How to spot a quality bag

By Pierra Calasanz-Labrador for Yahoo! Southeast Asia

Bags are an essential part of your look, and because they probably get a lot more mileage than other accessories, it pays to invest in good quality. But with scores of “must-have” bags bombarding our shopping senses, how do we make the right choice?

We asked Bianca “Chi” Donato, the enterprising woman behind indie leather bag brand The School of Satchel, for some tips on buying a quality bag.

Go for classic styles.
Though it’s nice to accentuate your wardrobe with trendy statement bags (think fringe and funky flacon-shaped purses), it’s best to start with timeless pieces in neutral shades that won’t look dated next season, like a chic everyday handbag or shoulderbag, an evening clutch, and a roomy leather carry-all/work tote.

Says Donato, “I get inspiration mostly from classic shapes and timeless styles… Function plays an important role in product development, too.” Which leads us to our next point…

Choose the right size for your needs.
Do you travel light, or do you carry everything but the kitchen sink in your everyday tote? No matter how cute that itty-bitty purse is, it’ll be a waste of money if it’s the closet wallflower, always passed over for her heftier satchel sisters.

When it comes to an investment bag, make sure it satisfies in both form and function. Tip: road test your potential purchase by stuffing it with the items you intend to carry in it (work files, gym gear, evening essentials). Donato shares, “I usually use my 11-inch tan satchel or alternate with another very small bag and have learned to bring only essentials on a daily basis. It’s quite liberating and very easy on the shoulders, too!”

Getting your money’s worth. A fashion trick is to go cheap on trendy items that you’ll probably junk next season, and slowly invest in good—not necessarily branded—quality bags that will serve as key pieces in your wardrobe. A quality leather bag, for example, will age beautifully through the years, while a cheap synthetic knock-off may fall apart after a few wears.

“Unfortunately, due to advances in technology, it’s become harder to distinguish a leather vs. synthetic bag at a glance. Customers usually check description label, price, and look for the distinct leather scent,” Donato says. In addition, she shares these helpful guidelines when shopping for leather goods:

• Generally, a genuine leather surface is not completely smooth to touch. You might spot a few wrinkles which is a property inherited from the animal. Fake leather will feel and look perfectly flat because it is made of plastic.
• Examine the item very closely and look for pores on the surface of the leather.  Animal skin has pores similar to human skin.  They should look irregular if it is a genuine leather product. Pores on synthetic leather will be more uniform because a machine fabricates it.
• Try to feel and inspect the wrong side of the raw leather. Again, it is likely to feel coarse and inconsistent if it is made of real leather.
• Try to fold or bend repeatedly a small portion of the item and see if the material breaks or cracks. Genuine leather products should not chip easily.
• For more adventurous souls, try exposing a portion of the leather to a small flame [obviously this applies if only you have already bought the item, so the test is mainly for curiosity]. Synthetic fibers will immediately catch fire while leather will not. They will likely burn or change color which is the same principle as laser engraving on leather. 

Imported isn’t automatically better. Admittedly, the common perception is that imported products are always superior in quality. Donato, who considers herself more of a leather and Pinoy handicraft enthusiast than a bag enthusiast, is passionate about promoting local products—not just her own line.

“Our local products and talent can without a doubt compete in the global market. What we do lack is investment in infrastructure and technology to enable us to manufacture higher volumes at consistent quality. Once a upon a time in the 1970s, Marikina was the biggest manufacturer of quality shoes in the country, and made waves abroad when its shoes and handbags made of snakeskin were all the rave on Fifth Avenue in New York. There used to be 7000 factories in Marikina; now, only about 130 remain. It has been said that there will be a ‘renaissance’ in Philippine manufacturing in a decade’s time, and I hope by that time we will be ready to meet the demands of the global market. My ultimate goal is for global recognition for Philippine manufactured products.”

What better reason do you need to go shopping for a proudly Pinoy bag?