7 Things To Look Out For BEFORE Buying A Leather Bag

Author: venusgeng

Dec. 07, 2023

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Tags: Luggage, Bags & Cases

Elegant.

Sophisticated. 

Refined. 

These are the messages you're sending with a quality leather bag. 

Often times – they're great icebreakers at professional or networking events.

But…are all leather bags created equal?

No.

Unfortunately – the horror stories exist.

Men spend $1,000 on a leather bag and 6 months later:

  • The leather starts cracking
  • The stitching comes undone
  • The hardware begins to rust

There are things to look out for before buying leather bags.

This article is meant to highlight the key points to consider before you pull out your wallet. 

1. Type Of Leather Used

Like shoes and leather jackets, you want to choose a bag that's made of full grain leather. It's top-quality leather that looks even more fantastic after years and years of use.

The best leathers develop an attractive patina – a weathered, sheeny look which a material gets through aging. The higher the quality, the better the patina. It's not something you'll get with heavily treated leather or other lesser grades.

Avoid bags that are made of bonded leather. These bags actually use scrap pieces of leather which have been reworked with chemicals and plastics into a second-rate version of leather.

It doesn’t age well or have that distinct, nice leather smell. It’s quite common these days and sales people try to promote them as authentic leather products. Beware – they come at low prices but are not value for money.

2. Tanning Process

The leathers used for bags and cases aren't prepared the same way. You need to know the differences between 2 major tanning processes: chrome tanning and vegetable tanning (especially since they affect the price).

For chrome tanned leather, the process involves chromium and other harsh chemicals. It's finished in a couple of days – which is why their products are always cheap. Chrome tanned leather accounts for about 90% of the leather market.

Then we have vegetable tanned leather. It's produced in an eco-friendly way, unlike chrome tanned leather. The term “vegetable” refers to the natural materials that are used in the process (such as tree bark).

Here the cowhides go through a pre-tanning stage in which they are rehydrated with all the hair removed. Each hide is cut into two pieces called “sides” – which are then put into large vats and filled with natural tannins. For several weeks – not days – they are soaked in tanning liquor.

Since the entire process is longer, most vegetable tanned leather products tend to be thicker and stiffer than chrome tanned leather ones (but get softer eventually when the leather breaks in). That’s why vegetable tanning works best for higher end bags. The leathers are superior to their chrome tanning counterparts in character, durability and holding ability. They’re known for their classic leather smell as well as excellent patina.

One company I know that uses veg tanning is Jackson Wayne. In a world of products from both extremes – expensive designer options and cheap quality ones – their bags are a breath of fresh air. Jackson Wayne leather bags are designed with first-class style and functionality. They’re also affordably priced.

These guys have an amazing quality control process that guarantees long-lasting luggage. They also offer a lifetime warranty that covers any problems you might encounter with their products (but the chances of those are pretty slim!)

3. Country Of Origin & Making

A lot of times, the origin of the leather determines the quality of the bag. We know of some countries that constantly produce quality leather like Italy, England, France and the US. History shows that those countries have a good track record of tanning leather well.

But these days you need a little more discretion – especially when it comes to labels. There are companies which try to capitalize on the “Italy” reputation by doing all the work in another country and simply finishing the leather in Italy. Then they stamp the product as Italian leather – which is how they sell chrome tanned leather or low-quality leathers at higher prices.

You’ll want to look out for premium leather – where the hide selection and tanning are all performed in Italy or other reputable countries. You can only trust the people there to have great skill and attention to detail throughout the bag making process.

4. Durability & Handwork

The best leather bags come from the most durable leathers. They're professional works of art – it's not just about putting different parts together. Two things have to be involved: (1) a careful selection of leather and (2) precise stitching.

The ideal bag can hold a certain weight and be moved around without being weakened at all. That's why the grain is crucial – full-grain leather makes the most durable bags. But top-grain leather is a more affordable alternative that also works.

The stitching on a bag should be straight, barely noticeable and without any loose threads. It’s important that you check the inner and outer surfaces for this consistency.

The handles should also be attached to the body through reinforced stitching or metal fixtures. You don’t want those handles glued to the bag – they're at risk of getting loose or coming off.

5. Hardware

Before you buy a leather bag, inspect the quality of all the little parts. It always helps to examine the details from each side of the bag. These are the features you should pay close attention to:

  • Buckles
  • Handles
  • Locks
  • Metallic rings
  • Shoulder strap fittings
  • Zippers (take note that metal zippers are of better quality than plastic zippers)

For bags to purchase online – zoom in on the photos so you can check out the individual parts. Also remember to look at (or request for) pictures that show the bag with its zipper closed and open.

6. Color

Here's a breakdown of the common leather bag colors and the environment for each one: black, dark brown, tan and light brown.

