leather artisan – with a unique ‘Know How’
Who knows any facts about the job of a 'bag maker'? It is or was a craft profession with a long tradition in Germany.
Daniela also did not know the craft profession when she was looking for an apprenticeship in her early 20s. Today she is one of the few artisan masters who practices this craft in her own workshop. You are welcome to visit Daniela in her studio in Frankfurt. Upon entering, you notice the smell of finely tanned leather and the natural colour palette. And when Daniela talks about her handmade bags, you can immediately sense her enthusiasm for her craft. Her thought-out designs show her well acquired artisan knowledge and ‘Know How’.
Daniela’s handmade bags are …?
Most of all purely handcrafted with a unique style. Daniela describes her bags as reduced, feminine soft and timeless, suitable for ‘everyday use’. Her handbags should become one’s personal favorite, like a clothing piece.
“I still have bags in my collection that I designed 25 years ago. The bulbous but elegant shape is a special design feature with my personal favorite. An absolute all-rounder and the design fit many activities. After work, you can buy a few groceries, put them in your bag and cycle home. I have designed the straps in such a way that they can be easily adjusted. Due to the soft nubuck leather, the shape collapses nicely and looks elegant even with little content- ideal for an evening event. This is my ‘one bag fits all activities’ philosophy.”
The fine natural color tones can be harmoniously mixed with many clothing colors. Warm stone tones, beige shades, natural hues, and delicate brown tones are her basic color range. But sometimes Daniela chooses a soft mauve or a powdery yellow for her collection.
Daniela’s customers are …?
Women who have a connection to ‘crafts’. And of course, who appreciate her handmade pieces and thoughtful design. Therefore, they know that the price of her bags reflects the knowledge and many handcrafted working hours which go into one unique bag.
“Some of my customers have a precise idea of ‘their’ wish bag. They come into my studio, and we talk about all the desired functions. Then I design and make the bag just like this. Often my customers deliberately do not want to follow every fashion trend. Or they are looking for a special color which is not ‘en vogue’ that season. “
‘Slow Fashion’ is not a new trend to Daniela’s customers who are mostly over 30. But younger women also appreciate her craft. This can be seen in ‘best friends’ gifts or ‘I just saved money the past months for ‘my bag’. A thoughful appreciation of her artisan work.
Leather is …?
A stunning natural material. During Daniela’s training the old teachers don’t value leather as such. Unfortunately, they don’t highlight the unique features. Maybe they take things for granted. At this time the leather goods ‘made in Germany’ are still made out of fine leather hides produced by German tanneries. The cheaper and sometimes hazardous leather from India or China enter the market at a later stage.
“It was and is always important to me to make the creative process and the choice of materials transparent. I would like to pass my appreciation of the material to my customers. To me it is important to explain that the full utilization of the animal takes place if the skin is also used. My suppliers from Germany or Italy make it very easy for me. They provide the following information: ‘Where was the leather hide tanned and processed? Is the hide from Germany or another European country? Which colours and tanning agents were used? Which ‘finish’ was applied?!”
‘Hand or head work?! – What suits me?
This is not just a problem of today’s young generation. Daniela is also torn back and forth after her high school degree. Firstly she goes through an internship with an advertising agency and afterwaerd starts her BA in ‘Marketing’. But she is not emotionally attached to her studies. She remembers the fun times she had with her grandma, a seamstress, learning the basics of the craft. Already as a teenager she designs her first small fashion designs.
“At the age of 21, I finally decided I wanted to be a seamstress. At that time, the traditional German craftmanship education was no longer seen as a good career path. When I left the university I couldn’t find an apprentice placement. Luckily a friend who studied at the Design University in Offenbach gave me a tip. Many companies there are doing sewing work – not with fabrics but with leather. When I called the German ‘Leather Goods Association’ and asked if there were still training places open for ‘sewing’ – they didn’t know which job I was enquiring about. Finally: Oh! You want to become a ‘bag maker’ (Täschnerin)! So, that was the first time I heard the old-fashioned craft name. 4 weeks later I started as an apprentice at a samll company.”
