The Story of BAGOA

The Story of BAGOA

BAGOA was created in 2017. You can read how this went and what preceded it here in my personal story.

Most ideas arise from desire or frustration. Sometimes you see things that make you think; why is this? Couldn't this be better, easier or just completely different?

In the case of BAGOA, it was desire and frustration that led to the creation of this new bag label. My bag was stolen, so I had to look for a new one. Since I only had one, it's fair to say I was longing for a new bag.
At first I thought it would be fun, picking out a new bag. I was looking for a beautiful, high-quality leather bag that was made in an honest way.

There were plenty of these, very honest and sustainable concept stores full. There was just quite a big drawback; they were so damn expensive! I didn't find anything under €250, which I think is quite a lot for a bag.
So I searched further, the range of affordable bags was, so to speak, 'overwhelming'. It turned out that you could buy a leather bag for a few bucks on every street corner and drugstore (!). But I couldn't find anywhere under what conditions these are made.

The images of the disaster in Bangladesh in 2013 came to mind. During this disaster, the eight-storey textile factory 'Rana Plaza' collapsed. More than 1,000 people were killed and more than 2,000 people were injured. I had been working on living more consciously for a while. I don't think it is conscious or fair that people have to work under such perilous conditions for my stuff. So that didn't work out either.

It turned out to be impossible to find a leather bag that was honest and affordable. Very frustrating!

I had never thought for a moment in my life: let me set up a new, honest and affordable bag label.
Not even when I went to India for holiday. I did look at the bags there with more interest than usual. In the Netherlands I found out that many of the beautiful and honest brands had their bags made there. I was still looking for a bag so maybe they had something I liked there?

In the Rajasthan region I came into a small shop where beautiful bags were sold. The owner Anil spoke English, we started talking and while enjoying a cup of chai I heard more about the bags and how they were made. These turned out to be professionals. They were able to tan and process leather the old-fashioned way. That is without chemicals and chromium salts. Which seemed like a good idea to me since most people in India get their drinking water from a stream behind their house. It's nice if the neighbor doesn't dump his chemical leather-tanning waste into it first.

Family workshops

BAGOA Werkplaats

workshop BAGOA

Anil invited us to come along to the workshop the next day. There we saw small family businesses at work in their own workplace. This was nothing like the ghastly images of Rana Plaza or the massive halls where people with expressionless faces routinely sit doing the exact same stitching all day long. Here we saw skilled people who made the bag from front to back and clearly enjoyed it.

Anil said that it was not all sunshine and roses. Because the method of tanning and making takes quite a lot of time, they had less and less work. More and more companies are having their bags made cheaply in China, where a lot is done by machine. At the family businesses they work by hand. The competition makes their survival uncertain for many of them.

I bought a nice bag from Anil and took some extra with me in my suitcase. Perhaps friends and acquaintances also thought they were beautiful?
It appeared to be so. I got rid of my small stash of bags in no time. The following year we planned another holiday to India. The country had enchanted us. Yes, there was a lot of poverty, but it was also beautiful. The culture, the food, the bizarrely long, but always fun, train journeys; we were (and are) fans.

Should I do it myself?

During that holiday, somewhere in the sea in Goa, the idea came. Maybe I should do it myself? Setting up a bag line that is honest and affordable. This allowed me to kill two birds with one stone. I would provide employment at the family businesses and if I organized the process smartly, it should be possible to get them affordably in the Netherlands, right?
I believe that trade is the best way to provide help. Because this ensures a structural improvement in the lives of the people there. That's also where the name comes from. BAGOA stands for 'Bags Over Aid'. This comes from Trade over Aid; trade over aid. But with bags.

Working conditions

No matter how cute the family businesses looked, not everything here went the way we wanted it to. It is important to us that production takes place in a fair manner. Working conditions must be good. That is why I drew up a number of conditions that the family businesses had to adhere to:

  • People get paid decently
  • No work is done under duress
  • There is no child labor
  • Normal working hours are used, i.e. +/- 8 hours per day.
  • The work is legal and harmless
  • We respect the Indian culture and way of working

It became clear to me that the more intermediaries there are between the makers and sales, the more expensive a bag becomes. I wanted an affordable bag, that's why we don't do links. We have direct contact with the makers, Anil helps the makers to send the bags to the Netherlands. Here they enter WIJ 3.0, a sheltered workshop in Nieuwegein. People work here who, for whatever reason, have a greater distance to the labor market. By working with them, they regain confidence in themselves and their abilities. They pack the bags that are sold via the webshop.

BAGAO has been around for over six months now. Our bags can be found in our webshop and in stores in the Netherlands. Our growth allows us to help more and more people in India find a job. We are grateful for that.
Do you also want a beautiful, honest and affordable bag? You'll find it on In this way you directly contribute to the lives of the people in India.


Love Yvonne from BAGOA

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