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Barbara Crouthamel on understanding leather

The CEO of Lovin My Bags talks about how the company came about, and her plans for the future

  • By Manjari Saxena. Deputy Editor The weekend tabloid!
  • Published: 17:00 April 5, 2013
  • Tabloid on Saturday

  • Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News
  • Barbara Crouthamel, CEO and Founder of Lovin' My Bags poses at the Lovin' My Bags outlet situated in Palm Strip Mall. She is opening 10 more outlets. (Clint Egbert/Gulf News)

She is a leatherologist I was told. But when I went to search what the word meant, I found no dictionary entry.

“Probably because my husband Gary came up with the term,” laughed Barbara Crouthamel. “He’s been doing leather restoration for around 40 years, starting with furniture, and so calls him a leatherologist.”

Crouthamel is founder and CEO of Lovin My Bags, a handbag and leather spa which started in New York, restoring and repairing brands such as Hermes, Chanel, Dior, Balenciaga, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada. The store now has presence in Singapore, Malaysia and Philippines, apart from Dubai. Crouthamel was in Dubai recently to announce expansion plans to ten more locations around the world.

Lovin My Bags grew as an extension of her handbag design business. In 2006, after a trip to Italy, Crouthamel realised the need for leather care specifically designed for handbag leathers. She immediately collaborated with husband Gary, who develops leather restoration systems and products, and created Lovin My Bags, the only company in the world that creates leather care products and services exclusively for designer handbags.

“Actually I was in the leather restoration business for furniture with my husband. Lovin My Bags was something that just happened.

“Because she knew my husband was a leathorologist, a designer friend came up with customer complaints of dye transfer from denims on their bags. So he took some of it and developed a product for that particular case. We tested it on the bag, with the customer present. The dye transfer came off and the bag’s colour didn’t darken but brightened up and because the product had waterproofing components, the leather was waterproofed too. That’s how we started the products. I then decided to put up a website lovinmybags so anyone who needs the product can contact me. The response was almost immediate,” explained the mother of four and grandmother of three.

“It was really a blog and it was my daughter who said you’re blogging your way to success. I’m a visionary definitely and if you give me something I can see the potential in it. I wanted to solve [customers’] problems. They started writing in and pouring their love for us. I didn’t realise the concept was so accepted,” she said.

The business of fashion leather restoration and care is a painstaking process and Crouthamel warns against off-the-shelf supermarket products.

“No, no, no. Each leather is so different. This unawareness is the problem in the leather industry. Many of these products are commercial with a lot of detergent in them, made by chemical companies who feel leather and vinyl are all the same. They don’t understand furniture and saddle leather is way different from fashion leather. These are thicker with different tanning and colouring methods. These products are way too high on the pH scale, which cause damage to the fibre system making the leather spongier. So the pH balance is very necessary. Our products use cosmetic cleansers rather than detergent — just as you’d use on your face — which keeps the leather tight. Obviously leather is skin which goes through a process to become leather but what keeps the fibres tight is the pH 4.5 and if you use something with a pH of, like, 10, it changes the pH of the leather because leather absorbs, leading to breakage and damage.

“Having worked with leather so long, we find leather is probably the most mysterious product. People — from tanners to designers to retailers to the salesperson on the floor to the customer — don’t understand the after market. When you buy a bag you will be told don’t put anything on it, which makes sense. But they should also know not all products are pH safe. We back [this claim] with a restoration company which no product anywhere has. We not only give the product protection but if anything happens we solve the problem too. There are others who are in the restoration business but we are very picky about how this service is offered. Sometimes we cannot resurrect the dead. However, 95 per cent of the time we can, maybe even more. But this is definitely not a shoe shine business”.

TIPS

Read the label. It usually tells you what kind of leather the bag is made of. Also it can indicate the tanning method

Protection is always better. It makes the cleaner process easier as it creates a barrier. “I’ve tested everything my husband has made and it has been based on people’s needs. We’ve had bags sent from all over the world when we started and we have actually developed by a based-on-need basis”.

Never use baby wipes

Do not use supermarket and TV-promoted products

Never use products made for shoes. Lanolin and oils are a big no-no for shoe leather is different

Don’t use products for furniture or car upholstery.

Don’t store different colour bags together

Don’t stuff them. It will ruin the shape

Never use saddle soap. “Ooohhh no, no, no. Put it in on a saddle. It says ‘saddle soap’. That’s what it is”.

Avoid sunlight. Don’t leave it in the car. It will fade.

Box: Lovin My Bags is located at The Palm Strip mall in Dubai and specialises in cleaning and restoring designer brands including Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Balenciaga, Dior, Cartier, Chloe, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, amongst others. Log on to lovinmybags.com

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