Black and dark brown are best suited for professional environments. They project a sense of authority and power. Tan and lighter brown go well with a more casual or relaxed working atmosphere.

The most formal option is black, as it complements suits of all colors. But keep in mind that dark brown (chocolate) leather is another perfect choice. This color can stay very elegant and classy even after a decade.

Avoid bags which have more than 2 different colors or have stitching with a contrasting color. These bags are seen as flamboyant. A single color would be the safest bet.

7. Statement

Finally, you should consider the kind of statement you want to make with your bag. The design should be appropriate for your profession.

The bag itself should do what you need it to do. The right choice can take your style and image to the next level. It helps you make a powerful statement wherever you go.

In line with that – it’s important to know the differences between a briefcase and a messenger bag:

Briefcase

  • This is useful for lawyers, accountants, engineers, doctors, business people and other professionals who transport documents/laptops to and from the office
  • It’s the best choice to accompany a suit that you're wearing to work or for a meeting
  • An attaché case is a smaller luxurious case that can be used to take a few documents or a laptop into a meeting or presentation, without the need for a full sized briefcase

Messenger Bag

  • This is less formal and more versatile than a briefcase
  • It's meant to be carried over the shoulder or cross body
  • It works great for casual work environments or when traveling for a holiday

About Price

Remember that price is NOT always an accurate indicator of quality. There are brands who charge more for less quality simply because of a name. At the same time, you will have to invest a little more for good quality.

So bear in mind: don’t pay for a name brand premium and instead, buy a premium product. You want to go for competitively priced leather bags here that have all key quality indicator mentioned above.

The use of leather predates recorded history. Of course, different types of leather and grades of leather exist. The hides of several animals, including goats, lambs, sheep, and cows, are used to create leather. Different kinds of leather, each with its advantages and disadvantages. With such a high price tag, you'll want to make sure you're getting the quality you want from your leather goods.

Identifying the various types of leather available when shopping might be a challenge. Ultimately, the function of a product determines the sort of leather used in its production. Furthermore, the properties are distinctive. That's why you'll find a wide range of prices for leather goods. Learning about the five varieties of leather, their benefits and drawbacks, and how to spot fakes before making a purchase is essential. The information in this article is provided to you at no cost.


Five Varieties of Leather


1. Full Grain Leather


    This is the top layer of the hide, right beneath the hair. Full-grain leather gets its name because it contains the entire grain. This leather is of the most excellent grade. This type of leather looks incredibly authentic because it hasn't been finished or split. This leather is merely hair-removed; no buffing or sanding is done. You may expect to pay a premium for products that are produced from full-grain leather.

    As this leather ages, it acquires a unique patina. To put it another way, the more you use it, the more lovely it becomes. This quality is one of the reasons why full-grain leather is so well-liked. The scent is the most telling feature that sets it apart from other leathers. The aroma is more authentic. Due to the lack of sanding, there will also be some blemishes.

    Full-grain leather is the most robust and long-lasting variety. You can't damage it by trying to pierce it, rip it, peel it, or crack it. Due to its tightly packed fibers, leather is strong, long-lasting, and water-resistant. The leather's appeal lies in its natural and one-of-a-kind appearance. Additionally, the leather can bear significant stress. The only leather that improves with age in terms of appearance is truly unique. As an upholstery material, full-grain leather is commonly utilized in creating furniture, footwear, and saddlery.


    2. Top-Grain Leather


      This leather is nearly indistinguishable from full-grain leather. However, this is the second layer of the hide and not the top. A key distinction is that these leathers are buffed or sanded to remove flaws and inconsistencies. As a result, top-grain leather is more supple and comfortable to work with than full-grain leather. Types of leather finishes and dyes are added to the leather when creating items like leather coats.

      Top-grain leather is improved by being sanded to look better to the average consumer. Following grain removal, the leather receives an artificial grain in a uniform pattern and a finishing coat to increase breathability and durability. A more organic appearance is achieved in top-grain leather as a result. However, some properties that make it water resistant are lost. Top-grain leather's flexibility and gentleness are well-known. As a result of this quality, it is perfect for crafting luxury items like wallets, handbags, and other forms of footwear made of leather.

      The leather has a homogeneous appearance, is inexpensive, and is soft and pliable. However, it doesn't hold up well and wears out faster than full-grain leather. Additionally, unlike full-grain leather, it does not soften and mellow with use and time. It's not quite as thick or heavy as full-grain leather and has a more consistent pattern and a softer feel.


      3. Corrected/Genuine Leather


        Corrected leather or split leather are other names for genuine leather. Because it is at the end of the chain, this leather is the thickest and most robust of the bunch. The leather is then processed to provide a more consistent finish. Both baffling and sanding are used to smooth out the surface. The final look of the leather is achieved by embossing, stamping, spray painting, or dying.

