Welcome to Week 47 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Via La Moda, a workshop producing luxury handbags and other leather goods in Industria.
I can’t believe I named this post “Joburg’s Best Handbags” because in America we call them purses, not handbags. But during my years in South Africa I’ve gradually adopted “handbag” over “purse” (much in the same way I’ve adopted “petrol” over “gas”), because it just sounds cooler and more sophisticated.
And when it comes to handbags, no one is cooler or more sophisticated than Via La Moda.
Before I get into this, I should mention Via La Moda is holding its big annual sale next week, from 30 November to 2 December. (Not on Black Friday, thank goodness. Black Friday is the devil.)
I’m not a big shopper and usually don’t care about sales but I think this one is worth mentioning. These bags are exquisite and not cheap (like, really not cheap at all). If you’re a normal person — i.e., not an Oppenheimer or a Gupta — the sale is your best chance to own a Via La Moda handbag. Read more about the upcoming sale.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting the Via La Moda workshop, meeting the founder and owner of the company, and watching big pieces of leather get crafted into beautiful bags.
The Crafting of a Handbag
Hanspeter Winklmayr, who founded Via La Moda in 1989, comes from a long line of leatherworkers. Originally from Austria, Hanspeter’s family has been crafting leather since 1691. His family’s leather business is older than America! I guess it’s no surprise he knows what he’s doing.
Via La Moda creates all of its products using ostrich leather, crocodile leather, and python skin. At first I felt a little uncomfortable looking at these animal skins and thinking about where they come from. But then I reminded myself, as I often do, that I am not a vegetarian. Buying leather is no different from eating meat. All of Via La Moda’s leather comes from factory farms that are compliant with strict industry regulations and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
The leather arrives at Via La Moda already dyed, but still in the shape of the animal it came from.
After examining the different leathers we walked through the workshop, watching Hanspeter’s staff cutting, sewing, and hammering the leather into bags, belts, hats, and other accessories.
Watching the artisans work gave me immense respect for the value of these products. Hanspeter told us it often takes well over 40 hours of work to create one bag. In comparison, a new Volkswagen takes three hours to build.
An Obsession with Python Handbags
Walking around the workshop, I found myself returning again and again to the white and gray python handbags. The texture of the scales was strangely beguiling and I loved the shape and functionality of the bag.
I hardly ever carry a handbag, as my recycled truck-canvas camera bag is perpetually glued across my shoulder. But this python bag…It tempted me. Who would have guessed?
At the end of our tour we went up to the showroom. I couldn’t find the exact same python bag that I’d seen downstairs, but there was a similar one. The price tag read R30,000. That’s $2154.
Okay, maybe no python handbag for me right now. But a girl can dream.
Via La Moda is at 19 Banfield Road, Industria North, Roodepoort. Click here for opening hours. And don’t forget the sale — apparently some of the bags will be up to 60% off. Get there early on 30 November; apparently people line up outside in the wee hours of the morning.
Thanks to Laurice at the Johannesburg In Your Pocket Guide for the tip-off about this fascinating place.