German Craftmanship educuation
FYI: The traditional German craftmanship educations is a 3-year ‘dual system’ training. 3 days per week the students learn all their practical skills while working in a company. The day-to-day work is part of the training. The rest of the week the apprentice attends a Craftmanship College. Classes like technical drawing, material science, and other subjects guarantee a profound knowledge next to handcraft skills. At the end the students have to design and make their unique final Craft object. Showcasing all the skills and knowledge they acquired in the past 3 years.
‘Don’t object – to get to the top, you have to start at the bottom’
How true for Daniela’s apprentice years. There is probably no greater contrast between the relaxed atmosphere in an advertising agency and the structered days in a traditional craft company. Daniela fights her way through the training led by the old master craftsmen. But they have some prejudices against the young woman from the big city! The so called ‘old grey coats’ – the name is linked to their working outfit – as well as the strenuous days in the company give Daniela a difficult time. More than once she is ready to give up. On the other hand the expertise that the old teachers have is absolutely enormous. This fascinates Daniela. There are so many tricks and tricks to create a perfect product such as a briefcase. She is becoming more and more enthusiastic about ‘her’ craft.
Daniela’s ‘Sturm und Drang’ period!
With her affinity for design, Daniela jumps into a self-employment status right after her final examens. Her motivation is very clear: Fun at work – yes! But not in the tight corset of an old-fashioned company. She is lucky or, strictly speaking, her first customer is lucky. Daniela’s design of a small leather series wins the renowned ‘German Leather Goods’ Award. Her advantage – she knows many technical tricks necessary for the production. Until then, the owners of the leather goods company often created the ‘designs’ themselves. Or commissioned an industrial designer to develop a model. But without the craftmanship expertise, many ideas are designed past the high-quality but difficult material: ‘the leather’. Daniela’s strategy ‘Design plus Professional Implementation’ attracts her costumers and she successfully manages her self-employment at a very young age.
‘Hand or head’ work?! – second part!
Even after the birth of her two children in the mid-1990s, Daniela continues to work as a bag maker. Her workshop with the technical equipment is now incorperated in her house. However, she also starts to study ‘Business Economy’ in the evenings. Her consideration is: Do I need a more sustainable and qualified job? The craft profession is not exactly experiencing a renaissance in these years. With her BA, she could work for the Marketing & Sales department of the leather goods companies. But these companies are undergoing structural changes just around that time. The relocation of production to low-wage countries such as India and then China is the new trend. This goes hand in hand with the change in consumer behaviour in Germany. The handbag ‘Made in Germany’ is no longer the status symbol. So the decision between ‘head or hand’ work is taken away from Daniela. Almost all companies in Offenbach, the stronghold for the production of leather goods in Germany, are closing. Just the world-renowned ‘Offenbacher Leather Goods Fair’ lasts a little longer.
Going public! – the shop & studio
In 2004 Daniela finds her workspace in one of Frankfurt’s local districts – ideally located between school and house. Her children can do their homework between leather skins and prototypes and learn many practical things at the same time. In addition to the design and production of her own collection, Daniela always takes on new challenges.
“I have always maintained my industry contacts. There were already few ‘bag makers’ in the 1990s, as the industry trained fewer and fewer people. This is now the advantage of my profession. People who need my expertise will find me! Since quite some time I also do consulting work.”
‘Think outside the box!’ – a working motto
So, Daniela advises a Portuguese leather goods company before the Corona Lockdown. In Portugal, she trains people, optimizes processes, and implements production quality standards. She also enthusiastically accepts requests from designers who want to turn their design ideas into production. Daniela supports them with her professional & artisan knowledge. And she also connects them with small production companies.
