A man needs only a few accessories as icing for the perfect outfit: an elegant watch, or some sensible shoes, maybe—and a stylish leather bag.
Yes, the days of stuffing your pockets full of your stuff are long gone. Hollywood films like The Hangover may have made you believe that men’s bags are unnecessary accessories ('It's a satchel—Indiana Jones had one!"), but thankfully, this notion is a thing of the past for us Filipinos.
The problem is, bags that you can purchase in the malls nowadays cost a lot. And while you can buy a piece that’s made in China for an extremely low price, it’d probably only last just as long as your last relationship.
Now here’s the good news: You can get a high quality bag at a sakto lang price tag, one that will speak volumes about your personally refined taste. And you don’t have to travel too far to get it.
In Barangay Kalumpang, Marikina, just a few steps away from the LRT2 Santolan station, are streets lined with small leather bag workshops. One of them is Amang’s Handbags, the hands behind the success of Vela Manila, a young and promising brand that sells locally made handcrafted bags.
Custom, locally made bags vs. ready-made bags
Other than the price and the obvious benefit of getting a bag that’s uniquely yours, why should you opt for custom, handmade bags over ready-made ones in malls?
According to Jesus Rellama of Amang’s Handbags, “Unang-una kasi ang gawa dito sa Pilipinas, kakaiba. Maganda yung quality. Yung mga bags sa mall kaya mo lang naman bibilhin dahil sa brand, pero ‘yung quality minsan nagkakaroon tayo ng problema doon. Machine-made kasi.” Rellama adds that although ready-made bags go through a quality assurance process, sometimes the craftsmanship isn’t up to par.
“Iba talaga ‘yung gawa dito sa atin. Ang mga Pilipino kasi pagdating sa mga ganitong trabaho, maingat,” the 44-year-old explains. “Siyempre kailangan may pagmamahal ka sa ginagawa mo.”
Rellama also notes that the quality of the bag depends on two aspects: 1) the material and 2) the workmanship. “Ang bag kahit anong ganda niyan, kung pangit ang pagkakatahi, pangit pa rin.”
The price is significantly lower, too, because you save on tax money and shipping fees.
Rellama only charges for the materials and craftmanship. Simple designs, such as minimalist shoulder bags, cost around P650. More complicated designs, especially those made of pure leather, are priced around P4,000 to P5,000. It really depends on the design and the materials used, according to him. The more complicated it is, the costlier it gets.
“Yung materials na ginagamit ko, karamihan puro Class A. Hindi ako gumagamit ng Class B. ‘Yung mga zipper ko puro YKK, mga accessories Class A din,” he assures. “Medyo mataas lang ang labor ‘pag pure leather. Yan ang material na hindi nababakbak, hindi napupunit.”
Custom, locally made bags are typically handmade, which means the items are incredibly unique. Even if they have been stenciled or traced, no two bags are exactly the same. And that uniqueness makes them worth far more than anything similar made by factory machines.
Rellama has made bags of all types, shapes, and sizes—backpacks, messenger bags, sling bags, shoulder bags, and more. But perhaps the creations he takes the most pride in are the bags he supplies to Vela Manila. The bags are made of leather and Philippine woven fabrics, such as the Abaca Pinangabol fabric. The materials, sourced from Bukidnon, are handwoven by talented artisans from the Daraghuyan Community. Some of the bags are also made of T’nalak fabric and native ethnic fabric from Benguet.
Economic and environmental impact
Buying custom, locally made bags can help boost the economy, too. Imagine, for every X amount of pesos you spend on a local product, the majority of it stays in the country. You minimize environmental impact as well, conserving energy and resources because making the bags require less fuel for transportation and packaging.
The Bag-Making Process
Rellama starts the bag-making process by asking for a sample or pattern. “Pag wag walang pattern, hindi mabubuo,” he explains.
He then proceeds to the process called “dikit," wherein the full elements of the bag is constructed using adhesive glue. When all the parts are secured together, the talented craftsman sews it and gives it a structured and seamless finish. He then adds the accessories.
“Tumatagal ang gawa ng mga four to five hours, depende sa design at sa dami ng trabaho. Kasi ‘yung buong concept iisipin mo pa, at dapat accurate ang sizes,” he says. “Kayang magawa ng isang araw ‘yan. Pero pag madami akong ginagawa nagbibigay ako ng schedule. Sinasabi ko naman kung kailan mo babalikan.”
The story of Jesus Rellama of Amang’s Handbags
Rellama, a.k.a. Kuya Jes, started in the early aughts, after quitting his job in a textile garments company. At the time, the company was temporarily closed after then president Fidel Ramos opened the doors of the Philippines to imported goods, and products from China came flooding in.
“Ang pinaka nakaapekto noon sa amin, ukay-ukay. Biruin ma sa halagang P450 may T-shirt ka na noon. Eh ‘yung ginagawa naming produkto Penshoppe, Hanford, Beverly Hills,” he says.
He then tried to think of something that would allow him to make a decent amount of living. He turned to his relatives who knew how to make bags from hand.
“Ang goal ko no’n, wag lang matuto. Kailangan matutunan ko lahat,” he remembers. When he learned how to make a bag pattern, he set up shop along M.H. Del Pilar St. in Barangay Kalumpang. At first, his business wasn’t so successful. “No’ng mauso ang online business, ‘yun na. Madaming mga katulad ko na kahit maliit na gawaan, pwede kang puntahan. Noon, kailangan talaga may malaki kang gawaan para maging successful ka.”
He then gathered a long list of suki clients—many are from Ateneo and San Beda College. “Sa awa naman ng Diyos nasa eight years na ako sa ganitong trabaho. Marami na akong naging kliyenta, at ‘yung mga produkto ko nabebenta naman.”
For more information about Amang’s Handbags and on how to order, you may contact Jesus Rellama (Kuya Jes) at 09159046530. You may also visit his workshop at 21 M.H. Ddel Pilar St. Kalumpang, Marikina City.