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Farrer & Co | An interview with Robert Ettinger

You entered the family business, Ettinger, in 1980 and became managing director of the company in 1995, taking over the reins from your father. Over that time, what have been the biggest changes to the luxury leather goods market?

For us over this period of time, it was focusing on the continued development of the brand. This was my focus from almost day one. I wanted to satisfy a number of prerequisites which I felt were essential to be in place for the brand's success. These included developing further our UK production, guaranteeing both the highest standards and supply, the Royal Warrant, developing our design and marketing teams and expanding overseas. The biggest changes have been the opening and growth of new markets and in particular China....a market that needs a lot of thought and attention as it is so different from any other market in the world.

What do you think are the greatest challenges that Ettinger and other luxury leather goods brands face today?

For those of us who wholesale, one of the challenges is controlling retailing both on and off line. It is very important for us all to be sold in the right environment and at the correct retail price. Another challenge is of course IPP (International Property Protection) which is essential but also costly, time consuming and frustrating at times.

Ettinger was founded by your grandfather, in 1934. Heritage is a hallmark of the Ettinger brand but what else do you think sets the brand apart from others?

Heritage is of course very important but actually it is the amalgamation of a number of factors; our Britishness in both design and making; our Royal Warrant; our UK factory and its history; our family business and its ethics and beliefs; and our staff's dedication, skill and application that set us apart.

In 1996, Ettinger was granted a Royal Warrant to HRH The Prince of Wales. How seminal was this moment to your company’s success?

This was indeed a seminal moment particularly on the international stage as it signified quality, respect and trust. There is amazing respect for our Royal family and if they felt our products were of a quality that they would buy, then the rest of the world is confident to do so also.

Ettinger has produced its goods in England since the 1950s, first in London and now in Walsall. Given the importance now placed on provenance and ethics in the luxury sector, how important to you is it that Ettinger goods are produced in Britain?

We could not manage without our factory; it is integral and essential to us, from the design to the making of product. Techniques have been passed down from generation to generation and developed from the days of making saddlery and carriage harnesses within the context of developing British fashion. Many of our products are a modern take on an historic article. However, we also do much to foster our fast dying skills and trades in this country. Our staff receives appropriate remuneration and we do our best to operate in a fair and ethical manner. We are mindful of our impact on the environment and ensure that our staff has a safe, clean environment. Something that could prove difficult to do in other parts of the world.

Ettinger is often described as ‘quintessentially British’. What does British luxury mean to you?

It is really hard to define but it is a certain look, a certain difference that has come about over the long history of British fashion, British art and also from our heritage skills and trades.

Ettinger opened its first directly managed store in Tokyo in 2010. Why did you choose Japan for the launch?

Japanese people tend to be very discerning; they have a keen eye for detail and a great respect for a beautifully made product and how it is presented. They like British heritage and respect and trust the Royal Warrant. Therefore in Japan, as we had all the prerequisites for success, it appeared the obvious place to start.

What’s next for Ettinger?

These are difficult, challenging but exciting times particularly with Brexit looming large and all the uncertainly particularly in respect of trade agreements. We are currently forging ahead in a number of countries and at home, further developing our own website and social media and also cautiously entering China. At the same time we are working closely with the factory and our designers on new product ranges.

You mentor young people through the Prince’s Trust and Walpole Crafted. What advice would you give someone entering the British luxury space now?

You may be a really talented artisan and there is amazing demand and market for something personal, authentic and different but you still must formulate a very stringent business plan. Some of our most gifted and skilled young people often find this side of their business so very hard to do.

If you require further information about anything covered in this interview, please contact Oliver Lock, or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Farrer & Co LLP, February 2019

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