“It’s incredibly important to me to think ‘outside my box’. Otherwise, I’ll be stuck in my own cocoon. I am happy to accept challenges. The young students at the Design Universities are not taught any process or craftmanship knowledge. It is the idea & the design that counts there. As I always love the exchange with young people. I happily support them on their project requests. It’s good to pass on my knowledge.”
Maybe it’s also because Daniela often heard from the ‘grey coats’ in her apprentice years: Oh, that’s what you want to try?! We have never made things this way! This has been the process in the past hundred years! Why do you want to change this?! When Daniela quotes this with a put-on Hessian dialect, you realize how formative her education was.
‘Old German craftsmanship’ – without a future?
Daniela implements the designs of ‘her’ costumers with the remaining small craft businesses in Offenbach. But in the last 5 years, a lot of these companies have closed. The ‘finale’ in the Offenbach leather industry is happening. Soon there will no longer be a company that produces leather goods. This is stressful for Daniela when none of the more than 18,000 skilled workers in ‘the golden days’ practice their profession anymore.
“I struggle with that!! Not only the skilled workers disappear but also the technical equipment. That totally limits my work. I needed a specific equipment for a project with a designer. We finally found a company in Vienna, Austria that can manage the production step. Hard to imagine that no company in Germany could do the job. Well, unfortunately this is getting too expensive now. The entire stronghold of the ‘High end leather manufacturing’ area around Offenbach is disappearing. The German leather industry and the artisan knowledge is simply being lost as a cultural asset.”
Appreciation of German Artisan Expertise’ – An Appeal!
“At the end of the 1980s, I observed how the German leather goods industry started to shut down all the production facilities – throughout Germany. That was very painful to watch. But what depresses me in recent years is the realization: the expertise of a very specialized artisan craft will soon be lost! When the last experienced ‘bag maker’ dies, then all his 50 years of experience is simply gone! Then nobody is left who can teach a young person the skills & tricks. I find that very bitter – I wonder why the authorities are not doing anything for the past 30 years”
And the ‘authorities’ is the industry, the politicians, the Chamber of Crafts, the city of Offenbach. Part of our artisan culture, which exists since the Middle Ages, is disappearing. This craft has helped to shape our society and other cultural assets too. People with a wealth of experience cannot pass on their knowledge. The last small companies close their production. Where and how can training still take place? People like Daniela already gained a lot of expertise. But she knows that this is only a percentage of what her old masters ‘the grey coats’ have accumulated in their long years of work. Can this process be stopped at all?
Anmerkung in eigener Sache: Ich werde zu diesem Thema einen Brief an die Handwerkskammer schreiben. Gerne gebe ich euch in einem späteren Artikel ein ‘Update’.
Name: Daniela Damm
Bag Maker Master ‘Täschner Meisterin’ creative craftswoman with passion
Marketing and Sales Economist
She can be found in:
in her precious fine studio in Frankfurt, Germany – nearby the Frankfurt Fair grounds
In the morning a sweet breakfast with tea against thirst and coffee for enjoyment
and a newspaper made of paper and not so much talking.
Walking in any form, running in the countryside in the morning, walks or hikes,
this is pure freedom, in nature or in the urban environment.
rather mountains, rather early bird than owl, open and curious about many things and many places
Madeleine Albright, I would have loved to talk to her.
Her determination and strength, her clarity, her knowledge and wisdom, her desire for influence that brought her to where she was.
at a time when this seemed impossible and all this with great kindness and humor – just great!
Her WIASOLA tip:
“Always keep moving, be open and ready to develop (“develop” I imagine myself figuratively and find it wonderful!”
Her 5 favorite authors:
- John Irving
- Lily Brett
- Isaac Singer
- Robert Seethaler
- Ewald Arenz
Why? I like when life with all its facets and absurdities is told with casualness and sometimes with wit.
To be found under:
ATELIER DANIELA DAMM
FINE LEATHER ARTISAN WORK
+49 178 8097411
Here you can see a few working steps – showing Daniela’s craft expertise