HANDBAG: More than an accessory

BACK in the day, bags must have served a purely functional role in the lives of men and women. Unlike men’s clothing, most women’s garments did not come equipped with pockets for storage so women had to resort to alternative storage - the handbag.

Men needed bags also, probably to put the tools of their trade.

Come to think of it, it hasn’t changed much for them. Although handbags still serve a functional role, they are also fashion accessories and different designs can become obsolete while others transcend generations.

The current trend for ladies is the big, oversized bag that holds what one could possibly need for that day. How one survived back in the day of the smaller handbag is now a mystery.

However, this increase has resulted in pain on the shoulders and neck due to increased weight, for some.

It now seems best to carry your handbag as well as another bag so that the weight of your baggage is balanced between your shoulders.

There are now several handbag and many bag styles to choose well from as well.

Selma Shilongo has made handbags for half of her 47-year old life since registering Shilongo Leather Works, a leather product manufacturing company in Windhoek in 1982.

She has so much expertise in making handbags especially from Kudu leather to such an extent that the business has taken all her six kids to greater heights in life, one being a pilot, the other a civil engineer and others being part of the company management.

“Women have always used handbags; the only difference is that today, grown up women like myself prefer big and bigger handbags while the young generation prefers medium sized handbags which they consider fancy. But come to think of it, the bags are almost the same size, only different designs and portability,” she says.

From the humble beginnings in the backyard of their Katutura home, the business is today a leading manufacturer in leather products, belts and sandals being the other products.

Her husband, Sakeus runs the factory that is situated behind Sam Nujoma Stadium in Katutura, Windhoek and she is in charge of the main outlet, in central Windhoek along Post-Street Mall. The business employs close to twenty people in the business.

Shilongo Leather Work is now making more and more variety of handbags to ward off competition from China Town or other aspiring businesses, “but we are very fortunate that no one dares trade in the leather business. It’s not easy and it requires a lot of passion to craft and design this for a changing market,” she adds, taking pride in the fact that the family business has blossomed without taking any financial assistance from anyone or any institution.

Although theirs is mainly leather handbags, women today, according to meme Selma as she is called, look at a lot of issues when considering which handbag to buy or carry to town.

A starting point when choosing is the function of your bag. Is it for everyday use? Is it for daytime or evening use? If it is for everyday use, a neutral shade is best as it can be carried regardless of your outfit of the day, Prime Focus learnt.

If it is for evening use, you may want to purchase a more sparkly and a daintier one, a clutch bag.

The clutch bag is elegant particularly because of the way it is held. It is not slung onto your shoulder like the handbag and its design tends to be prettier too.


Today’s normal handbag necessities include:

Pen and notebook. You never know what you will need to write down or sign so be prepared. Yes, this is the 21st century and the blackberry works just as well as a notebook, but carry one just in case.

Water. Depending on the size of your handbag you may be able to fit a water bottle in there. It’s good for staying hydrated during this heat and it’s good for your skin, so drink up.

Mints or chewing gum. For that minty fresh breath throughout the day. Even if you have garlic bread for lunch only you will have the garlic experience.

Perfume and/or deodorant. It is hot and you are bound to sweat, so being able to re-deodorise is a great thing, especially for those you interact with. Even if you do not, if you decide to grab a drink after work, you can always freshen up.
Waterless hand sanitiser or wet wipes. Water is not always available to clean your hands when you are on the go so the waterless hand sanitiser and wipes allow you to get rid of some bacteria without water.

Facial tissue. Not all toilets in town have tissues in them. And besides, a runny nose can start at any time (sniffing is not lady-like and is annoying), spills can happen anywhere; it is wise to be prepared for anything.

Sanitary towels or tampons. By now you have caught on to the theme, ‘PREPARATION’. One can never be over-prepared.

Make-up bag. That contains basic make-up necessities for doing your face or touching up any smudges. In your make-up bag have some eyeliner, lip liner in the shade of your lips or the shade of the lipstick you wear often, lip gloss or lipstick, depending on which type of lady you are, mascara, blush, translucent face powder and a mirror, if it isn’t part of your powder. Some ladies also carry band aids for any minor injuries, a nail file and miniature nail cutter (anything could happen to your finger or toe nails), a pair of tweezers and toothpicks.
Hand lotion. Each time you wash your hands you need to moisturise them to keep them soft and supple.
Comb or hair brush. Keep your hair neat and tidy.

Mini umbrella. In the event it rains while you are indoors you can always make it to you car nice and dry. If you do not have a car you can use it to prevent your skin from being burnt by the sun or your hair from getting wet, should it rain.
Cellphone and wallet. Of course.

No wonder the big handbags are on the market days. How else would we carry all this?

The next question will not be how you carry such a huge bag but where to place your bag when it’s not on your shoulder:

In the loo: the floor is not an option. Besides, it could be snatched through the space at the bottom of your cubicle. Rather, hang it on the hook behind the cubicle door, if one is available, or hang it over the toilet paper holder or place it on the lid of the cistern. Make a plan but do not put it on the floor.

When driving: A lot of women place their bags behind their seat or behind the passenger’s seat, or the floor on the passenger’s side. This is very dangerous as it makes you a likely snatch and grab candidate at traffic intersections. Instead, place your bag under your legs while you drive or place it in your car boot. Women, you know you cannot afford to lose your handbag due to its valuable contents.

In public venues, for example, food courts, auditoriums or coffee shops: do not leave your bag unattended. Remember, thieves are opportunistic and if you give them any chance to steal your bag or go through it they will take it. Preferably, take it with you. When eating out, especially where a lot of people go in and out like coffee shops or food courts, place your bag on your lap. Placing it on the floor, hanging it on you chair or putting it on the empty seat next to you will most assuredly entice a thief. Be vigilant always. PF