Bags of Personality (Or How I Learned to Stop Throwing Things Out and to Love Bespoke)

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A lot has been lost in the last few decades with more and more of our fashion coming off the rack. It’s a mass produced nightmare, ill-fitting in both size and style for most of us. We are forced into clothes that the high street have decreed are fashionable with very little choice outside of that, and are judged for not fitting into the mould these shops have created. How many of us have looked in the window of a shop and thought “none of this is me” for whatever reason? But with, what feels like, no choice outside of the norm we often end up buying the same uniform of fashion as everyone else. It is only when you free yourself from the high street mentality that we can explore what clothes can really give us and our own personalities freely.

I’ve talked at length about how to go alternative,about finding that self-expression and how to do that with a small budget, but I also want to talk about the other end of the spectrum, the wonderful world of bespoke fashion.

Please don’t run away, I know, bespoke is scary. It’s expensive and often it’s in shops that look like you might have to give over your life savings to just step through the door, BUT I promise it is so much more than this and often you will find it to be a loving place where people truly enjoy what they create. There is something wonderful about being able to trace a garment back to its roots, it’s like you know it intimately. A bespoke piece of craftspersonship is something more than a bag or a coat; it’s something special and should add to your world. Every garment you own should make you happy in some way, but a bespoke piece should do more than that, simply owning it gives you a special little sparkle inside. You can see the time, skill and love of a master craftsperson, and that is so much more than just clothes; the hands that worked it, crafted it, made it just for you. And it is just for you. A piece that has been made so beautifully, it must be.

And the thing is a bespoke piece will last! You may spend more money on it to start with but you will still have it in working nick after 10, 15, even 20 years! After all we are all paying more and more for clothes that don’t last; you have to buy new stuff each season, not just to keep up with the “latest trends” but simply because things wear through, fall apart and break within months of buying them. It’s the Sam Vimes School of Economics:

“A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars… But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”

Now, I’m not going to get into the politics of this, because that’s a whole different argument for another time that has many, many, MANY complex layers to it that involve lots of terrible things about capitalism, class systems and what humans do to each other for money – I mean this stuff might be cheap but we all know someone is being woefully underpaid, in awful conditions for us to have it at that price, sigh – BUT I do think that idea that buying a well-made piece if you can is worth the money because it will last. And you get that special little sparkle I spoke about from a bespoke piece, knowing that you are paying a brilliant craft person for their time and skill.

I’m going to illustrate this by talking about a home grown, British company that I have been introduced to on the ground floor as it were, making great quality bags for everyone from the most fashion conscious amongst us, to those who are going to hike up a mountain in the middle of nowhere and still look damn good doing it.

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John Lowin are creating a brand new way of expressing yourself, and they are also taking a wonderfully old fashioned path to give it to you.

“We are committed to reinvigorating traditional artisanal skills in the crafting of our unique pieces. Quality and longevity take precedent over cheap and speedy mass production – no corners cut, no humans harmed.”

John Lowin are a new company in the UK creating bespoke bags which will not only last a life time but change with you and your tastes. Which sounds kind of impossible and a little hokey, but trust me, when I saw these beautiful pieces, my mind was blown. Each of the incredibly made leather and canvas bags, made in their factory in Somerset with locally sourced materials, has a clear front compartment the perfect size to take either the sleeve of a 33” or 45” record. That’s right, you can display your favourite pieces of art work and your favourite bands as you walk to work. The bags range from satchels to canvas shoulder bags to rucksacks, to fit whatever needs you have, all with the tortoise shell guaranty, something which I think completely encapsulates the bespoke mind-set.

“We will deliver quality wares, no matter the time it takes, and like the shell of the tortoise our products are unequivocally individual.” – Why the Tortoise Shell?

Not only do they guaranty quality but they also promise that you will never get a bag like it. Each bag has a silver sixpence sewn into it. I mean, if you’re going to have a trademark for your wares you can’t get much cooler than that, come on! It’s a statement of intent that they will deliver what they say, as well as creating a unique item for each customer.

“A sixpence in a leather purse is the mark of a genuine original John Lowin bag. In UK circulation from 1551 until 1980, it has been seen as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune since the time of Elizabeth 1st.

As well as featuring in Victorian wedding rhyme, a sixpence was often sewn into the badges of World War Two pilots in the hope it would offer them protection. We hope your sixpence brings you good fortune.”

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John himself, because he is a real person not just a company name, is an advocate for quality goods, fair working conditions and a champion of craftspeople, he believes that keeping his all of his manufacturing – the factory, the materials, the workers – in the UK will help support the local area and help skilled artisans get jobs. A lot of his ideas come from his love of vintage fashion, as fan of old school clothing, running his own vintage shop. With the rise of vinyl again leading to an upsurge in expressive and interesting cover art for record, John, ever on the look-out for ways of expressing his passion for all things vintage, saw a vision of putting a modern twist on this very vintage of ideas.

I think we’ve all seen the Japanese bags with the clear windows in them, but they do not stand up to the utter style and sophistication that oozes out of these designs. This is something different. It isn’t that tacky fabric covered in glitter screaming to be sent back to the 90s, this is timeless design integrating with modern ideas in a way that will last both visually and physically. This is company that marries the feel of high class design with that sense fun and childish excitement that personalization brings. They are allowing people who may not necessarily be interested in a cute pink bag with wings and opportunity to let loose and enjoy that sparkle of creativity.

I find that a lot of the time, anyone who dresses in vintage actually wants to be able to marry their love of this old school look with their modern life. We want to wear plus fours and still carry our laptops, or listen to vinyl and still have the songs on our phones and iPods, and for me, that is what we are being given in these bags. It’s a perfect marriage of past and present; honouring the look classic designs and incorporating a modern technology to share that love for vintage vinyl. John Lowin promotes this idea so well in their shop “Vintage to Vogue”, keeping one foot in the beautiful designs of the 20s, 30s and 40s as well as looking to the future of fashion in the UK.

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The quality is obvious from the moment you hold one, you can feel the stitching, the fixtures and fittings fitting perfectly together, working as one. And the thing is, this isn’t just some big company trying to sell you something that’s this season’s thing, this a group of people who really love what they are making and are trying to make the best products they can. The thought and vision that has gone into each and every design is evident. These are items that will withstand the harsh tests of fashion and of our modern lifestyles.

You can now follow me on Instagram @lilistprince and on twitter @lilistprince. I will be posting daily looks on both of these, and chatting about life as a nonbinary person.

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‘Olly Out!

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Written by Holly Rose Swinyard

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