Best London markets for handbags

When does the internet fail in the search for a bargain?  The answer; when you can find your item in a street market.  In London we are well serviced by markets, nearly in every compass direction.  The first step is to identify which are the best markets for your search.

Having recently visited some of London’s premier department stores to review their designer handbag collections, I wondered what other retail options were suitable for handbags.  To save time traversing London’s streets I visited a few websites to narrow down my shortlist of markets.  Thanks to Time Out and Visit London I was able to remove the abundant of foodie street markets.

I settled on two on either side of the Capital; on the west side of zone one, Portobello Road Market, specialising in vintage and out east, Greenwich Market, established since the 18th century.

To discover whether handbag shopping, market style, was just as easy as a department store, I was happy to browse.  However, just to mix it up I threw in a brief for a small handbag to use at the weekend; casual in style.

So which market came out top? I wish there was a simple answer!  Even though I did buy a bag in both locations, the two provided completely different experiences.

Portobello Road is the place to go if you enjoy a heady mix of preloved and new bags; the latter fewer in number – not unexepected with the market’s antique heritage.  Having said that there is a mix of stalls and shops selling both new and second hand bags. The only drawback, if you could call it one, is the market covers a long road and as the bag sellers are dispersed along the full length, you are required to walk the entire route to exhaust your options.  On the day I visited, the sun was out and I did find myself walking into a few tourists’ photographs of the street scenes of W11’s market.

Greenwich’s market also features stalls and adjacent shops, however, I would describe the shops as boutiques.  This is because the market definitely attracts the designer-maker.  When it comes to completing your search, Greenwich is an easier option.  All the sellers are in one place – not everyone has an entire day to stroll.  For one, you don’t have to rifle through other items as the stalls tend to be dedicated to a type of product.  At Portobello, I did push aside some tennis racquets to get a good view of a bag.

Portobello Road Market

Putting speed aside; the ability to barter is much more part of the experience at Portobello.  Less opportunity when the piece is a good quality second hand designer bag as these are rare in number. At Appletree Yard on Portobello I was offered a discount on a bag to close the deal; unexpected as I was in a shop.  To note, this shop is ideal for anyone who has a teenager who has a keen interest in season styles.  I felt there were a few bags in cheaper materials taking inspiration from Gucci, Fendi and Balenciaga. Alternatively, in Greenwich I was a bit surprised I wasn’t offered a lower price at a stall, when the bag I was interested in was a little marked with a black spot.  As the bag was new, I though the stall owner would have been the first to open up negotiations.

Greenwich does comes out top for range or choice of bags (if you aren’t looking for a classic bag).  You have the bespoke leather craftsmanship from Sam Brown – the stall showcasing a selection of bespoke leather bags c. £400-500 (with a choice of tweed liners), accompanied by Corkville – selling bags made from Portuguese cork, with a neighbouring boutique, Arc Angel, offering fun bags from £25.

Harris tweed liners for bespoke leather bags @Sam Brown

My gem from my weekend of visiting both London markets was the wonderful boutique Wears London where I was introduced to Yoshi bags; I loved the quality of leather at very reasonable prices.

Yoshi bags @Wears London

The overall result is, if you are browsing and don’t have a specific bag in mind, Portobello Road may well surprise you; enjoy the choas of preloved and new bags.  Do barter but remember to search hard though as the bags don’t stand out along this busy street.

Greenwich Market and its surrounding boutiques have more more choice in styles and range, despite it being smaller in size.  Try and time your visit just after 11am as some boutiques don’t open at 10am when the market opens its doors.  You will be able to complete your circuit before the lunchtime rush starts.

I am now tempted to continue my London market search for handbags.  Maybe the next stops will be Camden in the north and Brixton in the south.  To be continued – part two to follow.

Additional note Sept ’17

Having visited Brixton a couple of times since the Spring, I would say that this isn’t the destination for spending time searching for a bag bargain in the market or the undercover Village.  There’s a lot on offer but bag surprises aren’t one of them.

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