        Despite its lower grade, genuine leather still offers many desirable characteristics that make it a popular material. It's more affordable, has a uniform design, is softer and more bendable, and costs less to produce. Thedifferent types of leather finishes can be dyed or given a new finish to create an infinite variety of shoes, coats, belts, and handbags.

        Most items labeled as leather consist of multiple layers of inferior leather. These items are then painted to create a unified aesthetic. However, the breathability of this leather is diminished after processing. It's not as sturdy as full-grain or top-grain leather and is much thinner.


        4. Bonded Leather


          One alternative name for bonded leather is reconstituted leather. Hide scraps or off cuts are finely crushed and combined with filler to create the leather. Finally, a fiber sheet is used to stamp the leather with a latex or polyurethane finish. This sort of animal leather is the least expensive option available.

          Different manufacturers utilize different percentages of leather when crafting bonded leather. However, bonded leather is prone to cracking and wearing out more quickly than natural leather. Unlike high-quality leather, it is not resistant to moisture.

          This leather is perfect for producing inexpensive household items like furniture and accessories and for bookbinding. Determining the exact quantity of natural leather in bonded leather might be difficult unless the manufacturer provides this information. The leather's distinctive feel makes it easy to identify.


          5. Faux Leather


            Leather that is artificially created is called faux leather. This leather is selected due to both cost and moral considerations. It's entirely artificial, with no use of animal skins or leather. Synthetic materials are used in the production of faux leather. The leather can withstand the elements and last longer than regular leather. Because of the manufacturing process, it can be shaped and dyed to fit various aesthetic needs.

            There are two primary varieties of synthetic leather. PVC and polyurethane are two common plastics (PU). The leathers we're talking about here are durable, flexible, and simple to care for. Two of their primary markets are the interiors of cars and leather furniture at low-end eateries and medical facilities. However, when the leather comes into contact with human flesh, it becomes uncomfortable and painful. It is more expensive than vinyl but less expensive than leather.

            Because it is manufactured using petrochemicals, which are neither biodegradable nor renewable, imitation leather does not contribute positively to environmental sustainability. Leathers can be colored to seem like genuine leather, so buyers should be careful. Artificial designs on faux leather are more consistent than those on animal leather.


            Explanation of Leather Hide:


            Hide leather is made from an animal's skin. Natural substances have specific properties that help them fulfill a function for the animal they originated from.

            It functions as a shield in most cases. This protects the animal's organs from harm. It protects from the elements, like the sun, water, and abrasions, and works in tandem with hair or fur. The layers of a leather hide are depicted in this cross-sectional photograph.

            • The Grain of a Leather Hide

            Grain refers to the top or exterior layer of a leather hide. Its fibers are pretty close together and dense. Once the hair is shaved off, the grain—the layer exposed to the elements—is typically quite strong and smooth.

            • The Meeting of the Hide's Grain and Corium

            The junction between the grain and corium is the transition between the compact outer layer of the leather and the more porous inner corium. This interface includes the highly desired grain layer and the less densely packed fibers of the corium layer.

            • Hide Leather, Corium

            Collagen fibers are the primary component of the corium, a layer found within animal hides. Compared to the grain layer, these are more pliable and airy. This layer is, however, instrumental in the leather manufacturing process. In most animal skins, the corium is the deepest layer. Therefore, after a hide has been split, top grain or genuine leather products may still contain small amounts of the corium.

            • Flesh - Leather

            Muscle and fatty tissues predominate in the flesh, the underside of the hide. Its value as a types of leather finishes is low. As a result, leather is typically split to remove the upper layers, resulting in usable material of varying grades and quality for manufacturing leather goods.

            Understanding leather's tanning, cutting, and finishing processes are essential when comparing leather grades and quality. We'll examine the most popular approaches.


            Different Quality Levels & Grades of Leather


            These are the most typical methods of "grading" leather. More than the actual "grades," the designations indicate how the leather was split and how the surface was handled. However, a leather product's functionality and quality can suffer due to these differences.

            As a result, the term "grades of leather" has become standard terminology. Afterward, we'll delve into the actual grades used by meat packers when assessing hides for sale to tanneries.


            The Various Quality Levels of Leather, based on the Raw Hide They Are Made From:


              Meat processors grade raw skins as soon as they are produced. This grade is used to determine the raw hide's quality for more precise sales to tanneries.  They can rest assured that they will always have the resources at their disposal to produce high-quality finished leathers for use in manufacturing leather goods.

              Holes, deep cuts, scars, extensive abrasion, discoloration, machine damage (from the skinning machines), remaining hair, and grain inconsistencies are all things that inspectors look for when grading raw hides. Also, remember that many primary ranch operations mark their animals to show ownership. An animal is branded when a distinctive design (often letters or initials) is burned into its skin using a hot iron. The design is burned into the animal's hide using a metal brand shaped like the brand. Even if it's not unusual, the grading process also considers the brand's effect on the quality of the hide.


