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WHERE ARE LUXURY HANDBAGS MADE? The rise of China.

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These days, the question of where luxury handbags are made is much harder to answer for some brands but not so much for others. But the overall situation is steadily becoming clearer and the public at large have become increasingly accepting of the changes that have occurred.

As far back as the early 2000s Coach, well known in the USA for their luxury handbags, let it  be known that their handbags were being manufactured in China. They lead the way in proceeding with what then was considered to be an innovative action. Every one of their handbags is made to a very high standard of quality (refer notes later in this blog), and the response by the North American market to this initiative turned out to be highly positive.

Similarly, Come & Shop customers know that:

  • Bella Charis handbags are made of genuine Italian leather. The leather itself is made from quality cowhide supplied to tanneries located in Tuscany Italy
  • Like most luxury handbags Bella Charis real leather handbags are also made in China to the couture standard as specified in our blog, "What are the essential features of a couture handbag?"

Other fashion houses have not always been as forthcoming with information as to their place of manufacture:

  • a bag might be made in China but finished in France or Italy
  • a bag might be made in Italy by Chinese machinists stitching the templated pieces together

What others have to say about the question regarding the place of manufacture?

From time to time information comes to light about the source of handbag manufacture for a fashion house, but a lot of this information can be highly fragmented and not necessarily correct. Nevertheless, the trend is for more information to be made available and for it to be a more accurate description of what is actually happening.

A most authoritative account of what is known about this important question, has been given by Dana Thomas in her book "Deluxe", published by Penguin Books in 2007.

The New York Times in reviewing the 349 pages, plus detailed notes, bibliography and extensive index has said:

"Thomas's message is relevant to shoppers of every stripe", and

"Thomas shows how far illustrious houses have moved from their roots" (refer back cover of Deluxe)

The following quotes from Deluxe provide comment about the transition of handbag manufacture from Europe to China. If you choose to purchase and read the book you will find the answers to many other questions, but if all you wish to find out is where handbags are made, the following quotations from 'Deluxe' will give you a broad understanding of what was happening up to 2007 and by inference what has happened since.

Since the end of World War II there has been continuous change in the fashion industry. The most noticeable change over the last two decades has been the shift in manufacturing of leather handbags across to China. The change has been anticipated, welcomed and ultimately accepted.

"The luxury industry has changed the way people dress ..... It has changed the way people interact. It has become part of our social fabric." (p13)

"The workroom was simple: white, with cement floors, long tables, and overhead fluorescent lights. On each table sat piles of bags from [four couture brands mentioned by name] in various states of completion. Gold cowhide clutches with linen lining, Bronze crocodile purses with enamel snakehead clasps. ... The craftsmen worked on twenty bags at a time. ..." (p197)

"That's how it is done in Europe. In China, luxury handbag manufacturing is a completely different business. Yes, luxury handbags are made in China. Top brands. Brands that you carry. Brands that deny outright that their bags are made in China make their bags in China, not Italy, not in France, not in the United Kingdom. I visited a factory in Guangdong Province and held the bags in my hands." (p197)

"There are three or four factories that specialize in manufacturing luxury brand leather goods in China, most in Dongguan, an industrial town about an hour north of Hong Kong. ... The change came in the mid-1990s when Coach decided to move a small portion of its production from the United States to China." (p138)

"... the perceived quality of Coach products has risen since it shifted production from the United States to China, and other countries." (p200)

"Emboldened by Coach's trailblazing success, other luxury brands quietly began to look into producing leather goods in China." (p200)

"As labor costs mounted in Europe in the 1990s, businesses began to source to cheaper labor elsewhere in the world." (p200)

"The most obvious place for luxury brands to trim costs was the same place that every other industry was trimming costs: in the price of labor. And the cheapest and most plentiful labor today is in China. Once Coach proved that Chinese workers could meet luxury brand quality standards, several other brands moved a small amount of production there too. Like Coach, they started with short runs of classic and basic designs of leather goods." (pp201-202)

"With each successful run, the brands got braver, ordering more, and other brands joined in the exodus. By 2006, hundreds of thousands of luxury brand handbags, toiletry cases, and satchels were produced in China each year." (p202)

"The luxury brands are fiercely protective of their logo and only send the number of labels needed for the amount of bags in each order. "If that label turns up on other bags, the logo is worthless" the manufacturer told me." (p202)

"Today, the luxury brand handbag is a study in globalization: hardware, like locks, come from Italy and China (primarily Guangzhou); the zipper comes from Japan; the lining comes from Korea; the embroidery is done in Italy, India, or northern China; the leather is from Korea or Italy; and the bag is assembled partly in China and partly in Italy." (pp202-203)

"The majority, however, carry a "Made in Italy," "Made in France," or "Made in the U.K." label. ... Another has the entire bag made in China except for the handle. The bag is shipped to Italy, where the Italian-made handle is attached." (p202)

"... in Europe, companies do not have to declare where their goods are produced." (p221)

"The evening after I visited the factory in China, I met some friends for a drink at the bar at the new Harvey Nichols store in Hong Kong. As I entered the store from the Landmark luxury shopping mall in the heart of the Central business district, I passed through the handbag department. To my right, on the shelf, sat the exact same bag I saw the Chinese girls making in the factory. ... It was for sale at Harvey Nick's for $1,200." (p204)

Since 2006, couture brands have become more open about the fact that their manufacturer is a Chinese Company. The brands are more confident about  revealing their manufacturing sources as the public becomes more accepting of that arrangement, because Chinese manufacturers, and the artisans they employ, are recognized as being 'world class'. Any concern as to the quality of the product coming from China has steadily and surely diminished in its intensity. Initial doubts have disappeared.

There is increasing confidence in the professionalism of Chinese manufacturing companies, and their ability to produce handbags of the highest quality.

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We would be interested to receive authenticated information as to trends in design, style and manufacture.

Updating is of course is a continuous process.

Jan & Dean

 



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