Colorful handbags at Via La Moda

#Gauteng52, Week 47: Joburg’s Best Handbags (and there’s a sale)

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.

Colorful handbags at Via La ModaFinely crafted handbags (not purses), made of ostrich leather and python skin, await completion in the Via La Moda workshop.

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.

Hanspeter in the Via La Moda workshopHanspeter in the workshop, showing us some of his designs.

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.

Hanspeter and ostrich leatherHanspeter shows us a piece of ostrich leather. You can see how the piece is shaped like an ostrich. The holes are where the ostrich’s feathers were.

Hanspeter and python skin
A colorfully dyed piece of python skin.

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.

Crocodile leather becoming beltsStrips of crocodile leather destined to become belts.

Via La Moda workshopThe workshop is beautiful and immaculate.

Worker in via La Moda workshopConcentration.

Hammering leather at Via La ModaI loved watching this lady hammering the leather.

Sewing at Via La ModaSewing.

Making a handbag at Via La ModaWatching 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.

Final touches at Via La ModaThe final touches.

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?

Python handbag
The beguiling python bag.

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.

Via La Moda showroomThe Via La Moda showroom.

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.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

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3 Comments

  • Reply eremophila November 25, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Down here we call them handbags and the smaller ones called purses which is where the cash/cards etc are kept. Bagged it? 🙂
    I loved the Python bag too…. shall we time-share it? Ha!

    • Reply 2summers November 25, 2017 at 3:23 pm

      Hahahaaaa. Yes let’s do it 🐍

  • Reply catherine November 25, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    beautiful bags! I see why you were tempted!

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