              The typical classifications for the hides will be as follows


              1. Top-Rated Leather Hide Grade

              First-class skins are labeled as "1." There are typically no significant blemishes, holes, or cuts on the exterior. Eighty percent or more of the coats sent to tanners should be of the highest quality.

              2. Grade Two Leather Hide Quality

              Up to four holes or cuts in a number two hide are acceptable, provided they are evenly spaced. Doing so may be easily trimmed away without wasting too much of the hair.

              In general, holes in a number two grade hide should measure no more than five inches in diameter. Grain flaws shouldn't be more than a square foot in size. Fifteen to twenty percent of all transported hides to tanners are rated as "number two."

              2. Grade Three Leather Hide

              Hides rated as a "3" typically have five or more large holes or cuts in them, all of which should be relatively straight. Doing so may be easily trimmed away without wasting too much of the hide. Making one hole or cut more significant than 6 inches is acceptable. Grain flaws and clusters of tiny holes that add up to more than 1 square foot each are also possibilities. To be considered usable, a hide must be graded as a three, and this grade typically provides at least half of the hide's total surface area. In most cases, tanneries will only buy grade 3 hides if they have previously agreed to do so.

              3. Leather Hide Grade – Untannable

              Untannable hides do not qualify as grade one, two, or three. Instead of being sent to tanners, the raw animal hides materials reach another market where they can be put to good use.


              Forms of Leather Slicing:


              When deciding where to cut the different types of leather for a project, there is usually a sizable amount of finished leather. Some sections of the hide, relative to the animal's body, will be slightly better quality and more accessible to deal with than others.

              Typically, the cut used in making the leather determines the category in which the leather is sold. This may refer to the entire hide or only a section of it. Knowledge of the available cuts can help select the best one for a given project and desired end-product performance characteristics.

              1. Complete Leather Piece

                The term "whole leather hide" refers to an animal's entire skin after it has been removed and the hide has been tanned. Because it incorporates scraps from all the associated cuts, the leather you can choose will span the entire spectrum from the softest, most stretchy sections to the thickest, most rigid ones. The thickness and heft of the leather will vary on the whole hide.

                2. A Leather Cut on The Side

                Half of a full hide is sliced down the middle to create the side cut. This means that the different types of leather is accessible in a wide variety of textures and thicknesses, from thinner, more flexible sections to thicker, stiffer sections, as it incorporates at least some areas from all associated cuts.

                3. Upper-Back Leather Shaped

                In the case of leather, the shoulder cut is taken from the animal's shoulders. The texture of this region is often solid yet pliable and adaptable. Cuts from the shoulder help make tools.

                4. The Leather Double-Shoulder Strap

                The double shoulder cut of a leather hide originates in the animal's shoulders—a large portion of the hair, including the shoulder area. In general, the feel in this region is solid but pliable and adaptable. In terms of tooling, shoulder cuts perform admirably.


                Cut from Double-Buttoned Leather:


                The thickest and firmest part of the hide is located here. In general, butt cuts are best for bulkier things like sturdy belts.

                1. Thigh-to-Stomach Leather Slash

                A leather hide's left and right sides are used for the belly cut. Bellies grow and shrink in response to dietary and hydration changes in all animals. Compared to leather from other skin parts, this process renders belly leather softer and more elastic. Belly cut leather is helpful in the leather working industry, even though it is not considered prime leather.

                2. Two-Piece Leather Belly Button

                Trimming a leather hide's left and right sides is common practice to create a belly cut. Animals' bellies grow and shrink in response to their dietary and fluid intake. The result is leather from the stomach that is softer and more elastic than the rest of the skin. Although it is not the best leather, belly-cut leather has many practical applications in the leatherworking industry.


                Conclusion


                A wide variety of leathers can be categorized into numerous broad groups. The number of times leather has been tanned and finished is directly proportional to its perceived quality. Five distinct types of leather exist whole grain, top grain, genuine, split grain, and bonded leather. 


                FAQs:


                What kind of leather is considered the best?

                The best leather is full-grain leather. It is the highest quality and most expensive leather because it is the outermost layer and has not been treated or processed in any way.

                To what extent does leather vary in quality?

                The degree of processing is used as a criterion to differentiate between the various types of leather. Whole grain, top grain, genuine leather, split grain, and bonded leather are the five different kinds of leather.

                When referring to leather, what are the different grades?

                Many confuse the four leather types and the five leather grades since the fifth type, genuine leather grade, can be made from any section of the animal hide. Consequently, the four types of leather are full-grain leather, top-grain leather, and bonded leather.

                What kind of leather has the most extended lifespan?

                7 Things To Look Out For BEFORE Buying A Leather Bag

                What Are The 5 Types of Leather? The Full Rundown

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