Before I continue with this segment of the series, I want to reiterate why people on my end of the business won’t want to sign confidentiality agreements. First of all, every designer out there swears up and down that their ideas are original and perhaps they are -to them- but that doesn’t mean the rest of us haven’t seen a nearly identical product in the marketplace, often years earlier. Either we’ve seen an identical product (or nearly identical, perhaps owing to creative synchronicity or perhaps not) and a designer will either deny this is the case or will argue hers is substantively unique (and it’s not). Usually, we won’t bring it up because it’s guaranteed to make a designer angry; nobody likes to admit to anyone -much less themselves- that their ideas aren’t unique.
Now, I like uniqueness. I like to buy DE type products because they often have a unique twist that I enjoy -creativity is so refreshing. Below you’ll see a photo of one such item -a handbag- that I bought at a garage sale.
It’s definitely a DE type product and I even thought it was unique until I saw the same bag in a book; the product was from a very famous designer named Michael Kors. By the way, people have the tendency to think that whichever designer they’ve seen with a given concept is the originator of the concept so you should watch that bias in yourself. Just because X designer is the first designer that you have seen with X concept, does not mean that designer really was the first -just the first you had seen. I mean, just because you hadn’t had the chance to see a preceding designer’s work doesn’t mean the precedent designer’s work did not exist.
Anyway, I thought this bag was kind of cool; the pattern shaping is pretty unusual (below).
I don’t have a sketch of the pattern pieces made up for you but the shaping lends itself well to fitting into a marker. Sketched out, the pieces are similar to the pattern shaping typical of baseballs; that’s why I bought this piece. Plus, it is oversized and roomy, just great for overnight trips. Anyway, I always thought this piece was original (the label reads “Beth Mitchell Originals” no other information at all) until I saw a photo of a Michael Kors bag that was identical to this one. I have a picture of a similar red Michael Kors bag from pg. 246 of Handbags: The Power of the Purse by Anna Johnson (great book!) below:
To see a photo of the M.Kor’s black version, go here. Now I realize his bag is much larger than the DE bag I have but I know that I’ve seen a photo of a Kors bag this same size; I just can’t find it (maybe Natasha can, she’s good at that). Anyway, I know you can’t see enough detail of the Kors bag to know that these two are basically identical from a pattern stand point. In the end, I don’t know which designer was the originator although I suspect Beth’s bag precedes the Kors bag since I bought it already well-used around 2002 (the Michael Kors bag is dated Spring 2002). And don’t anybody get the wrong idea here. I am in no way implying that Michael Kors copied this unknown DE bag designer. For all I know, they both copied somebody else entirely or this was yet another example of creative synchronicity.
Returning to my topic of DE quality making one a target for knock off, the maker of the bag I have could have had “Target” tattooed on her forehead for all the subtlety of it. The reason is that it was a cute idea and very practical but the quality was atrocious. It was a target because the product had so many deficits that someone could have come along and added a great deal of value to it for not a whole lot of money. It was a target because although it was cute and practical, it looked a little too crude to consumers who have the disposable income to buy it because let’s face it, it wouldn’t have been a budget priced item (this DE bag probably cost at least $200). People who are willing to spend significant sums on handbags want handbags that look like they cost the price that was paid for them. I mean, nobody’s going to pay $200 for a bag that looks like someone made it as a home economics project. Quality is aptitude, not attitude. While an idea is a great start, execution is what matters.
Now I want to show you some details on Beth’s bag so you can see how somebody like me will know the designer is not professional. As I mentioned in Are you a target?, some DE products have some great design details, it’s the execution that’s a problem. The first problem with this bag is that it’s not lined and the finishing is very crude. I don’t know what the original price points were but I guarantee a lining would have justified a good $50 in value; it would have been much cleaner looking. Below is a photo of the bag flap.
There are several things worth noting here. One is the crudeness of the leather cutting of the inside hem and second is the rippling of the sewn hem. The rippling hem tells me that it’s unlikely a walking foot was used to make the bag; the latter is required on this weight of cow hide.Still, leather commonly stretches even with good equipment which is why many manufacturers will fuse these areas to minimize that (this couldn’t have been fused if it were not lined). If she did use a walking foot, the machine wasn’t adjusted correctly. This problem (leather stretching) is also evident along the side seams of the bag in the first photo. Either that or the pattern pieces were disparately sized (pattern required correction) and one side was forcibly stretched to meet the other. Also, although there are two lines of stitching, it was done by single needle. Not that the latter is a problem per se, just that the rows of stitching are not even. Lastly, the side seams of the bag appear to be a flat felled seam but it’s not. First the one edge was stitched under and then the bag was joined by overlapping from the top-side with a second row of stitching. If the bag is full of stuff, the seam pulls open and you can see the first turned under edge flipping away from the piece it’s joined to by 1/4″. Now below you’ll find a photo of the back of the bag:
The two points highlighted in white wax pencil are showing the top of the stitching for the inside pocket and this bears improvement for three reasons. First, if the bag were lined, an inside pocket wouldn’t have been sewn to the shell so this stitching would never be visible. Second, whenever you are setting a utility pocket like this (including welts and patch pockets on jackets) the weight bearing side must be fused but this is not possible if an item is not lined. Third -and most evident- you can see that the pocket is not placed correctly; it’s sitting higher on one side than the other. This means Beth doesn’t know about pattern guides to ensure uniform placement of details like this one. Below is another demonstration of quality problems:
Above you can see that the hemming of the opening of the bag is not uniform. Maybe some of you think this isn’t a big deal -and maybe it’s not for personal projects- but consistency is the single greatest demonstration of quality. All items are uniform. I also don’t like how the bag’s side panel is attached (off to the right side of the photo) but again, the bag wasn’t lined. By the way, linings serve a multitude of functions, the most obvious one here is the concealing of a myriad of sewing sins. Linings also enhance durability and product life in two ways. The first is that with a lining, you can use stabilizers such as fusibles (yes, even on leather) and two, linings provide a barrier. Instead of one layer getting all the wear, a lining can absorb wear from the interior side thus prolonging its useful life.
Returning to my “target” topic, perhaps now you can see why someone would see this product as potential for their own product line. It would take very little to bring it up a whole bunch of levels and they could make it for less than what it cost the designer to make even if they did it stateside. It’d be cleaner, look more professional and last longer. My greatest professional frustration has been in working with clients like Beth who won’t listen to the quality problems I’ve itemized. It is very frustrating because designers like Beth have already done the biggest portion of work and it really only needs a little additional tweaking to bring it up to a professional level. It would have been much easier to find a financial backer if she’d taken the extra steps too. Buffoons aren’t sophisticated enough to appreciate or pay for fine details while quality and attention to detail will always attract money.