From butcher shop to leather craft studio

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By Belinda Willis

Raw red brick walls and the scent of leather surround talented bag creator Sasha Carroll in her old butcher shop studio at Mile End in Adelaide’s inner western suburbs.

“The locals say this was once a really popular continental butcher, it was one of the first in Adelaide making yiros and chorizo sausage,” Sasha says from the studio on a street lined with old workers’ cottages.

Now its interior has beautiful hand crafted leather handbags hanging from the original butcher hooks with sewing machines and stacks of leather scattered around the space below.

Sasha has about 15 different styles of carefully designed and handmade classic satchels, tote bags and wallets that she sells in rich colours like whiskey and tan through her Butcher Byrd business.

It’s a business attracting a growing number of fans including well-known Australian singer-songwriter and guitarist Dan Sultan who recently discovered Sasha’s work via Instagram and bought four bags.

Small hip satchel.

“It’s about simplicity, I just like really classic designs so they are mostly about the leather, there’s a place for the sparkly, crazy stuff, but I just like to create a lifetime bag, a bag you will have forever, and a bag that improves with age,” Sasha says.

It was about five years ago that Sasha started Butcher Byrd after having first studied bespoke custom shoemaking at the former Marleston TAFE and then worked together with well-known JamFactory shoe and leather maker Rose-Anne Russell.

She was still busy making shoes when her true making passion gradually emerged.

“It was when I realised that the satchel that I had designed and made for my husband and the tote that I had designed and made for my mother were still going strong after 10 years of everyday use,” she says.

“They were battered, soft and worn, better with age, and would get numerous comments from strangers and friends. My mum had often joked that she could have sold hers many times over.”

At the time, Sasha and Neil had moved into a Mile End house next door to her sister’s former butcher shop home – and, when her sister moved interstate in 2014, a new inspiration emerged for the building’s growing history.

Sasha Carroll in the old butcher shop which has been transformed into her leather bags and accessories studio.

“Suddenly, I was next door to this space and I said let’s turn it into a workspace as I was just getting into making bags,” Sasha says.

“The name Butcher Byrd made sense for the business, it was about the woman working in the butcher shop and working with leather, it was like it was meant to be.”

There’s been growing success for Sasha since she sold her earliest bags at One Small Room in Queen Street and later won a place at the Bowerbird market.

Now the bags are also stocked at Brick and Mortar Creative in Norwood, a café and store featuring more than 80 local, independent artists, along with Field Trip at Balhannah in the Adelaide Hills where Mim Clarkson and Linda Marek also sell their own clothing, jewellery and homewares.

Most of her sales are made through Etsy with plans underway to revamp the website next year and to possibly redefine the product range with some core designs and releasing two seasonal ranges each year.

Sasha says there’s a strong support network among designers in South Australia with the Bowerbird market particularly drawing the local community together to forge bonds.

Each bag is designed and crafted on site.

It was through the market that she also built solid relationships with Adelaide furniture designer, maker and I Choose SA ambassador Robin Wood and the team behind Frock Me Out who are “now going gangbusters”.

And then there’s Bulb Lighting that share her studio space for their growing events business.

Sasha says working from the Mile End studio has created an important life balance while her children Frankie, 6, and Bobby, 2, are younger, and it has also given her the opportunity to constantly reassess the direction of the business.

She plans to expand during the next few years and to employ staff to help with the making as she finds it increasingly difficult to meet demand from more stores wanting to stock her products.

Sasha is also considering using more of the traditional vegetable tanned leather, made using an age-old process that can take two to three months, with all her leather sourced through local retailer D.S. Horne.

“There’s something about sitting down with a piece of leather and a pattern and drawing it up, piecing it together, putting the handles on and then putting it up on the butcher hook that works for me,” Sasha adds.

Industry in focus: Craft industries

Throughout the months of November and December, the state’s craft industries will be celebrated as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian craftspeople make up some of our most creative thinkers and makers of sustainable and innovative goods. Read more craft stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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