How to Join the "Shabby Chic" Craze and Find Great Handcrafted Bags and Purses By: Connie Isidora The handmade purse market has long been a niche industry which had relatively little recognition among larger designers and the long racks and shelves which characterize department store shopping experiences. However, one of the main themes in fashion for 2012 is a distinctly personal, handmade quality for every bag that a woman carries with her on a daily basis. This is perhaps the ultimate evolution of the seasonal handbag, which was already a great way to make a fresh style statement every time the outdoor temperature rose a little or dipped below freezing. In 2012, the importance of seasonal handbags is now doubled, as women are looking for seasonal pieces which are as unique and personal as they are fresh and on-trend. There are a number of ways to find the exact perfect handmade piece, both online and off, and those buyers who consider themselves high- fashion would be well-advised to check each source before making a purchase decision. When in Doubt, Go to the Pinnacle of Online Handmade Goods Perhaps the recent trendiness of handmade purses and bags has been the result of the rise of Etsy.com, a website that is entirely dedicated to independent designers and artisans who handcraft their own jewelry, handbags, wallets, purses, and other items for the average consumer. It's the first website of its kind, and it allows direct designer-to-consumer interaction. In fact, one of the site's most important features is that it actually allows sellers to create a purchase form where the buyer can indicate specific designs, patterns, colors, and other information as it applies to their handbag or other item. Best of all, every single item sold on Etsy.com must necessarily be created individually at the time of purchase by the seller. That virtually guarantees the buyer that they'll have a unique handcrafted handbag or purse that simply will not be seen anywhere else. Furthermore, even if a subsequent buyer requests a bag similar to one which has already been purchased, the designers on Etsy.com are low- volume enough that such a bag would likely never be sold to someone within even 100 miles of an earlier buyer. It's the number one way to shop online and receive something that has not been mass- produced, cheapened, or overly marketed by designer websites and department store sales pitches. If in Need of Inspiration, Refer to Crowdsourced Websites Crowdsourcing is the term given to websites which thrive essentially on nothing more than the input of those people who stop by the website and submit their viewpoints. Such is the role of Handmade Top 10, and online source for handmade goods that range in style and design; users will find lists of the best handmade bags, wallets, jewelry, and other fashion accessories, along with direct links to order each item and pictures of the item before even clicking and navigating to its full page outside the Handmade Top 10 website. This approach might not guarantee that every shopper gets a unique bag, but it will certainly guarantee that they find something fresh, handmade, and unconventional. This is simply not something which is possible in department store or designer settings. Best of all, the website doesn't simple index and promote listings that are placed on the Etsy.com website. While Etsy certainly has the largest number of handmade bags to be found anywhere online, it's not the only place to buy such merchandise. Competitors like MadeItMyself.com and the Amazon user-to-user marketplace, are great outlets for online handbag shoppers and those who are enthusiastic about finding handmade goods without going down to their local shopping district or indoor mall. And Speaking of Shopping Districts... Consumers who find themselves in or near a large urban center have the upper hand in finding handmade purses and bags for al of their seasonal needs. This is because such urban centers are far more friendly to independent merchants than are the rental units placed in the average suburban shopping center or indoor malls. Some cities, like Philadelphia and New York City, even have entire fashion districts that are predominantly maintained by independent merchants who design and handcraft their own bags and other fashion accessories. Those shoppers in New York can typically find such sought-after merchandise in Manhattan's Lower East Side neighborhood or throughout the more retail-focused sections of Brooklyn. In Philadelphia, the South Street shopping district and the Chestnut Street storefronts are two of the best places to find unique, one-of-a-kind handmade purses and bags. These two cities might be the leaders in handcrafted goods and independent merchant shopping districts, but they're hardly alone. The shabby chic craze originated in California, and San Francisco counts itself as another city with a thriving handmade fashion market. It's important that consumers not ignore their local independent merchants in favor of online shopping at places like Etsy, especially because these local artisans and designers often are in need of business and recognition in the local community. Helping out a local artist and securing an on-trend handcrafted bag should be considered a '"win-win" scenario for urban fashionistas. Online or Offline, the Way to Go is Handcrafted There was a time when the average costumer wanted nothing more than a chic leather bag which looked as professional as it did expensive. That time is now over for many consumers, as they trend more toward looks that are extremely individualistic and are made by individual artisans who handcraft each bag individually. This trend is on purposes: Handcrafted bags support small designers rather than bigger ones, and they're more affordable when looking for seasonal handbags. Such handcrafted bags are more personal in nature and consumers won't have to compromise their own personal sense of style or taste when adding one or more handcrafted purses to their existing collection of bags. The trend in 2012 is undoubtedly shabby chic, a look which combines handcrafted accessories and elements with an overall refined appearance that belongs in both urban centers and suburban settings. It's a universal way for consumers of all types and varieties to come together in common cause, and that's a great way to celebrate fashion in a world which has at times been a bit too fickle with its style preferences.