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How to Make a Handbag When Your Background Isn’t in Fashion

Ever wondered how to make a handbag? Or a dress? While most people will never wonder this, many do.  Every day newcomers enter the fashion industry. While they may bring new ideas and enthusiasm, their lack of knowledge of how the industry works, development and sourcing know-how and process often leaves them exhausted and with depleted funds. Monisola Omotoso shares her advise on How to Make a Handbag.

Welcome to the world of entrepreneur-ism where the streets are sometimes paved with gold for the lucky few who make it to the finishing line. There is no magic formula for success in business but on a positive note, you can help yourself by having a clear vision and defining your perfect customer.

On a less positive note, the reality of running a fashion business which includes late nights, stress, chasing the fashion editor carrot with no pay for the first couple of years, is not for the faint-hearted.

The actual designing is secondary to your ability to manage your business which includes the people, processes and finances. There is a vast amount of responsibility and relentless business decisions to greet you every day. Before you reach the stage of courting the press and actually running the business, there is the more urgent issue of actually getting your items made.

It’s fair to assume that you have already worked out that your idea is unique with nothing else like it on the market, so that’s one box ticked. I’d also like to hazard a guess that you have your revenue source in place as you will require plenty of money.

You will save yourself some, however, by reading the following information on how to make a handbag.

Research, research, research

While your background is not in fashion, it may be in PR or even business and these are great attributes to bring to the table.

Understanding where your product, handbag, in this case, fits into the marketplace is one of the more important things to get to grips with. This is based on a number of things such as the market level you’re aiming at. This could be the high, the middle or the luxury sector. This choice will determine the price points of your handbag.

If you can’t decide then base the decision on the design of the handbag. If it has the basics plus bells and whistles find items that are similar and go out into the world and see what your potential competitors are selling their items for.

Define who your customer is and discover where and how they shop.

  • How many times a month or year they purchase items?
  • What type of industry do they work in, which blogs interest them?
  • Finally, which websites do they visit the most and what are their personal interests?

Source a factory first

This is the key to saving yourself a lot of time, energy and money.

However, sourcing the right factory to make a handbag is not that easy as the industry is pretty secretive and closed. I serendipitously discovered a secret source while looking at the Everlane website. This totally transparent company, based in the United States mention the factories, or at least the factory locations, on their website.

Further research led me to discover an area in Spain, Ubrique, that specializes in specific items that my client was aiming to produce. I was then able to appoint a factory in the area.

The factories in Ubrique produce leather goods and are able to source everything that the client could possibly need. Leathers, exotics, sheepskin, fur and snake are all available. They deal with all of the mills, zip manufacturers and lining suppliers.

  • It’s best to approach the factory with a detailed, information-rich flat drawing of your product, or better still a spec pack.
  • Supply ideas on the type of materials and trims you want to use but don’t buy any leathers until you have seen the factory manager.
  • Make the most of your market level research and tell the factory how much you want your product to retail for. This information will have an effect on the types of materials they will offer you.
  • If you’re using an overseas factory they will be in a position to source all of your materials at a fraction of the price you would pay locally. They will also advise you of the best type of materials to use for your items. It’s so easy to get carried away with the thought of using a particular type of leather but then discovering that it will increase labour costs due to a special finish on the surface. Leave it to the experts.
  • Items such as the types of zips to use should be thoroughly discussed with the factory. They will then put you in touch with the zip suppliers that they work with and they will furnish you with options on the type of zip tape and teeth right down to the correct size of zip puller to use for your particular items. 
Worth Reading: What to Look for in a Manufacturing Partner


Find a sample maker

Once you have appointed a factory, my suggestion would be to find a local sample maker to produce your first patterns, mock-up (maquette) and samples to make a handbag. This will ensure that they set the mark for the quality of your product for the factory to follow.

Like the factory, the sample maker will need to see the flat drawing of your product with measurements. Once you’re happy with the sample you should then get professional, annotated flat drawings done by a graphic designer. These should include all of your product measurements. You can find one cheaply on the People Per Hour website who will work remotely.

  • Purchase leathers from the factory or order from their recommended suppliers list.
  • Use the lining and zips that you will be using in production and source your hardware from companies that the factory has connections with. Using the correct components enables you to get a clear idea of how the finished factory produced item will look.
  • It’s important that you have all of your materials and components ready when you visit the sample maker to ensure that items are made within your timeframe.
  • Sample makers traditionally make one-off items and will also have other clients to deal with. The inconsistent supply of product to them will have a knock-on effect in terms of their productivity.

Hardware design – to do or not to do?

From my experience, hardware choice should be made after you have had your first mock-up made up in order for the hardware to be bought in the correct size. This will allow you to decide that the functional aspects of the product are correct.

The bespoke hardware route is expensive as the minimums you need to order are relatively high. Should you choose to select the bespoke hardware design option there are a couple of approaches to consider. Decide what items need to be made in the first instance. These could include d-rings, zip pullers, poppers and any unusual items such as strap holders that you’re unable to source on the market.

Supply the design company with the following:

  • Flat drawings of the product that the hardware will be attached to
  • Rough or professionally designed drawings of the hardware
  • OR hardware that is similar to your design ideas
  • Product function
  • Product size
  • Product weight
  • Leather thickness including backing materials the factory will apply
  • Straps function
  • Samples of zip pullers that work with the zips you’re using

Not all companies supply you with a checklist like the one above but it’s imperative that you take the lead and create one. This will ensure that once the samples have been made and you’ve tested them should any problems arise in production you will have your checklist for reference.

  • The production of the samples occurs after the drawings have been made at the hardware design company and signed-off by you.
  • The moulds are then made. Prior to the moulds being made, I would suggest that you get all of the items rendered at a 3-d printing company. This will save any necessity to have moulds remade should the samples be wrong. Unfortunately, companies do not suggest the 3-d rendering route and it’s very frustrating when samples have discrepancies that could have been avoided. 


Top Tips from the Expert

There will be many potholes to fall into along the way. However, if you follow our lead you’ll find yourself ahead of the game. Be sure to thoroughly research who your customer is and that you’ve designed a range that will draw her in. Source your factory before you commit to the purchasing of materials, hardware and trims.

Last and by no means least, engage the services of a great sample maker who will interpret your ideas professionally. They should also have the ability to advise you on best practice to ensure the successful completion of your sample range.

Good luck!

NOTE: I have suggested that you use a local sample maker as this applies specifically for the job this article is based on. The client required a very high-end finish on the samples so that the factory could use it as a standard. However, It is also good practice to have everything made, including the first samples, at your factory of choice as this will reduce the overall costs.


If you have any questions about this article or general feedback then please do not hesitate to let us know in the comments below.