Manitoba designer Adam French creates hide-to-handbag haute couture
French creates Adan Ballou line of luxury leather accessories from his base in Forrest, Man.
The term "farm to table" could find its fashion-world equivalent in Adam French's "hide to handbag" approach to designing luxury leather accessories from his home in western Manitoba.
From sourcing and, in some cases, preparing animal hides, to tanning the leather and stitching pieces together, French is fully involved in creating the handbags in his Adan Ballou line of accessories — "Adan" being the Spanish form of "Adam" and "Ballou" being his great-grandmother's maiden name — from his base in Forrest, north of Brandon.
His products sell for hundreds of dollars to upwards of $1,000, as they are all hand-crafted using sustainable methods such as vegetable tanning, which uses no caustic chemicals. The handbags are sold online and in select boutiques, including Lennard Taylor in Winnipeg's Exchange District.
"Some designs I go and I'll buy the leather. I'll use exclusively vegetable-tanned leather because it is much easier on the environment and much easier to use," French said.
"But there are some designs that I make all the way from the ground up, as in I've been experimenting with leather tanning for a number of years, and I cast my own hardware out of recycled brass, and even the lining in some cases is entirely handmade."
French is among more than 100 Manitobans nominated by their peers, friends and families for CBC's #IamMB project, which is sharing the stories of people who have shaped our province's past, lead us in the present or will create our future.
French, a former IT professional who worked in several Canadian cities before moving home to Manitoba, said he's been creative for as long as he can remember, whether he was making something or solving a problem.
"So being creative with fashion stuff, it was just kind of a natural extension, really; I just always made stuff," he said.
A desire for a new motorcycle seat launched his journey into the world of leather accessory-making.
"I never actually finished making that motorcycle seat, but yes, that was the original intention," he said.
"I was looking at my motorcycle and I thought, 'What can I do for this thing?' and I said, 'Well, I can make myself a seat.' I was in Calgary at the time, so I went down to Tandy Leather and I spent a lot of time in there, and that was the beginning of it for me."
French's attention to detail and his passion for hand-crafted production have drawn notice in the luxury accessory world.
The Windows and Doorways collection, which he designed with the Abury Design Experience, was a finalist in the most socially responsible handbag category in the 2017 Independent Handbag Designer Awards, which were handed out in New York City earlier this month.
When asked about his style, French cited Spanish and North American influences.
"I try to focus on three different things when I'm designing: it's got to be pretty, it's got to be beautiful. And it has to be ethical, it has to make sense, it has to be wise. And then it has to be strong, it has to be put together in a way that can last for years and years and years."
He added that his Prairie roots have certainly played a role in his esthetic sense.
"I'm from Brandon, Man. I don't know how many Royal Manitoba Winter Fairs I've gone to," he said. "Of course there's going to be some inspiration."