Chicago designer Diego Rocha won InStyle’s 2011 Independent Handbag Designer Award for the Best Handmade Handbag. As the winner, he receives a designer feature on Singer Sewing Company’s website and Facebook page, as well as a full Singer Sewing Studio and a feature on BurdaStyle.com. Here, Rocha shares the steps he goes through for each custom bag he crafts.
Step 1: Customer Customization
Rocha gives customers options, options… and more options. New clients can see examples of bags in the store to help brainstorm for their next personal “it” bag. He usually shows around six or seven shapes to choose from, but has as many as sixty in his arsenal. For the exterior, bags can boast crocodile, ostrich, python, leather and patent skins in a multitude of colors (more than thirty ostrich colors alone!). Rocha adorns the interior with suede in one of thirty different color choices, but no black—Rocha says it’s too common. From everything to what size pockets it will need to hold her cell phone to how much depth and width she’ll need to store her essentials, the bag fits precisely each woman’s desires.
Step 2: The Problem of Patterns
Here’s the hard part—making the bag. “Sewing is a little little part of making a handbag,” Rocha says. The hard part is the pattern-making and the initial constructing. The materials he works with are extremely difficult. Rocha says you have to understand them fully and “any mess-ups are irreversible.” He also refrains from using a computer to make patterns, but cuts them all by hand. For him, perfection is the goal. The secret to it all? Shoe glue. He cuts and constructs the skin to exact proportions, making each bag symmetrical and, well, perfect.
Step 3: Sew It and Send It
Once the bag is in pieces of perfectly aligned and assembled skins and suedes, it just has to be pieced together. Sewing brings the bag together. Once ready, bags are delivered to their owners in time for the next season. For instance, during the summer Rocha and his two staffers work on the fall orders, which will be delivered in August and September. Bags take about six to eight weeks from start to finish and can cost anywhere from $700 to $3,000 and up, depending on size and materials. Rocha teaches his clients how to take care of the skin, and with the right TLC his bags can last fifteen to twenty years. Many women, however, come back next season. One customer, Rocha says, owns more than fifty of his custom designs. In an industrial world of mass production, women want something specially made for them, Rocha says. “Women love attention,” he says, “They always come back for more.” (Sarah Alo)
Diego Rocha, 1050 North State