They say to keep your work and personal life separate but for one husband and wife team, the two could not be more intertwined - and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Bede and Jemima Alridge are the faces behind thriving saddlery and leather goods business, Saddler & Co, based in Dubbo, New South Wales. Their contemporary shop front features a large window through to an onsite workshop where curious customers can watch Bede and the team create everything from saddles to travel bags, totes and mobile phone cases.
While Bede turned his childhood love for leather goods into a career path when he began his saddlery apprenticeship at 16, it was a whole new world for Jemima. Her background in writing and design shines through today in Saddler & Co’s beautifully branded social media feeds the handwritten notes in the perfectly packaged parcels and the sharing of the stories, experiences and personal touches behind each piece.
The couple first opened the doors to a home workshop in 2010. With two toddlers and another baby on the way, it gave them the flexibility they needed with three under three. They welcomed another two sons in the coming years and embraced all that comes with juggling a young family and developing a new business.
Long nights and many hours on the road sharing their work at campdrafts and field days led them to launching the Saddler & Co brand in 2014. With their sons a little older, the fog of the baby and toddler years a little less hazy, and a rapidly growing range, they opened their Dubbo store in 2016.
Today, Saddler & Co features a mix of saddlery goods and lifestyle items. A leather tote given to Jemima from Bede as a birthday gift sparked their journey into expanding from solely bridles and saddles. Seven years on that tote is still a firm customer favourite. It’s up there with the everyday belt, a well-made wallet and a sturdy travel bag. Jemima says it’s the timelessness, quality and the connection to the handcrafted pieces that customers find so endearing.
“We found in our travels that even if you didn’t ride a horse or have a need for the saddlery side, everyone appreciated well-made Australian leather goods and they were hard to find,” she says.
“We didn’t start by bringing out whole new collections every year, we just built on them with one or two items a year. We’re still making the same designs as we started with and they’re still just as popular.”
The opportunity to quite literally watch as your order comes to life also attracts people to Saddler & Co. Whether they’re from Brisbane, Melbourne or Bourke, customers often put a visit to the store on their travel plans.
Leatherworking is one of the oldest trades around and Bede and Jemima are determined to ensure the skill lives on for years to come. They’re committed to training a team who love working with their hands and creating custom items that will stand the test of time.
And while it hasn’t always been easy raising five children and launching a leather manufacturing business, Jemima says building the foundations is what’s held Saddler & Co in good stead.
“Good things do take time and a lot of people see businesses from afar but we’ve always wanted what people perceive the business to be, to exist in actual fact,” she says.
“It’s been hard sometimes and there have been years when you have those wandering moments where you might feel discouraged but if you pace yourself, have a vision that you can continually refer back to and do everything with honesty to your values, then you’ll be able to continue on.”
Photo credits: Abbie Melle