Five decades in leather – and Norris Raymond is still going strong in Dalston!
- Credit: Archant
Emma Bartholomew meets Norris Raymond, who has been working with leather and sheepskin in the East End since the 1960s.
Master tailor Norris Raymond has seen plenty of fashion styles come and go, from bell bottoms to slim fit suits via ’80s high power shoulder pads.
He might have officially retired, but aged 72 he still comes into work to create made-to-measure leather and sheepskin jackets for private clients, which could involve seven hours of fittings.
He also works with a new generation of fashion designers like Mimi Wade, all eager to learn his craftsman’s skills.
As you peer through the window into his workshop, it looks as though barely anything has changed since he founded the shop in Dalston’s Kingsland Road 32 years ago.
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Tubs filled with buttons of all shapes and colours are stacked on tables alongside all the tools of his trade and specialist leather sewing machines, while cardboard jacket patterns are hung around the room.
Norris was 19 when he travelled to the UK from Grenada with his friends looking for work.
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The British government was trying to recruit West Indian workers to run the transport system, postal service and hospitals after the Second World War.
He worked in the West End in a factory making radio kits and as a carpenter to fund evening classes at the Tailor and Cutter Academy.
He studied there for nine years to fulfil his dream of becoming a gents’ tailor, following in the footsteps of his uncle and his mother who was a seamstress.
He said: “I grew up from a decent family. We didn’t used to go and work in the fields. I was an only child, and they were looking after me so I wouldn’t have rough jobs. They mollycoddled me.”
He found life difficult in the UK when he first arrived.
“It was difficult as a black person. You couldn’t get a place to rent and you would go to the pub for a drink, and they wouldn’t serve us,” he remembers.
“I was young and had no experience of this sort of thing. But we decided to tough it out.”
Norris was one of the first Afro-Caribbeans to graduate from the academy and his first class certificate is proudly on display.
In the 1960s he found a job in the East End at leather and sheepskin company Be Paradise, where he gained experience working with the tricky materials, and an overview of factory production.
He set up his own factory in Shacklewell Lane, Dalston, with a partner, before founding his present-day shop in 1984.
He saw the burgeoning of the leather, cloth, shoe and garment factories in the East End, which began dying out in the ’80s as cheaper imports flooded the market.
But Norris says his products, which sell for upwards of £250, are the height of luxury, and he might carry out seven different fittings of an hour each to get a perfectly fitting garment.
Through commissions from Saville Row, he has made clothes for the Beckhams, Tom Jones and the Spice Girls.
He has seen Hackney change “quite a bit” – and doesn’t have entirely good memories.
“It’s an expensive area now,” he said. “It used to be a cheap, nasty and rough place. I used to be burgled once a month. I had an Alsatian dog to keep the peace in here. If I was a coward I might have closed the place and say I’ve had enough, but I was determined I would carry on. My good memory is I am still here now.”