For a person to carry bags since he needs to move his possessions, especially his tools, from one place to another. Prehistoric rock engravings in northern Australia reveal a picture of what looks like a warrior with a bag on his shoulder. Snowman “Ötzi” also carried a backpack 5,300 years ago and put a pouch attached to a leather belt. Ancient Roman soldiers hung leather bags on their shoulders, similar to the men’s handbags we see in stores today.
But there is a difference between these bags and the luxury bags that are manufactured by international fashion houses today, despite the fact that these old bags were manufactured with great craftsmanship.
The accuracy of handcraft is one of the main features that distinguish the history of handbags, from the beginning of their emergence till the era of the current industrial economy, especially after the bags acquired an aesthetic value that exceeded their practical value. Today, Italy is, as it has been decades ago, the beating heart of the handbag trade.
Studio Sarta, overlooking the port of Palermo on the island of Sicily, is one of 4,500 leather goods companies in Italy. The company was founded by brothers Fabio and Giorgia Gaeta in 2017. Sarta’s bags are distinguished by their elegance and luxury.
The company keeps pace with recent developments, as it promotes its products on Instagram, posting on its page attractive pictures of bags that match the fluctuating natural background or the luxurious decorations.
Sarta relies on traditional Italian craftsmanship and uses hand-woven leather inlaid with wicker, which is used in the manufacture of many bags in Sicily.
Every step in the bag manufacturing process, from design to production, is performed manually. At a tannery in Tuscany, workers clean the leather, place it in a huge barrel filled with vegetable dyes, and then flip it together. This process takes five times longer than industrial tanning.
Georgia says that drying the leather and dyeing it by hand gives it a distinctive antique color. The roots of vegetable tanning go back to prehistoric times, but it is booming in Tuscany.
When the tanned leather reaches Sartha, it is cut and sewn with wicker, according to Georgian designs. This combination of craftsmanship and contemporary design has met with great demand among customers, as the company sold in its first year only 200 bags, and now it sells 1,000 bags annually, most of them to customers from Italy, France and the United Kingdom, and hopes in the coming years to expand in China.
Made in Italy
Leather making is an ancient tradition rooted in Italian history, to the point that many of the major fashion houses started manufacturing leather products, although it is now famous for producing a wide range of products.
The famous “Prada” fashion house started as a leather goods store in Milan in 1913, and “Gucci” was a leather goods store in Florence in 1921. In the seventies of the last century, the name of the fashion house “Roberto Cavalli” became famous due to the innovation of methods of printing on leather, Albeit, it is now famous for its dull jeans and brightly colored fabrics.
Before World War II, bags were manufactured in many regions, including Frankfurter, Geneva, Paris and some parts of England. However, after the war ended, the fashion industry developed and became dependent on machines, and this coincided with an increased need to produce goods on a large scale. The perfect solution was to have all the necessary elements, from textile makers to designers and distributors, in one place, and that place is Italy.
In the 1960s, Italians took advantage of their booming economy and the low price of Italian goods compared to those in other European countries, and expanded their market dominance, says Elizabeth Patton, a correspondent for the New York Times.
“Made in Italy” is one of the most powerful commercial logos in the world, and holds a special place in the hearts of people around the world, Patton says. “This global reputation that Italy gained for the ingenuity of its skilled craftsmen and the quality of designs helped it become the beating heart of the luxury industry.” .
The expansion of manufacturing
Georgia says that it is not easy for handicrafts to withstand the automatic industries in the global market, noting that electronic commerce and social networks have become the link between handicraftsmen and consumers, and have contributed to reducing the costs of distribution and selling through retail outlets in commercial streets.
Italy tops the list of exporting countries for leather goods at the level of Europe, as the value of its exports of leather goods reached 6.8 billion euros in the first ten months of 2018, an increase of 10.3 percent from 2017, and handbags accounted for 60 percent of leather exports.
However, this growth in sales is offset by a decrease in the number of companies. In Italy, 45 leather goods companies have closed.
Moreover, the Italian workforce is aging. Patton says that the new generation in Italy is no longer eager to learn the crafts of its fathers and grandfathers, and the major fashion houses and craftsmen have a responsibility to convince these young people of the importance of learning these skills to preserve the country’s reputation, especially since many of them are now heading to cities to learn the skills of the compressor.
This is in addition to the fact that handmade bags requires more effort and higher cost compared to its machine-manufactured counterpart in large quantities.
Riccardo Brasilini, executive director of “Maple Leather Goods”, says that the handbag industry in Italy is a reflection of globalization, as the small ones gradually disappear and take their place with the larger ones.
However, handmade bags are not likely to disappear from Italy, as many major fashion houses still rely on handcrafted bags and accessories to maintain a high profit margin. And it was these companies that promoted the concept of luxury bags.
In the fifties of the last century, major fashion houses such as “Chanel” began to manufacture the famous handbags that suit every customer. And in the 1980s and 1990s, Hermes, Prada, Fendi, Christian Dior, Planesaga and Gucci fashions began creating their own distinctive bags. Some of these bags have maintained their value thus far. In 2017, an auction price of a Hermes bag reached 284,000 pounds.
But these companies know how much customers care about handcrafted precision as they do about the brand that adorns the product. Sean Ren, managing director of the China Market Research Group, says super-rich millionaires will not want to buy Louis Vuitton and Gucci products because they see it as popular, and are looking for special things that no one else has.
That is why the major fashion houses are now investing in building schools to teach the new generation to manufacture handbags by hand, so that it can meet the growing global demand for handmade bags. Switzerland is the leading importer of Italian leather goods, followed by France, the United States, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.
China is ranked ninth among Italian importers of leather goods, although the demand for it in China is increasing at a faster rate than other countries. China ranks second in the world in terms of the size of the luxury goods market.
But the irony is that Asia, despite its passion for Italian bags, produces huge numbers of bags at low prices. Even the prices of Asian bags are tempting Italians to buy them.
In 2018, the volume of leather goods that entered Italy from abroad reached 123 million kilograms, and 60 percent of them were from China.
But the value of these goods is not comparable to that of their Italian counterpart. The average price of Italian imports is 21.42 euros per kilo, while the value of goods exported by Italy is 134.19 euros per kilo. But the high price of these goods poses another challenge for Italy’s handbag makers.
Patton says that globalization threatens the traditional Italian market, especially in light of the low prices of foreign workers in Eastern Europe or India, Bangladesh, China and Vietnam, and many famous international companies have moved their headquarters to countries with cheap labor.
Luxury goods account for 5 percent of Italy’s GDP and employ half a million people. These changes, Patton said, could affect the entire nation’s economy.
And about luxury bags, Patton says that a thousand pounds sterling may be a large sum to spend on a handbag, but you will carry this fact for ten years, and you feel that you own a part of this legacy, brand or culture.
Patton believes that luxury handbags, such as jewelry, are associated with special moments in the life of many, such as a wedding feast or a reward from work, and this is the secret of her appeal.
And no matter how large the gap between the price of a handmade bag and its machine-made theory, people will still appreciate the value of owning a unique product that is unparalleled.
As long as people spend lavishly on handbags and the major fashion houses and elite customers pay attention to the delicacy of craftsmanship, we will carry our collections, like our ancestors, in handmade bags for years to come.