3.01.2011

billykirk schoolboy satchel: a review

[UPDATED 3/2/11]

those of you who have been reading my blog for a while may know that i (along with other bloggers like nanashi) have been a longtime fan of Billykirk bags. so for this past Christmas i decided to get my boyfriend a 'grown-up' bag for use at work and on the weekends. i ended up getting him the schoolboy satchel, which had gotten a ton of great press at men's style blogs such as The Carry and other boutiques.

it arrived, beautifully minimalist and handsome and my boyfriend loved it.

billykirk schoolboy satchel, $350
fast forward to a month later this January. my boyfriend was carrying the bag mostly during his commute to work, and sometimes on the weekends. then one evening, he got home from work and showed me where the bag was already falling apart:

 
the brass tip where you insert the tab closure had fallen off, after trying to re-attach it it fell off again within the day
stitching at the back corner of the bag had begun to unravel where it holds together the back compartment

[January 25] so i got back in touch with Chris Bray, one half of Billykirk, and had a pleasant enough email exchange about sending the bag back, and getting these "easy fixes" repaired. i was curious as to how serious the issues were and asked about whether the fixes would make sure that the same issues (or more) wouldn't crop up in the future with regular use. to my inquiry, i received no specific responses other than it'd have to be looked at by the factory.

[Feb 2] the bag has now been delivered back to Billykirk HQ and i was hoping that i'd get it back within the following week. i email with a repair status request, no response. i end up calling the studio and get a hasty reply that the bag has been received, and they'll shoot me an email next week with an update.

[Feb 10] another week passes. no follow-up or update. i email again, this time to be told that the bag is being sent to California to the manufacturer's to be fixed. i'm told to "please be patient".

[Feb 18] this is now week 3 - no follow-up, no updates. i email again, inquiring how much longer it will take. response, "any day now."

[Feb 23] pretty frustrated at the radio silence at this point, i send a final email asking for info on the bag, and request that if it's not ready by the end of the week to please issue a refund. to which i receive a pretty unprofessional response:

"It hasn’t even been a month.  I did get word that it is ready and can ship today.  I will have it sent directly to you from CA and you will get it by Friday.  So, I am sending it via 2-day shipping from CA at nearly $40 to meet your deadline.  I am very sorry but things like this do take time considering shipping to and from CA and a busy manufacturer who rarely has to add repairs into their production line.

To be fair, while I don’t rule out it being sewed improperly, that corner stitch could have been snagged on something and then unraveled.  There are wear marks on the corners.  I will admit that, whoever, did put the bronze tip on did not hammer it hard enough. That said, our track record speaks for it self when it comes to items that last.  I have dozens of things that are going on 10 years and are in fine working order.

Please accept my apologies but in this industry, where people will gladly wait up to 3 months for hand-sewn moccasins, I think we are doing pretty darn good."

i have two responses to this:

first, the entire point of my follow-up emails throughout the weeks has been to just get a turnaround time and more clarity on the reason and the nature for the stitching unraveling. pretty reasonable requests given that the bag cost $350 and comes from a company that bases itself on craftsmanship. none of my questions received straightforward responses.

second, waiting up to 3 months for hand-sewn moccasins only applies to people who are ordering brand new merchandise, not for a new customer who has purchased your product and have had it start to fall apart. and blaming your customer for maybe causing the damage in the first place is just ridiculous.

the bag finally got here last Friday, Feb 25. in 3 separate packages (the bag, the strap, and the brass tip). the brass tip never did get re-attached and i got a note to just slip it back on and hammer it down.

moral of the story? if you're running a business that prides itself on handcrafted goods made to last, please don't give your customers attitude when something is shoddily constructed and needs repairs. in fact, it's pretty crucial that you be on top of the customer service and not make the customer repeatedly try to figure out what the hell is going on. and i find it curious that after all the back and forth, the point of my emails time and time again - to just get some basic estimated turnaround info and details on the whole process - got completely lost and was never addressed.

my boyfriend is using his bag again. but i think i'll be going elsewhere for quality bags next time.

EDIT: just got a follow-up email about how BK is remedying the issues i experienced by coordinating and doing compliance with the manufacturer for future instances like this. that's good to hear, and hopefully the upshot of my experience is a better one for future customers...

