So you are a designer that feels the need to indulge women in their love of accessories, in particular handbags. Women love handbags and shoes, almost more than they love their boyfriends, husbands or children! The beauty of the handbag is you don’t have to be the perfect size, in other words, no dieting required!
Accessory collections provide some of the largest proportion of the fashion industries income. Hitting a home run with the perfect bag can mean creating a following with women all over the world.
What are the principles one needs to know to start your own handbag collection?
Like any other fashion category one needs to have a great idea. Research is key, what is out there currently? Ask yourself, where would your handbags sit in your favorite department store? Would it be in the junior department or do you see them all done out in fine Italian leather and being a neighbor to Valentino, Chanel, and Gucci? When you determine where you will understand who and what your potential competitors are and what they are doing. You will also get a range of price. The price and the look are the keys to targeting who your customer will be. Will she be a very young with a more limited budget, or will your customer have a large discretionary income. The look is going to be your calling card, sleek, modern, vintage, bohemian, lady like……you decide and make sure your every piece you design fits your target look and target audience.
Once your concept is focused on a target audience. You could ask everyone you know who falls into that demographic what they need and like, talk to them and let them give you feedback on your design ideas. You could also ask the sales associates in the stores what they sell easily and what things that don’t work in general.
At this point, if you haven’t done so already, you can start to sketch your ideas. An important thing to understand, the more details in your designs the more labor that is needed to make them. If you are in a moderate price point or you are gearing your accessories to a young market, competing with a major company will be a challenge. Remember large corporations have the funding necessary to make many handbags overseas before they go to market. Generally a new designer doesn’t have the history nor the budget to make 10,000 handbags out the gate!
A good rule of thumb for a new handbag designer with a limited budget means small run production, keeping a close eye on material costs, and setting aside funds to do marketing and sales after the handbag samples are made. Even new designers wanting to produce a luxury product will have the same requirements.
It is at this point that many people get lost. They have wonderful creative ideas, and have put together a cohesive collection. How in the world do you make a handbag? Granted making a complex fitted jacket has its problems, but everyone can visualize sewing clothing…….(trust me, it is a bit more complex as well, but it does seem easier!)
The first thing is to make sure your sketches have taken into account measurements. How long is the handle, how big is the large compartment, what kind of hardware would I like to use. How long are the zippers how many compartments are on the inside. Getting a bit more complicated and scary right? Don’t fret…….find a bag that is close and use it as a reference. Having dimensions figured out is a necessity.
Now you need to find a pattern maker. If comparing yourself to an architect as designer, the pattern maker is the engineer. A qualified pattern maker will know if your strap is strong enough and how to make it strong enough so it doesn’t rip off the base of the bag. He or she will make pattern pieces (much like a puzzle) that will be sewn together to create your sample. It is always a good idea to get a pattern maker that will work with your sample maker……..lack of communication will cause you to have many redo’s and lots of blame making on both ends leading you to a mess of a sample and a lot of wasted time and money.
Almost simultaneous with the pattern maker you should know what materials you want to use. The pattern maker needs to know this, again an engineer needs to know if you are using wood or concrete. Specifications of materials will make the patterns work without a hitch and they will also need to know about your intended hardware. Hardware is as important, maybe more important than the leather or fabric you are using. The quality will be the determining factor in what price your handbags will be sold. Hardware is a hard thing to source and generally is done overseas, but there are some places in the US that still make quality hardware and there are sources here where you can buy generic closures, zippers and the like. When sourcing fabric, ask if you can you get more should you get orders, the same with the hardware. While you may pay retail prices for your sample, this would make your handbags grossly non competitive in the market place. Also note that timelines require you to get fabrics and hardware ahead of time.
Next you find a sample maker………key here, do they have the equipment to get the job done as well as the skill to use that machinery. Leather sewing machines, dies, sometime molds are necessary. Ask to see examples of something they have in work…..anyone can show you a beautiful bag someone else put together.
Once the materials are in the hands of your sample maker you start to find yourself extremely excited. Your sketches will finally take form. Your heart starts to beat very fast. Alas at this point be prepared to have to work out problems, find alternative solutions and possibly make minor design changes to accommodate machinery and material constraints. This is NORMAL…obstacles are a common factor in the design business. Be flexible and be CREATIVE. With good preparation, good materials, a sensible timeline that allows for mishaps and professional support in terms of labor you will have completed the first part of your handbag collection. You will have samples and something to show to sell…
This is the first half……marketing and sales will be just as important. Make sure you leave yourself enough money to get your product in front of the appropriate buyers. You can choose to go direct, go online, or sell retail stores. This is just as complex and I will handle this at a later time.