Well friends and Alf mamas – I freakin’ did it! After three years in business, making bloody beautiful bags for you lot, I travelled alone all the way to the shores of the manufacturing kingdom of Guangzhou to meet with the artisans and cleaver cookies who bring my designs to life.
What a thrill!
I have to say, I was originally going to take my family (husby and kiddos) for a bit of moral support. But heck I am so glad I didn’t! Thankfully, travelling alone isn’t new to me, in a previous life (when I was 21) I worked as Cabin Crew for Emirates Airlines, so I wasn’t worried about culture shock or not feeling comfortable. I was more concerned about missing my little people… and them missing me! But they were FINE and it was GREAT!!
I stayed in a freakin' fancy hotel – The Sofitel Sunrich. Which was flipping lovely. I bathed alone, pee’d alone and slept in a giant bed in total darkness without being woken up at 5:30am each morning. That in itself was worth the eight hour plane trip (thanks hubby, who stayed back at home to look after the kids ;-) )
The aim of the visit was to meet my manufacturing peeps – get a bit chummy, talk about operational thangs, eat yummy food and lock them in a room to talk about the new design ideas I have had floating around in my head.
First stop was the Leather and Hardware Markets – and OH BOY. I was like a kid in a candy store… if I could insert 1,000 heart eye emjois right here I would. SO MUCH FUN! I thought I was pretty well versed in all kinds of leather, but holy crap balls I knew about 8% of what I do now. I can tell split leather from top grain within seconds, know the difference between Chinese, Italian and Korean Napa, understand the leather tanning process, can see the difference between pony hair and cow hide, and have learnt enough to stand firm on not wanting to use PU/Vegan leather (that shit is BAAAAD) and know the appropriate uses of each style and type of animal leather available.
It was a tops day. I chose new styles of leather and hardware for future collections – and met a bunch of people from the tanneries the leather is processed in.
Visiting the ridgy dige workshops where our gloriously luscious bags are hand stitched, and assembled was something else. I had seen heaps of videos and photos of the workshops before, but actually being in the same space was epic. The team at one of our suppliers were rocking out to Chinese dance music whilst busy working. Classic. Those are definitely my kinda people.
I learnt some kewl things too. I bet you didn’t know Ariand Stella use between 13.5 and 14.5 square feet of leather per bag. Holy cow. Just think of the front panels of both of those bags and you can see why. If you’re a numbers person, the Muriel uses around eight square feet…In another room there was who I can only assume was a marketing person, photographing another dude wearing a leather apron – International content creation at it’s best.
One of the days was spent over in Donnguan, a neighbouring city around 1.5hrs away from Guangzhou checking out how packaging – cardboard boxes, tissue paper and stationary is made. I’m a total nerd for learning how things work so seeing the machines and production stages of box manufacturing gave me all the feels.
We ate some damn good Chinese food too… the sweet and sour fish we had at a restaurant in Dongguan was next level good. Did you know that every province in China eats a different cuisine? And people from the south have often not even tried some of the northern dishes. Legit, my friends had never had lemon chicken or pork!? Clearly they haven’t visited any Australian Chinese take away shops.
I’m proud to report I managed to allude eating chicken’s feet, tripe, pig trotters and offal the entire trip. Win.
So… I bet you’re thinking all this is really interesting – but how exactly is a bag made?
Wheeeellll friend…. Let me enlighten you.
- The Sample Master draws up the design details in AutoCad
- Sends the design to his fangled printer which creates a sophisticated dot-to-dot pattern template
- The template pieces are cut out and a 3D cardboard mock of the bag is assembled
- Leather is sourced from the tannery
- Hardware is purchased from the market
- The pattern is recreated and used to cut the leather panels
- The leather panels are glued and sewn together piece by piece and hardware attached,
- Then the bag is cleaned and fluffed out with stuffing,
- QC gets involved and checks each piece for visible faults before the bags are packed for shipment
There is something controversial I really want to point out - and this is even more relevant having now visited my suppliers in person. "Made in China" does not always mean poor quality or unethically made.
When I started this business I purposefully chose to produce my bags in China because of the professionalism and high standards of the manufacturers I was dealing with. Since having visited myself, I stand by this more than ever. I can personally attest the craftsmen and women creating our Alf bags are happy, well paid and work in comfortable conditions. The materials we use meet very high European environmental standards and are of premium quality. In fact the whole process in which our bags are produced is of a very high standard - and I am so proud of everything I saw and experienced in the past week. Hooray!
That’s it for part one of my trip report peeps. If you’re really into this stuff I have been positing a little more on my personal Instagram page @_sophie_doyle – so head over there and let me know if there is anything you wanna know.
Big love, Sophie xo