From Apprentice Carpenter to Leading Handbag Designer: Bens Story

When I first came across the brand Charlie Middleton, my heart started racing. I KNEW they had to be a part of the Hawkins& Co collection, it was everything we stand for – Beautiful, timeless, sophisticated, elegant, and handmade in Bondi!

I really want the Hawkins & Co readers to get to know the designers behind our brands, and one designer in particular is quite intriguing – Ben Thompson:

Hi Ben, lets start with a question I am incredibly curious about: Where did the name Charlie Middleton come from?

It’s a little embarrassing to be honest. When I first started this label, I was already designing and producing 2 other clothing labels, so I needed a new name, and Charlie Middleton had been one of my Hotmail addresses since the nineties, so I thought “it’s a great name, I’ll use that”.

The embarrassing bit is that the name came from my childhood dog Charlie, and the street I was living in at the time Middleton St.

Little did I know that a few years later it would become the main label, and I would find myself explaining that on a regular basis.  (editor: I am still giggling about this!)

Is handbag design and crafting something you have always done? Can you tell us a little bit about your background.

It’s been a slow journey to get to where I am now, and no doubt it was not the field I thought I would end up in when starting out as an apprentice carpenter all those years ago.

As a child I was very interested in inventing and making things; From helping my dad build stuff around the house, or wanting to have a go when mum was sewing something.

Add that to the skills I gained as a carpenter, and I had developed a skill-set, that enabled me very quickly learn how to make something, regardless of the medium I was working in.

Despite doing non creative jobs for a few years, the making bug did not leave me, and in about 2003, I decided to start a little clothing label.

I mainly focused on Tees, sweats and denim, but after a few years, I wanted to add to the range, so I learnt how to make a men’s belt, and I really enjoyed the process.

Jump forward a couple of years and I hand-making lots of mens belt, but was regularly being asked by customers for softer more malleable belts for women that could be worn on the waist.

Eventually, I listened, and with that Charlie Middleton was born.

What are three words do you think best describe Charlie Middleton?

Quality, Simplicity and functionality.

Can you tell us a little bit about your philosophy around the colours you choose to incorporate into the collections? Particularly the bespoke totes? 

The bespoke tote did not start out with any grand plan to offer it in the forty leathers we do now, it started with a single sample, and then five or six totes in black, navy and grey.

Those sold immediately, so I made more and quickly used up all the suitable leathers I had lying around the workshop.

I was then buying up any nice cowhide leathers I could find, but they were very often in limited supply, so I started searching the globe for tanneries that could produce amazing leathers.

We now source from Japan, Italy, Germany, brazil and New Zealand to name a few.

The evolution of the colour range was very much a product of this process, as we would sometimes take whichever colours the tanneries had in stock and if those colours worked for us, we would get them top repeat them and they would become a permanent part of the range.

We offer every leather option for all the totes, but have to limit ourselves when it comes to clutches, so those are only available in around seven colours each. (all with a choice of Silver, Gold or Rose gold of course).

Do you have a favourite product in the current collection?

I currently really like the “Weekend Clutch” as a piece of design, however it is also selling very well, so that no doubt skews my objectiveness when it comes my opinion 🙂


Can you share with us what a ‘normal’ day looks like for you?

It used to be just me toiling away everyday, but now I am very lucky to have the amazing Margaux and Mathilde to help with the making.

That frees me up so I can now spend half my time working on the products, and the rest on the business side of things

What else do you enjoy doing outside of the design studio / warehouse?

My two passions aside from making things are Surfing and Basketball, however the unfortunate realities of running a small business means that they often get pushed to the side.

Anything exciting on the horizon for Charlie Middleton you can share with us?

We have a few new products in the pipeline, but the ones I am most excited about are the Mens and Ladies wallets we will have ready in the next month or so.

It is extremely rare to find a proper wallet with all the card slots and pockets that’s actually handmade in Sydney, so we have had to work very hard to develop it, but we’re almost there, and we can’t wait!

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