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More S'poreans renting luxury bags

POPULAR: The Louis Vuitton Monogram Artsy (left) and Neverfull (second from left) are two of the most in-demand bags for rent.

Women cough up $50 a week to carry the coveted Louis Vuitton Monogram Eva Clutch.

For $200, they can tote around the Chanel classic flap bag for a week. It has a retail price of more than $7,500.

Bags No Enough, one of at least six bag rental outfits in Singapore, leases out such luxury bags.

Madam Shirley Chan, 47, owner of Bags No Enough, says that she is seeing more demand these days.

She and owners of bag rental companies thatbagiwant and bagkingdom.com say that they have seen between 10 to 15 per cent growth in their business over the last two years.

Madam Chan sees 300 to 500 transactions a month, renting out the 200 bags from Chanel, Prada and Louis Vuitton in her collection.

"Branded bags are very expensive. Some people also prefer to have a few bags for different occasions and one bag is not enough for them. So renting is a better alternative to buying," she explains.

Bag rental website thatbagiwant.com, launched in 2008 byMr Tan Ho Ching, sees about 200 new rentals a month from his collection of 500 bags from high-end brands like Chanel and Hermes to lower-end ones like Longchamp.

His website has 23,000 members, of whom 2,000 are actively renting bags.

There are some who have been renting his bags almost every week for the past five years.

Mr Tan, who used to be in the police force, has seen about a 15 per cent growth in membership in the last two years.

Madam Serene Lee, 49, who owns bagkingdom.com, is also expecting her business to grow and plans to expand her current collection of 50 bags.

So who are the renters?

They are from a wide demographic, aged from 20 and up, according to the service providers. They range from office executives to teachers and housewives.

"Often, it is our new customers who rent bags for special occasions like dinner and dance events, weddings or vacations. The majority of our customers, especially the regular ones, rent bags for daily use," Madam Chan explains.

There are also women who just love luxury, but may not have the means to put down the money for multiple bags, says Mr Tan, 43.

"We always carry the bags in season. People want to try out these new bags and be seen as trendy, without having to buy the bag which will soon be out of season," he says.

"People like to complete a well-dressed appearance with a luxury bag. They think they will look odd if they are smartly dressed but are carrying a non-branded or low-end brand of bag.

"There is also peer pressure when their colleagues are carrying high-end brands and they feel a need to keep up with them," he explains.

The rent-a-bag trend caught on in the US after website Bag, Borrow or Steal was referenced in Sex in the City in 2008.

And it was the financial crisis of 2008, which shrank the spending power of many executives, that made Madam Chan think it was a perfect business opportunity to explore. Mr Tan was also similarly inspired.

The most popular bags among renters?

Louis Vuitton is still the most popular, especially the Monogram ones, but Chanel is catching on fast.

Madam Chan says: "Many girls are carrying these brands as they have a distinctive logo and pattern, such as the LV Monogram and Damier. One look and everyone knows that you are carrying a bag from that brand."

There are risks, however, with the business.

Sometimes the bags come back stained with cosmetics and ink, and others come back with the hardware scratched.

Madam Chan says: "The customer will have to bear the cleaning or repair cost, depending on the condition of the bag upon return."

Mr Tan has also encountered customers who ran off without returning the bags.

He is still searching for some of these errant clients.

"This is why we need to check their identity properly when they rent and make sure that the address we deliver to is the one they really stay at," he says.

Loving their luxe bags

When you have many, many designer bags, what do you do? The New Paper on Sunday gets an insight into the world of luxury bag collectors - even though they declined to be named

Ms L has 200 bags in her collection. Of these, most are from high-end brands like Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton.

■ Her bags occupy two floors of her home and are stored inside crystal glass cabinets

■ To preserve 
the bags' leather, 
air-conditioning is switched on at all times to keep the rooms at optimum temperature

■ The bags are polished with lotion whenever Ms L thinks they need a good buffing

■ When she does not have the time, she sends the bags to their respective boutiques for cleaning

Ms S's luxury bag collection at one time swelled to over 50 pieces, 33 of which were from Louis Vuitton. There are also unique edition bags from Celine. Today, her bag collection stands at 40 and they are mostly from Hermes. The most expensive one is a Hermes Birkin which cost more than $20,000

■ Her bags take up an entire storeroom in her home. She needs a ladder to climb to the top of the collection

■ She used Chanel and Prada handbags as baby bags when she had children

■ At five years old, her daughter owns over 10 branded bags, including a Louis Vuitton gold heart-shaped pouch, small Gucci series bags for children and 
Burberry bags

■ Her child has drawn on her bag with a black marker. But Ms S simply buys branded sequins to create unique patterns to cover the marks

50 branded bags for 6,500 rice sacks

BAG LADY: Madam Fion Phua exchanged luxury bags worth $70,000 in total to help the needy. - TNP FILE PICTURE

There is more to designer bags than just carrying them around proudly or displaying the collection at home.

They can also be used for charitable purposes.

Madam Fion Phua, 44, a club membership broker, exchanged her designer bags for rice two years ago.

She then gave the rice to the poor and needy whom she helps on her home visits.

She put up about 50 branded bags for the exchange, from high-end labels such as Louis Vuitton, Prada and Chanel. They were priced around $70,000 in total.

The exchange netted her 6,500 sacks of rice. Each sack weighed 5kg.

"It was very successful," she says with a smile.

To Madam Phua, there was more meaning in exchanging her branded bags for rice than selling them.

"I can't give people second-hand bags and selling them will not profit me. I had some brand new bags, like a Hermes one worth $15,000 that was too big for me to use and pointless to sell in second-hand shops," she explains.

She carried out a one-woman charity campaign, conducting the bag exchange and distributing the rice herself.

Strangers who saw her trying to distribute the rice sacks stopped to help her.

Madam Phua says that it may seem like just a bag of rice to many but to the poor, it means a lot.

"There were some families who did not even know how they would find the next meal.

"To them, it is not just a simple bag of rice," she says.

She went door-to-door to distribute the rice.

"It is only when you knock on someone's door and see their home that you understand their living conditions and problems. It was an eye-opening experience," she adds.

Madam Phua still does her house visits every weekend.