EDIT 3/2/11:  Chris just got in touch with me via email with an apology and also sent this comment:
"My name's Chris. I am one of the partners of Billykirk, Inc. I am also currently taking care of the customer service for web sales. A friend emailed me this link this morning. I just want to say that this was a good lesson for me and one that I am going to take to heart. I am responsible for a great many things at Billykirk and this lapse in judgment, where I let my passion take hold of the bigger picture, will not soon be forgotten. At the end of the day, the bag had problems within a short period of time and I should not have questioned or made excuses for this, but instead quickly righted the wrong. Customer service must be paramount and what I did was ill advised and for that I want to apologize to her and her boyfriend. Bad press stings and when it cuts to ones character it stings even more. This will remain a very good eye opener for me. When we do hire a web sales customer service representative this unfortunate situation will be something we share with all the candidates on how NOT to conduct oneself when dealing with a customer."

to which i say, thank you, i appreciate the apology. however, it's unfortunate that the apology came only after my blog post.

EDIT 7/20/12: 
due to ongoing comments and queries about this post, i've done a new post reviewing some alternative brands that i like here. 
also, menswear resource board style forum has a fantastic thread on man bags, brands, and reviews here.

27 comments:

  1. I am appalled at such customer service. I too have been eyeing Billykirk for a while now and part of the appeal, aside from the aesthetics, is their supposed high quality handcrafted goods. If this is the attitude that they serve along with their goods, then they can kiss my hard earned monies goodbye. I'd never shop from them. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  2. sheesh. that's an unfortunate experience. what a shame!

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  3. It looked like such a beautiful bag, but that is terrible service. I had something similar happen with luisaviaroma.com - bought a pair of collection privee ankle boots. After a couple of weeks the heel came off one of them while I was walking downstairs - luckily the floor was carpeted, but it was quite a shock. The matter took weeks, more than a month if I recall correctly, to be sorted out. In the end the shoe company said it was my fault the shoe broke, even though I had hardly worn them. And the store would only issue a credit note. Ugh. It's bad enough when things fall apart soon after purchase, but shoddy service in the aftermath is even worse. I once bought a tibi top that lost colour the first time I washed it after buying it from net-a-porter, I was on holiday then and dashed off an email. I heard from them in hours, a note saying 'don't worry, send it back at our cost when you are back and we will issue a full refund. And we are very sorry.' They handled the situation so skilfully that I got over the initial disappointment over the item, and years later, I am still buying from them. When will shop-keepers realise that good service makes a HUGE difference?

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  4. It looks like such a beautiful bag, such a shame that their customer service is so terrible! I don't think you were at all unreasonable in your correspondence to them. And while I'm sure doing the repair took time, they only had to be courteous in their response and explain what the delay was about. Instead, they were just plain rude. I'm so sorry you had to deal with that.

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  5. Ew. So unprofessional of Billykirk -- and they sound really defensive in that message. It doesn't matter if other people's goods have lasted a decade without incident; yours/your boyfriend's failed and that's all that matters.

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  6. I can't believe they told you to hammer the brass tip yourself, especially when they told you that the issue with the tip in the first place was that someone didn't hammer it properly. If one of their supposedly professional craftsmen couldn't do it, how would they expect you to with zero instructions?

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  7. Wow, that is a shotty experience. What is the worst about the whole thing is the email that they wrote back to you trying to school you and the fact that they sent the bag in three pieces. wtf?

    I deal with customers who bring back expensive designer merchandise when something goes wrong (think a $2000 Sonia Rykiel bag), but I try to keep them as informed and happy as possible when it comes to repairs. Often things have to be sent to France, received by the manufacturer, sent to the shop, repaired there, sent back to the manufacturer's office, shipped back - you get the idea. It sometimes takes over a month actually, but I always explain the situation: we can try to find someone who can do the repairs in New York, or we can ship it across the pond to the manufacturer and do it the right way. Most people don't mind waiting if the items will be fixed properly.

    On the other hand we also have people who try to return obviously worn things (clothing with paint on it, swim trunks that smell like ocean), or who manage to destroy the same necklace 3 (that's right, three) times. And we still have to be polite to them while saying no.

    Small business retail is a tricky trade. That's why there are barely any independent stores left. Walk around Soho and you will mostly see big labels and corporations. J Crew still makes money when it sells clothing at 50% off, while an independent store is barely breaking even when selling at 30% off. so sad...

    and also sad that billykirk will loose customers because of the bad attitude. If only they just gave you a proper explanation, a timeframe, and didn't blame you for the faulty bag, you would have never posted about them.

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  8. That's a real disappointing experience, especially for a company that prides itself on good old craftsmanship--and they sent it back in three pieces. They really should have given you the estimate in the first place instead of leaving you waiting in this way.

