11 Jan 2007
Treasure Trove(HKTDC Fashion - Leather Goods & Bags, Vol 01,2007)
Kinstar Handbag Mfg Co Ltd
|Fashion handbags from Kinstar Handbag Mfg Co Ltd bear the company's Ibiza brand|
The pirate days of yore may be long gone, but handbag manufacturer Stanley Ng is currently turning the buccaneers' trademark into not-so-buried treasure.
The Kinstar Handbag Mfg Co Ltd director seemingly can't produce enough jet-black handbags decorated with a large skull and crossbones that stand out starkly in bright silver studs.
"We've just airfreighted another batch of 1,500 pieces to London," he explains, adding that Kinstar is also flying extra shipments to Germany.
"In this business you never know what the next trend will be, but right now skull-and-crossbones bags are all the rage."
Ng has learnt by experience that when a company hits a winner in the volatile fashion handbag market, it simply ramps up production and fills every order.
"Our last 'hot' product was in 2003-4 when we pioneered 'picture' handbags," Ng recalls. "The bags had nice clear colour pictures of everything from motorbikes to groups of happy kids - my own son was in the middle of one group of youngsters."
Kinstar shipped 80,000 picture bags a month to major markets such as Europe, the UK, the US and Australia. "Altogether, we must have sold at least a million, but suddenly a new fad emerged and nobody wanted colour picture bags any more."
It's all part and parcel of the swift learning curve Ng has experienced since leaving his steady job at a bank in 1999 and going it alone as a middleman exporting handbags and shoes. "You learn fast when you're running a one-man operation," he notes.
Now he has his own well-established Ibiza brand and a factory in Guangzhou on the Chinese mainland, where some 100 workers stitch bags in a variety of different designs.
Basic materials include leather, PU and durable cloth, augmented by funky add-ons such as coloured faux fur for teenagers' bags, imitation leopard and lion skin, wool trims, beads, buttons, bows and furbelows.
In addition, Kinstar is an ODM manufacturer for some of the biggest international brands. "When we get really big orders, we have to sub-contract work to other manufacturers - that's why I have a second home in Guangzhou and spend at least two days a week there, supervising operations," Ng explains. "We insist on high-quality workmanship because of our reputation and won't tolerate anything that's even faintly sub-standard."
He notes that today's tastes trend towards large bags in different shapes, often with big straps and side pockets, and generally chunky. "These days women in the UK, Europe and North America want to carry more stuff like cell phones, cigarettes, a lighter, wallet, coin purse, make-up, a scarf and maybe gloves if it's a cold day," Ng declares. "However, in areas such as Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where it's hot all year-round, the preference is for smaller, neater bags."
Ibiza bags sell around the world, including Russia, Turkey, Argentina, Australasia and Southeast Asia, and are now blazing a sales trail across the Chinese mainland.
"The mainland is definitely the future," Ng predicts, adding that prosperity is "very widespread" and fashion-conscious shoppers are emerging everywhere.
"Our bags are already in all the big cities on the mainland thanks to a tie-in with the ITAT department store chain with its 400 outlets - which will shortly rise to 1,000 shops," he explains.
Not surprisingly, Ng is a regular at the annual leatherware trade show in Milan and also travels to Paris and London in pursuit of the newest trends together with his wife Yammie, who is also the Kinstar manager.
The resulting ideas are then discussed with their Hong Kong Polytechnic University-trained designer and back-up designers at the factory, before another hopefully hot-selling handbag is developed.
Ng is upbeat about the future for fashion handbags, but admits that Kinstar faces many of the same problems as the rest of the Hong Kong handbag manufacturing industry. "Retaining staff is our biggest problem today - plus maintaining our record for high-quality bags with eye-catching designs," Ng concludes.
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
Kinstar Handbag Mfg Co Ltd