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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Come clean on your bags and shoes

Demand for bag and shoe cleaning services is growing as more people here own branded goods.
The Straits Times - May 10, 2013
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Come clean on your bags and shoes

Spilled curry on your one-week-old Prada bag and cannot remove the stain? Fret not. You will be glad to know there is a thriving professional bag and shoe cleaning service industry in Singapore, which may be able to help save your precious buy.

Operators estimate there are now at least seven players here, up from four about five years ago.

Despite growing consumer demand, professional cleaning for bags and shoes is still a niche industry as it requires specialised expertise and technology, says Ms Gemma Gil, managing director of ColorWash International, a professional cleaning service provider that started in Singapore in 2003.

The five operators Urban spoke to report growth of 15 to 30per cent in business every year. Besides ColorWash International, they are My Bag Spa, Cleanique Bags Services, Bag Spa and TheBag And Shoe Aesthetics.

ColorWash, the first bag and shoe professional cleaning service provider to set up shop here, has eight outlets in Singapore, four in Indonesia, one in HongKong and one in the Philippines, making a total of 14 stores.

My Bag Spa started with one outlet in Far East Plaza in 2004. Since 2008, it has franchised its operations in five markets - Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam, opening 11outlets overseas and two more in Singapore, bringing its total number of stores to 14.

Newer operators such as Bag Spa, which opened in International Plaza in 2009, are also faring well.

Ms May Xie, Bag Spa's owner and director, declines to reveal exact sales figures but says revenue has been growing at a consistent rate of 30 per cent every year. It will open its second outlet here in Ang Mo Kio Hub in July. It also has four outlets overseas - two in Thailand, one in Malaysia and one in China.

SURGE IN DEMAND

Singaporeans' increasing affluence has led to a surge in demand for their services, say operators.

They report seeing more luxury branded bags being sent in for servicing - Prada, Chanel and Hermes bags, in particular. They estimate that branded totes make up about 70 per cent of the bags they handle.

Ms Cecilia Tan, who owns The Bag And Shoe Aesthetics, says: "As people are more well-informed and educated, they tend to become more brand-conscious. The prevalence of social media also encourages consumerism among the younger crowd and many students own branded goods now."

Only 5 per cent of her store's walk-in customers request shoe cleaning services, with 95 per cent opting for bag cleaning.

Ms Xie of Bag Spa says: "Shoes are perceived to be less complex and easier to clean so most owners do it themselves. But luxury bags are more expensive and owners would rather send them for professional cleaning."

With stiff competition in a niche industry, operators are constantly rolling out new products and looking for ways to improve their services.

To mark its 10th anniversary last month, ColorWash came up with two types of disposable wipes that can be used on leather products to remove minor stains on the go.

Priced at $4.90 per packet for both types, they are available at all ColorWash outlets.

Cleanique Bags Services, a six-year-old chain with four outlets here, also launched a do-it-yourself leather kit in June last year. The kit contains a leather cleaner and moisturiser. However, it still recommends that customers bring in their items for a professional cleaning every six months.

NOT EASY, BUT SATISFYING

The industry comes with its own set of challenges. Handling the prized possessions of customers is never easy, especially when one is faced with the task of removing difficult stains.

Mr Simon Lee, marketing manager of My Bag Spa, finds dealing with animal waste or vomit stains the toughest.

"The item can be disinfected but the odour may not be removed," he says, adding that items with such stains usually have to go through an odour-removing process many times.

Bags made of unconventional materials, such as ostrich skin and python skin, are also difficult to treat as they are more delicate and tend to crack more easily.

Operators say they will accept only jobs that they can handle, and they strive to make sure customers understand the limitations of their services.

Ms Gil of ColorWash recounts an incident when a customer was willing to pay any amount for her 10-year-old Chanel bag to be restored to its former glory. Not only had the leather lost its shine, but the bag also sported many cracks due to wear and tear and the lack of proper care.

"We told her the bag was permanently damaged and could not be salvaged. Instead of being unreasonable, she valued our honesty."

Still, it is always satisfying when the toughest of tasks is accomplished. MsXie of Bag Spa recalls a customer who once spilled an entire bottle of nail polish onto her leather and fabric Gucci bag.

Removing the nail polish from the materials was not too difficult, but re-drawing the discoloured logo was an enormous challenge for her employees, she says.

"But we did it and when the customer complimented us on a job well done, we felt a great sense of accomplishment."

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