You might have already seen a Kwanpen bag. Perhaps you watched Jamie Chua unbox one of their crocodile leather handbags in a YouTube video, or you spotted one in an Instagram post shared by Bling Empire’s Kelly Mi Li.
What you probably didn’t know is that Kwanpen is a homegrown luxury label that rivals the style and quality of even the most coveted handbags from European fashion brands. Established in colonial-era Singapore all the way back in the 1930s, the brand has built a business out of bags handcrafted from the highest quality of exotic leathers—and each design is made in-house.
Now a third-generation family business, Kwanpen’s Singaporean heritage and immaculate quality have been carefully preserved by the inheriting family members, including Jonathan Kwan, grandson of founder Kwan Pen Seng.
The latter Kwan founded the brand in 1938. He was an apprentice goldsmith hailing from Kaiping in southern China. His dream was to start a business with his goldsmithing skills, but gold was an expensive commodity; the capital needed to start a business was too large.
Instead, Kwan turned to another trade where his skills could be used: leather bag repairs. This was something which his clientele, comprising mostly of British servicemen and their wives, often used. Over time, Kwan had built up a good reputation from repairing and dissecting different types of leather goods. He soon struck gold and hit upon another business idea. He could start his own leather goods brand. To differentiate his label from competitors, he decided to solely use exotic leathers, mainly that of crocodile. That’s a rule that the brand sticks to today.
Kwanpen’s leathers include both crocodile and alligator skins sourced from around the world. Niloticus crocodile leather from Africa features slightly larger scales than porosus crocodile skin, which originates in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Alligator skins can be differentiated from crocodile skins according to their tiling, or the small squares which make up their pattern. The latter has smaller, more symmetrical scales moving out from the middle.
In case you missed it: The Art Of Leather Making: What You Need To Know About This Age-Old Practice