How to spot Quality in A Handbag-Part 1 : Craftsmanship

As a kid, I followed my mother and grandfather Silvan (Anne Sylvain namesake) around stores while they studied stitching and pored over leathers and materials, always looking for the telltale signs of premature wear and tear. Frustrated by the relatively poor quality of even very highly priced leather handbags and accessories, it was partly this training that led me to start Anne Sylvain.

This post about craftsmanship is the first in a series about handbag quality. I will cover leather quality in a future post.

So many products available today look, feel and are disposable. Wear them a day, a month, a year and then throw them away. If you are looking for a high quality handbag that will last decades if cared for properly, we present:


1. Edges

Look where one piece of leather meets another piece. Are all of those edges securely and neatly folded and stitched (like the hem on a dress) or are they cut and painted? A properly folded and stitched edge, as on all Anne Sylvain handbags, will last. A cut and painted edge will chip and fray, especially in high wear areas like the straps, outside edges and the base of the bag. Designers cut and paint edges to save costs: cutting/painting requires less leather, time and skill.

Side note: the designer of a rougher style of handbag may purposefully leave the edges unturned as part of an unfinished or casual look.

2. Stitching

Look carefully at a handbag’s stitching. A refined, high quality handbag will have smaller stitches and more stitches per inch. In addition, all stitching should be even - the spacing and the linear pattern of the stitches should be the same stitch-to-stitch.

To spot craftsmanship problems, look for uneven stitching, unraveling stitches, and crooked stitching, all of which indicate a lack of quality craftsmanship.

3. Piecing

By "piecing" I mean unnecessarily creating a bag from many small pieces of leather. The greater the number of leather pieces on a handbag, the greater the number of points of wear. Also, large, high quality pieces of leather are more difficult to obtain and even when available, they are much more expensive than small pieces. This is especially true in luxury leathers like those we use at Anne Sylvain. So, piecing is typically another sign of a designer cutting costs.

Side note: sometimes piecing is part of design - For example, stripes of different leathers or a patchwork pattern on a bag. Another time piecing is necessary is when the handbag is made from a leather that only comes in small pieces. This is true when python and other snake leather is used on a larger handbag.

4. Main Wear Points

Points on a handbag that suffer heavy wear should be solidly reinforced. Tug at the straps. Pull them away from the bag. Does that cause the stitching to pull out or poor craftsmanship to show?

Other main points of wear are the handbag’s base, interior and corners. If the handbag is designed to stand on its own, its base should have metal “feet” on the bottom to protect it. Corners of a bag should be solid and smooth with no unnecessary protrusions that will wear and fray over time. In addition, for long term wear, the interior of a finely crafted bag should be constructed with durable material. Higher end handbag interiors are constructed of high quality leather, see #6 below.

5. Hardware

High quality zippers are always metal and they slide back and forth with ease. A zipper that is tough to slide will break. A vinyl zipper will also break. And quickly.

Strap rings, swivels, and bag locks, the hinges, screws and snaps should be solid and securely crafted so that when a piece swivels or moves, it does so smoothly. Also, look for tarnishing. Hardware that is not coated properly will tarnish over time. In addition, if you see scratches, check to see if you can see another material under the scratch - another color, which is an indication of poor quality plating.

6. Interior

The highest quality and most refined leather handbags are lined in high quality leather. High quality leather will not rip and tear like fabric. Also, dust and some mild dirt on a high quality leather interior can be cleaned with a slightly damp microfiber cloth (note: this method is not effective with suede, which requires a suede brush). If the interior is cloth, make sure it is coated and very durable/not likely to tear.

7. Function

Handle the bag as you would if you used it. Tug at the straps and handles. Open and close the bag and all interior and exterior pockets. You should be able to do these things with relative ease and without it resulting in any telltale signs of future damage or wear.

8. People

A high quality handbag is only as good as the people who made it.  Learning how to craft a truly refined luxury handbag takes many years of training. We searched for years before finding the US based artisans who now create Anne Sylvain handbags. These talented individuals have dedicated decades to honing their skills and are justifiably proud of the work they do.

9. Ethics

Related to “People” (#8 above), at Anne Sylvain, we believe that quality craftsmanship cannot be divorced from a quality work environment. We are proud to say that we visit our US based factory regularly and know first hand the quality conditions in which our craftspeople work. Unfortunately, this is not true for many workers in the fashion industry. If you care about how your product was produced, find out where your handbag was made and try to confirm how workers are treated. REMEMBER: you vote on this issue with your dollars. Read more about Anne Sylvain ethics here. 

10. Leather

I will cover leather quality in a future post. Suffice it to say that high quality craftsmanship with poor quality leather does not result not in a high quality bag.   

Hope this was helpful. If you have any questions about fine leather craftsmanship, we'd love to hear from you:

Patricia Raskin, Founder, Creative Director, ANNE SYLVAIN