Bag a new skill

22 February 2018

In a challenging market perhaps finding a niche to occupy as a supplement to everyday drycleaning or wetcleaning work could be the way forward for many businesses. Brian Pearce looks at handbag cleaning and restoration

Since the advent of the designer handbag, services devoted to cleaning and restoration of these items have boomed in Asia in general and in the Far East in particular. Unlike in the UK, most drycleaners in the region, although they may be poor- or middling-quality for drycleaning, offer a full leather cleaning service for handbags, shoes and leathers, plus in most cases a full restoration service. Individual shops carry out this service on their premises while larger groups have a specialised unit.

I had the privilege of opening up a high end dry cleaning franchise in Chengdu China, where the leather department has as high a priority as the drycleaning department. Handbag cleaning and restoration needs to be an integral part of the service if you want to attract customers and retain them.

Although I consider myself an expert with the drycleaning of leather garments, I was not an expert in the cleaning and restoration of handbags and shoes, so the training in this department was therefore sourced out to other franchisees that had built up the necessary expertise over many years.

Designer bags are expensive to buy and to have cleaned so understandably customers’ expectations are very high, therefore it is critical a dialogue is created with the customer from reception. Customer service personnel will never be experts but they must be trained to examine in meticulous detail every item that is brought in and should be able to carry out the necessary checking procedure, discussing each stage with the customer. Each and every defect must be noted and the details discussed with the customer, and the notes sent with the item to the CPU.

On arrival at the CPU, another meticulous examination of the item must be undertaken, which involves viewing it through a large magnifying glass with the use of UV light. Pictures are taken from all angles and every blemish, stain or damage logged into the computer system. The pictures are used as proof of condition on reception and also for checking at quality control, where checks will be made that everything noted on receipt of the item has been restored and/or corrected.

If inspection does throw up any questions, it is really important that the customer should be called prior to the item being processed to advise of any potential problems or anything that was not noted at reception.


Processing stages

Once entered into the leather department the item is passed on to one or more individuals for processing in stages. The first of these is the removal of all loose accessories plus masking of all exposed areas which may be affected by the cleaning or spraying, then hand cleaning and stain removal, followed by colour matching and spraying. Colour is added in three ways:


            airbrushing, or

            spray gun, depending on the area that needs to be covered.

Once colour has been restored the item is left to dry before it is checked again against a sample of the original colour.  Shades of colour can often vary quite noticeably, from wet to dry, so great skill and patience are paramount.

If the result is positive the bag is checked for residual colour which needs to be removed. It is then reassembled and checked at quality control where it will be compared with the original pictures on the system before it can be signed.


Quality packaging

Packaging is very important. The handbag is precious to the customer so the presentation should reflect the care and attention that has been given to the cleaning and restoration. In the Far East retailers excel at presentation; even when you buy something cheap in the market it is packaged or boxed beautifully so your purchase always look to be much more expensive than it really is. Good quality acid free tissue paper is essential plus a glossy white designer style carrier bag with the company name and logo gives a good impression of the standard of service and helps to meet the customers’ expectations of a job well done.

The costs of investing in good quality packaging is only a small proportion of what you are charging the customer and is invaluable for making an impression. It will encourage your customer to use your other services and also to recommend you to their friends and family. Don’t forget that word of mouth has now been joined by chats on social media – a powerful medium to create new business.



If you want to enter this market, then you must get substantive training and be prepared to invest in the best water-based dyes and chemicals. You will need a spray booth with ventilation, an airbrush and adequate space and lighting. It also helps if  you don’t suffer from colour blindness and have a good eye for colour. You will need to be meticulous in your approach and methodology and will need to spend time with your customers and only promise to deliver what you know to be possible. Handbag restoration is definitely one service where you must undersell and then over deliver.

If you can do all of this then the rewards and satisfaction will be more than worth the effort, but if you get it wrong then be sure that it can all turn into a nightmare.


Brian Pearce FGCL, AdGCL is a Master of the College of Fellows, Guild of Cleaners and Launderers in the UK. He writes: “After 30 years working at several large companies in the UK I became a drycleaning consultant and was fortunate to receive commissions in Africa, firstly in Tanzania and then Nigeria where I spent 11 years developing European style drycleaning factories. Many other commissions followed and then fate drove me East towards Kuwait, Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai and now Chengdu where I have spent 18 enlightening months helping to establish Jeeves Chengdu as a high-end brand to serve fashion-conscious individuals who have become used to quality and service in their lives.”


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