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  9. whoa. i'm speechless. well, no. not really.

    all you were asking for was some communication about when you'd receive the bag back, etc!! why is that so hard?? unfortunately, it happens all too often, and it's the most frustrating thing...i've had it happen a few times and i can't tolerate it. the non-communication is almost as bad as him being so defensive writing you back!!!

    i hope they make it right and you'll report back what happens...

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  10. That is just awful. Way too much money spent for you to have that kind of experience.

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  11. That is shocking customer service. Let me say that I do not intend to buy a bag by this brand, ever. And I'll urge anyone else to avoid it too.

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  12. That's really a shame. A lot of independent designers have this silly air of superiority about them, which is a really bad business model. I hope you managed to get the buckle hammered back on. Yikes!

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  13. Wow the email was definitely rude. I don't mind if things take a long time to be fixed properly, but I don't see what it could have cost them to give a polite status update.

    And where exactly are you supposed to get the brass hammered back in, when you've already sent it back to the makers? That's just bizarre.

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  14. everyone: i have to say that BK did refund me shipping to send the bag back, and the aforementioned $40 for expedited UPS to ship it back to me last Fri. but the most frustrating thing out of this whole mess was really that i just wasn't receiving any proactive follow-up or details about the repair status. if BK had just said, "expect about a month, so-and-so examined it, this is why your bag fell apart, and they're going to do X and Y to fix it, this should not further compromise the durability of the bag with normal use from now on, etc," that would have been fine and i would have been ok with the wait.

    winnie: i really don't like to post negative things on my blog, but in this case i felt the need to post something to reflect my honest experience. there are many other up and coming designers and established brands alike that make quality goods. my bf just got a Filson weekender bag, and they have a great guarantee policy.

    ammu: gah, that sounds pretty awful. totally agree with you that a considerate and kind customer service response (Zappos is *really* amazing at this) makes a huge difference. it's appalling that expensive designer shoes would break off at the heel after light wear, but given how the industry is churning out and keeping mum on manufacturing and quality issues, i have a feeling you're certainly not the first to have such an experience :(

    S & joyce: thank you. when you're on the customer end and have to do all the follow-up communication, it can sometimes make you wonder if you're over-doing it. i appreciate that i wasn't the only one who picked up on the rude tone of the email...

    sarah: so the deal is that they had forgotten to hammer on or attach the brass tip with the bag before they sent it out to the factory in CA. it was an oversight on their part, but Chris emailed me with instructions for how to do it and my bf used a toolbox hammer...we'll see if it holds together. fingers crossed.

    NG: you're absolutely right. yes, the issue with small biz is that there are infrastructural issues where there isn't a call center or as much resources, so fine, it's much harder if you're wearing all the hats at once in your business. but i just think that some attention to the needs of your customer and a good attitude is something that J.Crew and a young designer can both have for free. i'm all for supporting indie designers as much as possible, but from this experience i've also decided that the next time i purchase something that's a big-ticket item, i'm going to make sure there's a solid policy in place in case of defects. i think the problem is that even very expensive items (Ammu's designer shoes) are made nowadays to be worn for a short time and thrown away. it is hard to weed out the real cases from the scammers who try to take advantage, but designers/sellers need to be held to some accountability, especially for items that are supposed to stand up to the test of time.

    nanashi: yep! the strap was just an oversight as BK had originally planned to examine the repaired bag before they sent everything back to me, but the brass tip thing was a bit of a more annoying oversight.

    grechen: ugh, it just really sucks that i think everyone has a similar story or experience with bad customer service. case in point, i got a Mulberry bag and it came with a pop-lock in the leather cloche thing attached to one of the sraps. i emailed Mulberry London and someone from their repairs/parts department got in touch with me, and within 2 weeks had mailed me free of charge a traditional lock with keys per my request.

    lisa: i'm thinking that Louis Vuitton might not be so bad after all...

    kristin: all i have to say is that i'm really disappointed that things turned out this way. i had been looking forward to getting myself a BK bag too!

    amanda & lin: the brass tip is hammered on after my bf used our toolbox hammer. hopefully it stays on...

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  15. That is so disappointing! I have 2 Billykirk bags and have recommended them wholeheartedly to others; but I will certainly scale back on that now. It's one thing to be proud of your product; it's another to be rude and arrogant. And even if they sent a follow-up email, the damage has been done. I stopped buying things from Hayden Harnett last year because of some very similar issues. It's a shame, because we do value independent designers.

