Poor Quality Designer Bags to Avoid

Image source: miumiu.com Resort 2015 ad campaign featuring Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos

Chrome or chemical leather VS Natural vegetable leather tanning 

A two part special investigative journalism series

If you are wondering what led us to research the leather tanning process, the answer lies in our own personal experience with inferior quality designer bags which led to the discovery of the emergence of unethical and dishonest fashion brands.

Poor quality designer bags and luxury items
Oftentimes, people purchase luxury branded bags thinking that they are of higher quality and are long-lasting. For instance, one could use their beloved bag over and over again without having to throw away or replace them, unlike high-street fashion brands that usually carry poorly-made synthetic leather handbags and accessories.

After last year's report on Burberry using toxic chemicals to produce their main and children's line clothing, consumers need to know that high-end luxury brands do not equate to the same-old high quality items than compared to decades ago.

You don't pay for what you get

"Leather goods, even with constant use, can last over a hundred years. In this sense, they are a highly sustainable product. An artisan who makes leather gun cases told me that, if a leather bag is made properly, it should be decades before it needs repair. However, in order to boost margins and cope with increased demand, many luxury brands now manufacture their leather goods to a much lower standard" - BOF (Business of Fashion)

There are many products in the market that cost a good couple of grand that will sadly last less than a year before they are in need of repair. To reduce overheads and production costs, some luxury brands have resorted to dishonest means such as varnishing the edges of bags with acrylic. Such technique would cause the leather edges to crack quickly so people need to replace their handbags.

Sub-standard hardware such as lead or tin based allow rather than brass or specially plated steel are used in handbags, belts and other accessories. Even the traditional art of hand-stitching bags using the saddle stitch method is replaced by machine or shoddy normal-stitching.

"A leather good cannot be considered ‘sustainable’ or ‘luxury’ if a brand has compromised on materials and manufacturing processes to the point that the object will last mere years, rather than decades. Price alone does not determine whether or not a product is luxury. Many brands, including some of the most august names in the luxury industry, have undermined their legacies by chasing volume and profits at the cost of quality, all while doing considerable harm to the environment." - BOF

Bad experience with inferior designer handbags
When we first set eyes on the vibrant-coloured Miu Miu's Resort collection handbags during an overseas trip, it was love at first sight.

However, after taking the bags home, using them for a few times in less than a month, the colour starts running and the top layer of the nappa leather had peeled off revealing ugly bluish-gray of what looks like cheap, chemical-treated leather.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The colours you can produce from natural vegetable tanning methods are limited. Hence brands prefer chrome tanning for the colour options and because it is quick and cheaper too.

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Picture of a damaged miu miu gold matelasse small shoulder bag with the color ran-off revealing greyish-blue poor quality chemically treated leather. The new miu miu bags are no longer made in Italy. They are made in Turkey. The handbag was used only twice before the leather started peeling off.

Other brands we had experience with poor quality, defective bags include Celine and Barbara Bui.

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Celine Trapeze bag from the Spring Summer 2015 collection had shoddy workmanship showing a blob of lacquer spillover onto the front flap of the bag, putting into question whether there really is quality control for the French brand's leather goods and accessories.

Chemical Tanning Versus Natural Leather Bags
Just what is chemical tanning and how does it differ from vegetable or natural leather tanning process?

"Over three quarters of the tanneries represented at any trade fair use the process of chrome tanning to turn animal hides into the leather that is used by high street, contemporary and luxury brands alike." - BOF

"80-90% of leathers in the world are tanned by chrome or mineral tanning. Chrome tanning uses a solution of chemicals, acids and salts (including chromium sulphate) to dye the hide. First the hide is ‘pickled’ by being left in the acid salt mixture, before being placed into the chromium sulphate.

All hides then come out looking light blue (known as ‘wet blue’) and then have a finishing colour applied." - AB Trading

Chrome tanning is a quick process which takes approximately a day to produce a piece of chemical dyed leather. However, chromium is a highly toxic chemical that contaminates water and land wherever such cheap leather is manufactured.

The leather produced by this technique is resistant to stains and is soft to touch. Nappa leather is one of these types and are common product of chrome tanning.

Why is Chrome tanning bad?
Chrome tanning is harmful to the environment and is produced with little or no skill required in mass quantities.

It does not last long and use well just like our miu miu nappa leather biker bags which cracked and peeled off shockingly after we used it for less than a month.

Chrome tanned leather often reeks of chemicals and scratches cannot be buffed out easily.

Vegetable or Natural Tanning

"Vegetable tanning is an ancient and traditional craft process that tanneries have passed down over the years." - BillAmberg, Luxury leather goods London based designer.

Creating natural tanned leather is a time-consuming process that can take up to two months. 

It's the best way to show leather is its natural state and witness the skill and craftsmanship behind the tanning process by looking at the finished product.

Vegetable or natural leather tanning uses plant-based natural tannins such as woods, barks, fruits, and leaves.

Look out next week for part two of our special feature story on the leather goods business industry where we've interviewed an industry veteran leather bag craftsman from Italy to share his views. We will also touch on the advantages of vegetable, natural tanned leather.


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