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Michelle Wong

I'm Michelle, an architect by day and leatherworker by night, based in London. Influenced by my background in architecture, each item is carefully designed with an emphasis on simple geometries, clean lines and functionality. 


How did you get started?


After about a year of working in architectural practice, I missed some of the processes that were involved with studying architecture, for example producing hand drawings or making intricate models. In reality, buildings take such a long time to materialise, that often the design process feels quite detached from the craft of making.

This led me to take part in an evening leather craft workshop with traditional saddlery leatherworker Mia Sabel. This introduction to leather working taught me the basic techniques to start experimenting with products at home. I initially started making products for myself and friends, before signing up to my first market in 2017. I still work full time as an architect during the week, but working with leather on the side allows me to explore design and craftsmanship at a (much!) smaller scale, which I really enjoy.


Can you describe your creative practice and processes?


I’d say for me, form follows function (classic architect training there)! A new product always starts with a simple series of sketches followed by a lot of testing and prototyping before I settle on a final design. I’ve found that involving the Instagram community with new products can be incredibly helpful, so I do often run polls to get my follower’s feedback. It’s also a great way to engage with my audience, which often sparks new ideas or opportunities for collaboration.


What have been your most exciting projects to work on? 


I love designing and making custom designs for people, whether it's a bespoke wallet, portfolio case or a 3 year anniversary gift (which is the leather anniversary). Creating new designs for customer's specific requirements is a challenge on many levels - from interpreting the design brief, designing a functional and suitable product, and also tests my skills as a maker! 
Leatherwork is very much an ongoing learning experience for me, largely self taught or through books and YouTube videos. Making new things allows me to explore new techniques that I don’t use with my current range of products.

Where do you find inspiration?


I’m influenced by works of other creatives, whether that's in art, architecture or craft. I find inspiration in going to exhibitions and I'm lucky to live in a culture rich city that allows me to do so. Recent exhibitions that come to mind are Bridget Riley, Anni Albers, Anthony Gormley and Olafur Eliasson. I most enjoy seeing the process behind their work; the insides of sketchbooks, collections of working models and drafts of meticulously worked out geometries.


What do your materials mean to you?


The leather I use is all vegetable tanned, which means it uses natural tannins found in barks, wood and vegetable to convert animal skin into leather. It’s the oldest and most environmentally friendly method of tanning leather. The artisanal process takes weeks, as opposed to chemically processed chrome tanned leather, which takes days.

As a material, vegetable tanned leather ages and changes over time, which is a quality I’ve always admired. This characteristic of vegetable tanned leather means a product will age and form a patina over time that is unique to its owner. I love seeing photos of products as they’ve changed with use, each mark forming a part in the material’s distinctive journey. 

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