Karin Jacka has been plaiting leather for the company’s beautiful belts and accessories for about 12 years
using skills passed down from company-founder, RM himself.
STORY by Terri Cowley
Karin Jacka has been plaiting leather for the company’s beautiful belts and accessories for about 12 years and was taught by the best. Rosa Sorgini was the company’s original and master plaiter for 25 years and ran the craft area up until eight years ago when she retired. She had learnt from Dene Williams, who picked up the skills from his company-founder father, RM himself. “Rosa was the best plaiter ever,” Karin says. “I learnt from Rosa hands on. She would look at what I had done and correct it. Rosa would get the leather started and then I would follow a pattern and have a play. My first one was a mess – I wish I still had it!”
Almost all of the leather used for plaiting comes from the skin of Australia’s red kangaroos, and is sourced sustainably and humanely. Kangaroo is one of the strongest leathers for its weight in the world. One skin is cut into 60–70 metres of strands, which in turn makes about three belts.
There are three plaiters in the Craft Room – Karin, Linda Hewitt and Maria Bisak, who will generally produce five or six belts a day. They mostly work on the company’s three core belts, which vary in width from an inch and a quarter to an inch and a half (approximately 3.2–3.8 centimetres) and include either a leather-covered ring or metal buckle. Seasonal belts are made on demand, such as popular coloured plaited belts recently.
The three women work diligently on a large plaiting table, which has six poles each with hooks. They generally start plaiting while standing up to allow for room to move up the plait but can sit down after the plait is half done. Plaiting can be hard on the hands causing blistering and cutting so they use a special, stretchy tape to protect their fingers. “Sometimes our hands are going like the clackers,” Karin says. “We really do push ourselves.”
When she’s not making belts, Karin is turning her hand to other leather accessories. Recently she’s enjoyed making exotic ostrich and crocodile leather wallets. She also crafts key tags, money pockets and iPhone holders. “I enjoy the variety of work,” she says. “You feel like you have achieved something. It is a really good feeling.”
“It is hard for me to explain the process [of making a belt], but once people see how much work goes into it and the technique, they understand,” she says. Karin is excited that plaited leather belts have come back into fashion and that demand has increased. “Sometimes when I get home to my husband I tell him, ‘Guess what I did today?’ when I’ve really made something good. You feel like kissing it! We make it from start to finish. Some people wear their favourite belt for 20 years!”