How Adam Ant inspired classleading leathers firm
Leather expert went from making punk outfits to running a company that makes suits fit for a prince
British bespoke leather manufacturer BKS’S origins are down to an unlikely source: pop star Adam Ant! Inspired by punk fashion in the early 1980s, BKS founder Brian Keith Sansom began making his own clothing in a similar style and with a love of fashion developing was soon a familiar face at the local college in Exeter until one day he was given the chance to turn his love of tailoring into a business.
“With the idea of becoming a fashion designer, I was making pocket-money creating clothes for friends and was a familiar face at the leather department in the college,” Brian remembers. “They had contracts making small leather goods such as handcuff pockets and belts for the police and one day the guy who ran the department said: ‘How do you fancy giving this a proper go? I’ll lend you a leather sewing machine and as we don’t have the time to fix the police riders’ kit, you can take up those jobs as well.’ I contacted Devon and Cornwall Police and started up my own company under Thatcher’s Young Enterprise Allowance Scheme.”
So, on February 17, 1986, 20-yearold Brian founded BKS Leather (his initials forming the company name) out of his bedroom in Exmouth. Initially altering and tailoring leather goods for local people, word soon spread and BKS received requests from other police forces asking for leather repairs and was soon asked to make complete suits for police riders.
With the workload increasing, Brian converted his loft into a makeshift workshop and employed a member of staff as a cutter. With more police forces beginning to hear about his work, BKS soon expanded to a workshop in Exmouth and by the end of 1993 employed 15 members of staff.
During the 1990s sportsbike boom, road riders started to see
police bikers wearing BKS leathers and demand from non-police motorcyclists started to increase. BKS were increasingly seen in magazines and their range expanded from black police leathers into racereplica suits, gloves and more as they became an established British leathers manufacturer. By the mid1990s, as the mainstream business overtook the police work, BKS were employing 24 people and making 600 suits a year. But the boom couldn’t last forever.
“In the 2000s the market declined and we decided to re-focus on our core business of equipping police forces and to reduce the number of bespoke suits,” explained Brian. “In 2008 Frank Thomas approached us to use our trademark on a massproduced range made in the Far East, which we agreed to, and which led to James Toseland wearing BKS suits in Motogp. But FT went bust in 2011 and that project ended.”
Nowadays BKS employ ten members of staff and make around 250 suits a year. They supply 90% of UK police forces, still make bespoke one and two-piece suits for road riders and are the only UK leathers manufacturer licensed to incorporate Alpinestars’ airbag system in their suits. Not bad for a former punk from Exmouth.
Today BKS’S 10-strong team produces around 250 suits a year for the police and public
Inspired by Adam Ant Brian Sansom set up BKS in 1986
All BKS suits are made to the highest standards BKS founder Brian Keith Sansom heads the Dorset firm BKS’S connections with the police are still very strong