With her in-depth knowledge of hunting and leather, Annette Ripheden and her colleagues at Ribes Leather are the perfect suppliers for Fjällräven’s leather hunting accessories. These products are lovingly made by hand from vegetable-tanned leather in a converted barn on the island of Öland in southern Sweden.
Out in the fields sheep can be heard but they quieten down when Nisse the dog barks as the door opens. The distinct smell of leather rushes out to greet me, and the noise of the punching machine further inside the building stops. Annette Ripheden tells Nisse to keep quiet at the same time as she leaves her workstation to come and welcome me. Her handshake is firm and she speaks with a broad Småland dialect.
“This little terrier doesn’t look like much, but he is only two years old and already a loyal partner when we are out hunting. Quite a number of foxes and badgers have left this earth due to his persistent digging in the Öland sand,” says a proud hunter and dog owner.
We walk through to the factory where finished products are hanging on stands against the walls, while works in progress are on the tables waiting for the next step in their production. Large hides can also be seen waiting in turn. The old converted barn is filled with tools and machinery.
Annette has spent all her life with leather. Already as a three-year-old girl she braided her first straps in her parents Bengt and Ulla-Britt’s workshop. Her father Bengt, who had earlier worked in the glass industry in Småland, moved his leather company to Öland in 1977. When he retired in 2008, Annette took over the business. Traditions and knowledge live on, even if the factory has moved a little further north, to the farm in Tävelsrum.
“I thought it would be such a shame if all mum and dad’s knowledge disappeared when they retired, and I have always liked handcrafts and leather as a material,” says Annette who is now responsible for all production along with her two employees.
A lot of her relationship with leather came about through hunting. Both Annette and her husband Anders are devoted hunters and in the little factory store you can buy beautiful wallets, belts, aprons, ammunition bags and gun straps. These are products that can handle a lot of use, for years and years of both everyday life and leisure time. The barren Öland landscape places tough demands on both hunters and products.
“It is always windy here, the weather is terrible," says Annette who isn’t shy to mention the good and the bad about her home island.
But she knows that leather can stand up to this kind of adversity. Your bag or belt has to be able to work in rain and wind, and also in sun and summer heat, year after year. Annette’s experience of nature’s fickle effects on her products is taken into account when they are being made.
"Leather is a living material and you have to be able to ‘read’ it to be able to make good products. There is a grain in leather that you have to take into account, otherwise what you are making will take on another shape from the one you had planned. Handcrafts are a lot about the feel of the raw product, it is hard to describe it in any other way.”
Instinct is important here, you can feel it in the air of the factory. Even if some tools and machines are needed, there is always a person watching over every step of the process. The punching machine punches out parts and details from the large hides, one by one. They are all inspected before being approved. They are cut, glued and put together by skilful fingers. Then they are off to a sewing machine where the same skilful fingers sew them together, bevel their edges and then smooth out their creases. The ends of threads are burnt off over a candle’s flame. Text and arctic fox logos are burnt in. Edges are sealed. Hands and eyes are constantly checking that everything is up to standard.
Even if a number of bags all look the same at a distance, up close you can see small differences in the details. They are not exact copies of each other at all.
“On one hide you might find small scars and marks where the cow has scraped itself perhaps, and somehow got a sore that then healed. Every hide has its own soul and its own story. This gives a special feeling to every product.”
Their individual characters are strengthened even more when the finished products are used. Every scar has a story and ammunition bags, belts and gun straps just get more stories to tell as time goes by. The products aren't just practical, they also record history for the hunters that use them. They become faithful friends with scars and distinct characteristics, that just get more beautiful with age.
Facts on Leather
Belts, ammunition bags, bird straps and gun straps are all made by hand from carefully selected leather by Ribes Leather.
The leather that is used for Fjällräven’s leather products is a by-product of the food industry and is primarily from cattle. All leather is vegetable tanned (the process when the animal hide is processed, softened and made durable) using the tanning agent found in bark. Absolutely no chromes or heavy metals are used in the process.
How to take care of your leather products
Leather is a natural material and vegetable-tanned leather should be treated with a natural leather oil/conditioner to keep it flexible and strong and to ensure it ages beautifully. Due to being exposed to sun and wind, light leather will darken and dark leather will lighten in colour. This is a natural process that no one can do anything about.
Warm, dry air can dry leather out if it isn’t treated regularly, and when really wet leather has dried it should be treated with leather oil.
• Wipe off any dirt with a clean, damp sponge or cloth. You can also use a special leather-cleaning product if the dirt is difficult to remove. Just remember to use as little as possible.
• After cleaning the leather it is important to use a natural transparent or colourless leather oil/conditioner. The fats in the oil/conditioner will impregnate the leather and protect it from getting wet and dirty. Use natural oils for leather without strong chemical agents, and apply it to the outside, just like you would with a pair of shoes.