piece! What I usually do is I get kind of fanatic about everything I’m obsessed with, I try to look at it from every angle.
For me, that means I studied all kinds of different leather techniques from all over the world and throughout history.
Obviously, I’m obsessed with the past, even though I love fresh technical stuff. To come back to your question, every time I try to create something easy and simple it gets even more complicated, and my biggest problem is that I can’t accept compromises. And that’s the reason why I never thought about finding someone else who could produce our stuff, because I can’t accept it if somebody wouldn’t be able to correctly. Maybe that sets us apart.
The handmade nature of Esde bags defines the brand’s identity. How do you apply that kind of craftsmanship to other parts of your life?
I can’t separate that aspect from the rest of my life, I’m nerdy by nature! I bake and cook like crazy, and if you asked any of my friends about my relationship with bread, they would roll their eyes. You know, basically my whole life comes from a flea market, I own all kinds of antique furniture and I mean like 1920s and earlier. And yeah, every single thing in my apartment will tell you a story about craftsmanship. My first son Karl was able to use scissors before he could speak. Maybe that defines us :)
It’s clear you’re not afraid to experiment with leather and the creative process. How will you continue to push the boundaries of such a classic material?
That’s the best part for anyone who creates, there are no real boundaries aside from the ones in your head. Of course, a bag should be able to carry things, if not it’s a failure. But I like working with the same material and that starts to change the surfaces, structure or color. Sometimes it’s really great to limit the material you use and push yourself to make something totally different out of it.
You describe leather as a living material with specific needs. How is your limited team of creators selected to fill those needs?
We’re just two people, but I would say we’re as effective as at least three or four. Vanessa is simply the perfect match for me. She is an unbelievably skilled creator, but also her self-management is beyond everything I could do. She is the best young leather-worker in our region, she even got a certification to prove it. She handles all the production lines and tells me exactly what I need to do in production. I normally work on all the new pieces and all kinds of social media content. We do everything on our own, including photography and videography.
How would you define sustainability? And what role does it play in your process?
If you have the ability to name who produced even the smallest detail of a product then you are on the right track, and that’s what we do. I could tell you everything. We produce everything in-house to take care of every part of the process. We even print our hang tags on a 100-year-old Tiegel press through one of my friends.
How different is “an inevitable necessity” from a simple accessory? What defines this difference?
This is mostly my way of saying that form follows function, everything works and everything makes sense. I’m not really fashionable. Every rivet, every zipper, and every kind of decor has an idea and a purpose.
How do you see Esde bags today in comparison to when they were first produced?
I have a 100sqm studio instead of operating out of my living room. I have more machines and materials, but it’s still the same, and you know why — cause I love how it is. Of course, we have some stockiest but the idea is the same, as well as the crafting. Only the goals have changed a bit, I always wanted to be in L’Éclaireur, now we need to make new goals.
What impact do you envision for your latest project, Fuck Off Corona Collection? How is your audience meant to think and feel in response?
#FCKFCRNA is my battle cry against giving up in these difficult times. I just realized that we need to reset everything and now is the perfect time for real creativity, because it’s possible to make whatever we want. So, I ordered some insanely nice old stock skins and started to sell one-of-a-kinds, pushing out new models every week.
I want my audience to understand that, even though we’re still scared and confused, we’re also fully packed with motivation and optimism. As long as we have leather, we’ll keep creating.
FILM \ PEOPLEGRAPHER
PORTRAITS \ ESDE BAGS