Handbag product review

Alternative title: Even superior materials and construction aren’t enough to break into higher price points.

This is a different kind of product review. It will apply to handbag producers and those of you moving up another level. There are some contradictions with this product in spite of it being very well constructed and the use of excellent materials. If you’ve trying to move up into a higher price point, it may not be enough to have the best construction and the best materials. As you’ll see, there’s design elements that cannot be ignored.

My sample is a very well made leather bag that nonetheless, had some unusual problems. Shortly after I got it, the DE told me it was being dropped. By then I had some ideas why it wasn’t being picked up on reorders but I didn’t have a way to tell the producer tactfully. Besides, it takes time to do a product review and it’s inappropriate to critique something someone gives you (we traded) and worse, attempt to turn it into a revenue generating event. What is one to do? This happens to me all of the time.

First some history which explains some of the deficits I found.

This DE hasn’t always made nice leather bags. Before, he targeted the low end of the market, knew the market and the process very well. He also had extensive and reputable overseas contacts who had excellent construction experience. In other words, he had everything. If so, how did things go wrong?

In a nutshell, the problem was a marriage of uneven expectations. The construction is top notch but the contractor -who made the patterns- was adept at low margin goods. Just because something is low margin doesn’t mean it is poorly sewn and these were well constructed. One problem was a mismatch of material usage and hardware in targeting a higher price point. Here are some contradictions:

Other than the hardware, all of the materials used in the bag are top notch. The lining is outstanding, a durable, sturdy, classy satin twill. The leather was exemplary, perfectly matched to the price point. The hides are thick enough, pebbled so it wears well and it doesn’t scratch readily. If scratched, it doesn’t show easily as it’s been well processed. No quibble with the shell of the piece, it is entirely appropriate to the higher price point. The problem was utilization of the leather. As the contractor is accustomed to paring allocation to the bone, that level of economy was inappropriate for this market segment. Specifically, the top portion of this side panel needed to be longer, extending deeper into the side, say another two inches or so. The lining should never be visible under usual and normal usage.

In the above photo, you most likely wondered about that black thing retaining the side panel. That would be velcro. Ouch. It’s not an issue of color either. Velcro can used in $7 plastic bags but not in fine Italian pebbled leather bags. A metal magnetic closure would have been a better choice.

There were two other construction details that could have been improved. First was the lining of the side panel. The lining should have been tacked to the seam at the bottom of the bag. This would have prevented the lining from showing to the extent it was. Your linings should always be tacked into place. And now that I’ve done this review, I can repair mine. It bugs me. Below is a photo showing that the side panel lining is loose.

The second construction detail bearing improvement was the ends of the handles. These are rolled handles with cord fillers. The rolled portion should have been sewn down further. Below, the handles are down and the ends, where it joins the bag, just looks odd to me.

In the photo below, off to far right and far left, you can see the ends of the filler are visible. Sewing the handles down a bit farther, perhaps another inch or so, would have made this nicer.

In summary, the bag’s construction and materials were largely intact but it still missed the mark for the targeted market. I’m sorry the DE decided to drop the style, it was a nice sturdy bag, designed to hold a lap top with roomy inside pockets to hold peripherals and a neoprene like cushion sleeve to contain the computer itself. Nice size and it doesn’t look like a corporate briefcase so it suited me. I think it would have been better to have improved these minor details. The per unit costs would have been minimal, amounting to an additional sewing operation (tacking the side panel lining), two magnetic clasps (less than 50 cents) and another quarter square foot of leather. Another cost to the whole batch would have been the cost of two new dies for the longer upper side panels.


  1. Kaaren Hoback says:

    I agree with all your points- the leather is lovely, the style pleasant enough,the stitching well done. I just wonder if velcro was chosen deliberately to avoid placing a magnet anywhere near the laptop or external drives and peripherals? or is that even valid thinking now?

    All my laptop bags have zips or those awful large non magnetic snaps- nothing magnetic.
    Kaaren Hoback

  2. oliviacw says:

    Kaaren has a very good point – my husband refuses to allow anything magnetic within 5 feet of his laptop. (I’m not as picky, but many people are). For this kind of laptop bag, I would expect either a zipper or velcro on that side pocket…or maybe a little flap-over with a turn clasp.

  3. elizabeth says:

    A magnet actually did make the monitor of my laptop die, so beware of magnets- this one rolled out of nowhere and attached itself to my laptop when I was in a coffee shop- it wasn’t even my magnet! I had to send it to the manufacturer who had to replace the screen, it couldn’t be repaired- be very careful, mine went black all of a sudden, no warning, no partial damage, it was gone instantaneously.

  4. Obviously the leather quality looks great- good grain, even color, nice weight. You seem to have down. I would agree that magnetic snaps and laptops don’t make for a good mix, but zippers and inserts do. The velcro on the exterior pocket is a no go, but you can always use it on an insert.
    Jennie Lynn Johanson

  5. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    It’s too bad the bag isn’t nicer. The leather and stitching do look really nice. I hope he wises up soon. :-)

  6. Linda L says:

    Good eye! Your points are excellent. Those are things that I look at when I buy bags-pricey or not. I am not a manufacturer and have made bags only for “crafty” purposes, but I do buy bags and like what I like.

  7. Colleen says:

    I like the bag and, if the DE incorporates Kathleen’s suggestions, he may have a bestseller on his hands! Either way, the critique will help him fine tune his other styles.

  8. I’ve been dreaming of the perfect conference purse. I’m small and have some arthritis, so that affects some requirements. It would have a cross-body strap (could be detachable)so it’s not preventing you from shaking hands or dropping off your shoulder, would hold a 3-ring binder, vertically. Laptops could be held vertically too, why always briefcase-style? There would be outside pockets. It would be good, lightweight leather. With back problems, weight is always an issue. It might be brown with black trim, or black with brown trim. Seems like I always struggle over whether to take clothes in the black or brown family and then have a problem finding the right bag. It would close securely so stuff wouldn’t fall out at the airport security station. Believe me, this back is not in the stores.

  9. nadine says:

    The problems here look like a typical case of someone “specifying” details with the factory rather than employing a designer. The constructions shown in this bag are clearly more of a “sports bag” nature (use of velcro – minimal to no hardware such as rivets) rather than classical handbag manufacture. Fashion bags always employ rivets to hold down the tubular handles in addition to sewing.

    What is happening in fashion now is that the “sports/utility” bags that were commonly used for laptops and “men” are giving way to more fashion choices for women who have a need for bags to carry their technology but want the familiarity of the fashion details they have come to expect in handbags.

    The problems in this bag could be totally avoided by the DE if he had more in depth knowledge of his target market and also the current available product on the market. There are oodles of options now. All the handbag companies are jumping on the fashion laptop bandwagon.

    I suspect (but can’t confirm) that he also did not provide a detailed sample to the factory. If he was used to producing bags that have different sewing such as nylon or vinyl utility type bags the factory would take the typical mistaken approach to try to adapt those previously approved constructions and try to apply them to the new leather material. All common mistakes that could be avoided.

    Good issue to point out.

  10. pamela says:

    Where can I get edge kote in bright colors? Also, If I don’t have a compound feed machine for sewing leather handbags, is there any regular machine that would have the drive. Or, is there any place to get a leather machine for less than $500?

  11. kim says:

    late to the party, but if this bag came from one of the factories I work with, my first comment would be poor leather selection on the front panel about the pocket! The leather looks loose and wrinkled and I wouldn’t want it on the front of a bag I’m producing!

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