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.

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