How to Become a Handbag Designer

Posted by Audrey Williams on

I made handbags for myself as a hobby for several years before starting my sewing pattern line Sew Chic Handbags.  I had no idea how much fun I’d have running a small business! The best part is interacting with my lovely customers from around the world and seeing the cute bags they make with my patterns.  In real life I’m a chemical engineer in the oil industry and while I enjoy my day job I love the creative outlet designing handbags has given me.  It’s also a different type of technical challenge-if you don’t like geometry-don’t try to get into handbag design or pattern making!

Isabel Satchel Sewing Pattern

There was a post the other day in a handbag making Facebook group I follow asking how to become a self-taught handbag designer.  Well I can’t tell you how to become the next Michael Kors (still working on that) but I can share a few tips from my humble experience:

Tip 1: Practice, Practice, Practice! 

Handbag Designer Sketching

No one ever got good at anything without putting in the time.  I can definitely see improvement in my skills the more bags I make.  When you first start out you should be sketching all the time-multi-task while watching Netflix!  Then try constructing your designs.

Learn a design software package like Adobe Illustrator (or the free version Inkscape). There is a world of difference between what you can hand draft versus the angles and curves that are possible with software.

If you see a bag you like-reverse engineer in your mind what it would take to make it, what you like and don’t like about the bag’s features, and how you could make it better. Then try making the new and improved version.

Tip 2: Learn to Sew Handbags Yourself!

Learn to Sew

For those of you that have tried to reach out to manufacturers to have your designs made, you probably learned the conversation becomes really technical very fast.  You should understand basic sewing terms like seam allowance, serging, stitch length, darts, ease, basting, etc.  You should also have tried to construct your own bag even if it’s only a very basic tote bag or zipper pouch.  There are a million free tutorials on the web (and this blog or check out my YouTube video on constructing a basic tote bag)-no excuses! Try making one of the patterns in my shop.

The reasons for making your own bags are:

  • To learn the technical aspects of sewing so that you can communicate better with those in your supply chain once you become the next Coach
  • To learn about fabrics-try making bags out of leather, vinyl, cotton, synthetics, etc.
  • To be able to economically try and sell your bags to test if there is any market interest

Tip 3: Learn From Others

Take a look at what other successful designers have done and try to learn from them.  Now I’m not saying steal their designs but if you see a bag you like online-take a look at the customer reviews.  Did the customer wish the bag were bigger or smaller, hate the straps, love the material, etc.?  Take in this feedback when making your own designs. 

Visit stores that carry bags you like.  Look closely at bags you are drawn to.  How are they constructed?  What materials do they use?  What are their price points-what is the difference in the look and feel of a $500 versus $25 bag?

Tip 4: Learn How to Run a Small Handbag Business

Starting a Handbag Business

Many people think becoming a fashion designer is all glamour and sketching but the successful ones are able to deftly navigate the business world. What are the requirements in your state or city to open a business?  Do you need licenses or permits?  Determine the tax structure of your business-LLC, Sole Proprietor, etc.

Who will manufacture your bags?  Will you make them yourself at first to test the market or reach out immediately to manufacturers? If reaching to manufacturers be sure to ask:

  • What are their minimum runs? Do they require you to order 100 or 1000 bags? Are they willing to work with a new designer?
  • Will they help you to procure fabric or you need to do this separately? Do they have relationships with fabric or hardware manufacturers you can leverage?
  • How much do they charge to make a pattern? Many new designers approach manufacturers’ with just a sketch. The manufacturer then needs to convert this into a pattern before manufacturing
  • How much are samples? Typically there is a base charge just to make one sample bag that you and the manufacturer need to agree on before they will begin making your line.  That is why it is so crucial that you learn to make your own bags so that you can minimize the costs associated with this step.
  • Do they manufacture the types of bags you are trying to make? Some manufacturers are purely cut and sew and will not do any sort of gluing or handling of chemicals required to make many of the more complicated bags.
  • How long will it take them to make your bags? When can they start on your line-are there other customers’ orders ahead of yours?

How will you sell your work?  Brick and Mortar, Department Stores, Consignment Shops, Wholesale, Craft Fairs, Ecommerce?  Etsy or Shopify? What are the relative costs of each option?

How will you market your work?  Purely through word of mouth and social media or will you pay to advertise on the web?  Do you know about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for websites?

As you can see there are a million things to learn about opening a small handbag business. But I KNOW you can do it! Hope these small words of advice are helpful on your journey to becoming the next Prada.