Mackenzie’s Untold StoryKatrina Rose Ellis-Borghino
MacKenzie Leather – Our Story
When Simon Harvey-Potts graduated from a degree in film and photography, he decided, like most students who find themselves on the edge of the real world, to travel. And as the cliche of discovery would suggest, he did return with a new, enduring passion. Just how much did he find? No one could have anticipated the chance career path that would one day lead to a thriving, time-honoured business.
One thing we’re sure to tell our customers is the long life they can expect from their goods. Our motto, if you will, is that Mackenzie leather ‘lasts a lifetime, reflecting yours‘. It’s something we pride ourselves on, knowing that each individual piece handcrafted in our workshop will leave in the hands of someone who’s story will be told – every crease, each scratch or dent – these imprints mark not only the history or the age of the product, but the life lived by the character who carries it.
Our products share the stories of each of the lives of our customers all across the globe today.
We thought it about time to tell our tale…
Excelling in art at school and very keen on craft throughout childhood, Simon knew that his future would be creative. It was during his visit to Spain, in particular Andalucía and Granada, that determined his path. When he came across local leather artisans and found himself extremely impressed by their craftwork, knowledge and skill, the Spanish craftsmen were generous with their knowledge and expertise. They gave Simon his first tools and showed him basic techniques, also pointing him in the direction of where to buy the best leather hides. It was simple, traditional-style leatherwork, just hand stitching and carving, but he quickly discovered a real passion for the trade and fell very much in love. He soaked up as much knowledge (and sun) as he could whilst creating simple designs. Simon found that he could sell his own leather products in local markets, offering him the opportunity to continue his European adventure through Spain, France and Italy, all whilst working on his new obsession.
On his return to Edinburgh, Simon began to really hone in on his craft, selling more of his work in more local markets. This way of living and working with leather was of course enjoyable, but Simon knew it could only ever be a certain level of support. Like a true merchant, he wanted more.
A friend, Tom Hirons, a magnificent writer and storyteller between other skills, was working in Mackenzie Leather. After a position in the workshop had become available, Simon approached the team after gentle encouragement from Tom. At the time he was already very passionate about finding and building his own business, so he took up a part time post that opened the door to a whole new level of leatherwork. Having an existing confidence with the hide gave Simon a strong advantage. From Tom he learned how to make a Belt, Sporran and Book Bag, and in time the Briefcase, with each design offering the required techniques and knowledge to utilise across a whole range of goods. Over the next few years Simon studied the many Mackenzie styles, gained experience running the workshop and of course, continued to practice his skill.
In 2007, Simon applied to “The Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust”, presided by The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay. Still a young entrepreneur at 25 years old, his next opportunity and step up the ladder came supported by this distinguished Trust. He was granted enough money to acquire the tools needed for running his own leather workshops, which he began alongside continuing to produce and sell his own name leather goods, and a healthy number of part time hours for Mackenzie.
This gave rise to a wonderful opportunity to organise and facilitate leather workshops in different parts of the UK, teaching small groups of people the tools of the trade. Simon ran these workshops throughout the years, often teaching fully booked classes of up to 12 participants, of whom some would go on to create incredible pieces of leather craft. One individual who was particularly inspired by attending one of the weekend courses has since taken up the profession, and now works for an established company in the North East of England.
Here’s the story of leather worker Robert Ford, inspired by Simon Harvey-Potts…
During this time Mackenzie’s owners, Andrew and Jill Leggatt, were navigating economic challenges. Eventually the business moved from its iconic Victoria Street premises, where it operated for many years, to a shop on Dundas St, with the workshop located out of town.
Simon is eternally grateful to Andrew and Jill, who’s consistent offering of support and encouragement shaped his craftsmanship across the years. From his first days in training, to his pursuit of teaching and workshops, to eventually – on the auspicious date of 11th November, 2011 – handing over the reins of the business. As the main maker, Simon’s instilled passion for the name gave the reassurance that he would be the very best person to drive the business forward and keep the heritage of Mackenzie Leather, in Edinburgh.
So Simon bought the business (with a helpful push from his fiancée, Elena, on the opportune date 11/11/11) and eager to preserve the heritage of Mackenzie, he didn’t change the name. He did, however, close the shop in order to take on a studio space, and for the next 5 years used the time to focus on perfecting his craft and his own designs. The business operated purely online, showcasing goods in person at all of the big Scottish shows at Scone Palace, Glamis Castle, Royal Highland Show and the West End.
Eventually the time came to once again house Mackenzie Leather in it’s own independent shop. Keen to hold out for the right location, Simon searched for a long time before finding 17 St Mary’s Street. It was clearly meant for an artisan, with his landlady even stating in his lease that there was to be “no tartan tat”!
In 2017 Mackenzie returned to Edinburgh Old Town, where our historic St Mary’s Street store forms the heart of business today. In a fantastic position, just off the Royal Mile, it’s ideal for tourists and local residents alike. The traditional entrance way opens out into the light and spacious showroom, with a clear view through to our workshop, where visitors can watch our craftsmen at work.
Mackenzie has grown considerably over recent years to become the brand you know today. Simon’s wife, Elena Álvarez, joined as Creative Director, bringing a passion and drive to the company as she paves the way for our traditional roots to thrive in a contemporary future.
The Mackenzie team now in charge of production and day-to-day running of the shop is a close-knit trio – Edward Fernley, Andrew Dunn and Kevin Dwyer. Similarly to Simon, all are learning through hands-on experience, approaching the work from a variety of individual areas of skill to become the latest experts in the field of leather craftsmanship.
Our team also now includes two talented photographers, Julien Borghino and fiancée Katrina Rose Ellis, who together combine their expertise to capture and create fresh, professional content, introducing our historic craft to 21st century means of communication.
With enormous thanks to the appreciation of leather craft and support from a handful of devoted folk, Mackenzie Leather Edinburgh has found it’s home in the modern world. Honoured to be independent purveyors of truly skilled craftsmanship, our personal trade has been defined over decades of labour and love to land us here today – continuing our traditional craft of fine leather goods, during an historic moment in time.
So there it is, our untold story so far… now published.
Here’s to the next chapter!
The Mackenzie Team
(L-R) Andrew Dunn, Kevin Dwyer, Ed Fernley, Elena Álvarez, Simon Harvey-Potts, Katrina Rose Ellis and Julien Borghino