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© Neena Bhandari, The Business Times, Singapore

ImageAUSTRALIAN designer Rachelle Dendle, who has created a luxury handbag brand, After the Apple, sees Asia not just as her muse but also her market. Many of her creations were inspired by Asian techniques and she plans to launch her product in Singapore's boutique stores by January next year.

'After the Apple handbags are stocked in the avant garde Hong Kong departmental store, 'i.t'. The next season, with the 2012 collections, I would like to be expanding into Singapore and China,' says Ms Dendle, who saw a huge gap in the market for bespoke, classically stylish handbags while living in London and running a PopUp shop on Brick Lane.

She launched the brand with her debut collection, FIN, in September 2009 at the height of the global financial crisis. Inspired by her childhood fascination with fish and the vibrancy of underwater life, the collection paid homage to the colour and vivacity of the Australian landscape, especially the Great Barrier Reef, and became an immediate success.

'The initial range reflects what you are trying to do, which for me was incredibly important as I didn't want to be just another fashion bag brand,' says Ms Dendle, who travelled in search of inspiration through Europe, Latin America and Asia, sampling leather bags in Mumbai, boutique production houses in Bangkok, and exploring ancient techniques of cultural weaving.

'My strategy is to expand into Asia. The focus from the European market to Asia has really shifted in the last 12-14 months and the reason for it is the economy and my customer base,' says Ms Dendle, who grew up learning to sew from her grandmother and received formal training while doing a diploma in Fashion Design from East Sydney Technical College.

But Ms Dendle says, 'There aren't that many places that can teach you about leather. It is an amazing, fascinating material to work with. It is beautiful and it is luxurious, but it is also really difficult in terms of meeting standards and sticking to guidelines for chemicals that are being used and where the hides come from. One has to always stay on top. My greatest teachers have been the craftsmen from China, India and Thailand.'

After The Apple handbags are manufactured in China and Thailand, employing tanning methods whereby between 80 and 100 per cent of the dyes are vegetable rather than chemical. The leather and materials for the brand are sourced from Italy, India, Pakistan and Korea.

Ms Dendle believes every woman has her very own handbag style and she tends to gravitate towards the shape that suits her lifestyle and wardrobe. After the Apple is based on the timelessness of 12 generic shapes adapted to a new theme every season. There is the Clutch, Shopper, Tote, Hobo, Handbag, Reversible, Duffel, Messenger, Rucksack, Slouchy, Every Day and the Briefcase.

'My aim is for every woman to recognise her style of bag and feel confident that After the Apple will provide the essential ingredients suited to her needs in that chosen bag season after season,' says Ms Dendle, who decided to take a break after nearly a decade working as senior creative designer for an accessories company, Mimco, and travelled the globe.

During her travels, she tapped into resources that could be used and communities she could work with, drawing inspiration from varied objects and places, for example, the painted walls in the streets of Mexico to the houses of Panama to the traditional skirts of the Torres Strait Islanders.

After the Apple products range between A$250 (S$315.5) and A$650. Catering to a diverse clientele of 16-years-olds to 80-year-olds, the eclectic combinations work well from desk to dinner whether it is the soft-grey duffles, python-skin totes, slouchy weekenders or metallic backpacks.

Conscious of the fact that often a handbag is a vessel of cavernous space, where one can seldom find what one wants, Ms Dendle's designs epitomise versatility. The label, available through boutique stores and online, exudes elegance and functionality. Each style features more than one handle or strap option, a detachable cloth shopping bag folded into a pouch, internal pockets for wallets and phones, external pockets for quick access, and a clip to attach keys.

Earlier this year, After the Apple collaborated again with New Zealand designer, Karen Walker, at the New York Fashion Week.

'I design the range trans-seasonally, which works well in both hemispheres,' says Ms Dendle, who lives in tropical far north Queensland.

'From where we live, it is a three-hour flight to my wholesale primary markets in Sydney and Melbourne and six-hour flight to my factories in China. When I created After the Apple, it was in the forefront of my mind to create something that was achievable for me and suited my lifestyle, which is about successfully managing myself in a realistic manner,' adds Ms Dendle.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated.

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