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  16. what the effing f does your BAG have to do with HANDSEWN MOCASSINS? this is unacceptable for the price! i'm so sorry this went this way. your handy boyfriend would have been better off hammering it back on from square one and calling it even. it's always unfortunate when a company that becomes renowned for craftmanship and functionality becomes a bit too big for its britches and winds up screwing over its customer base. hopefully, their 'customer service' improves in future if you continue to do business with them.

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  17. I'm not sure of the hand-sewn moccasin comment either. I hope they are not insinuating their product is hand-sewn.

    Notice especially in the second pic, the little marks or indentations above each stitch... those are left from the presser foot of a sewing machine.

    If this were indeed hand-stitched in the traditional manner, the stitching would have held for decades.

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  18. Thanks for this. I am shopping for a new bag, BillyKirk struck me to be a well designed brand. Now I am totally taken back by your situation. Especially by the email. Who is doing who a favour here. Waiting for months is common? Why compare shoes to bags? Is that why their stuff are priced cos they waited months for the leather or goods to come? This is totally unacceptable.

    Those stitches that are falling off, I am guessing your boyfriend wore the bag side ways the load may have been concentrated to one side thus proving too much for those stitches to give way. At this price with that much raving reviews I would be extremely disappointed if i were in your position too. They sure look tough with the marketing and visuals.

    Between Christmas to the date of incident, I would ask for a refund. I believe if Chris really meant what he said, should consider more options rather than those flowery words reflecting his management issues. When a product is fundamentally flawed, mending a poorly constructed bag is no remedy for the situation. And from what i can tell, those are not hand stitches on the bag. What a joke, this brand is going to my black list. Thanks for sharing.

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  19. I was just about to place an order for this bag on jcrew.com

    Thank you for posting your experience. I now know not to buy the bag. I do not support those whose conceit blinds their judgement. Bloody arrogance! They must think customers were born yesterday. I've never read such a self-congratulatory cop-out. In all his patting of self on the back, did he never stop to remember 'Character is doing what's right when nobody's watching'? Now, thanks to the internet, everybody's watching, and reading, and reporting on your customer service.

    Billykirk, you've lost a customer.

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  20. I'm going to take the Out of Stock availability status at Need Supply Co. as sign to NOT get this bag & your blog as an affirmation to my presage.

    Like many others, I'd like to thank you for writing about your experience. I've been eyeing BK for years now but now I'm not so sure if I want to even deal with this kind of drama. The Mulberry schoolboy satchel is now looking better than ever for me. >:)

    BK is now on my Shit List.

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  21. This is very coincidental as I too was about to purchase this bag online before I saw this post. I like to purchase unique items the rest of the herd isn’t carrying and usually this comes from boutique type shops like Billykirk. However, after reading this experience I understand their true underlying attitude toward business. You are exactly right, only apologizing when the behavior was brought to light, not just doing the right thing regardless of the situation.

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  22. Thak you very much for writing about this. I'll be looking to a more professional company for my bag. Any recommendations? I was considering Head Porter.

    Best,
    Ryan

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    Replies
    1. hey Ryan - thanks for commenting! i think i'm going to do an updated post with some recommendations for bags due to people's continued responses to this post. stay tuned very shortly! :)

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    2. just did a post - hope this is helpful, and let me know what you end up getting!

      http://www.lesantimodernes.com/2012/07/style-notes-stylish-man-bag.html

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  23. Thank you for this post as I was considering this bag. The online handmade American leather accessories and bags sphere has ballooned due to the absence of, imho, quality American made products at the retail level. There are other fish in the sea and email responses to customers are a good way to evaluate them. The comments about the presser foot indicating machine made and the QC issues to me suggestthat even at $350, this may sadly be still too low to get a truly quality product unless you go to the individual artisan level. Any company doing co-branding with J.Crew probably has too many irons in the fire to care so much about individual customer satisfaction unless they are a long established small leather business.

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  24. One more thing - the whole email exchange suggests a lot of physical and organizational distance between the partners and the factory. I would have envisioned they would have just walked across their shoproom floor and made some queries. The HQ and factory paradigm to me is very interesting. Could this be the root of the problem? Bray Brothers are out landing co-branding deals with J.Crew off-site and not minding the shop, so to speak? Anyway, it is just conjecture, but your poor treatment was not.

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  25. The fact that J.Crew sells bags from this company scares me a little. Now I can't trust in everything my favorite store sells... Thanks for the post though, very informative!

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