How to Determine the Quality of a Leather Bag

Shopping for a leather bag can be confusing. The market is saturated with cheap fake leathers, low-quality craftsmanship, and hardware that breaks down after a season or two. To help separate the well-made from the overpriced crap, we spoke to an expert leather craftsman to get some insight into what goes on under the hood.

Few people in America know what it takes to make a well-made leather bag better than Frank Clegg. He’s been designing and hand-making top quality leather products in his Fall River Massachusetts workshop for more than 40 years. I own a Clegg duffle that’s going on five years old, and it looks better than ever with that broken-in chestnut leather patina. Frank is an iconic American craftsman, he doesn’t cut any corners and he’s always experimenting with ways to improve his products.

Naturally, after 40 years in the business, he had lots to share on the topic.

If there is any question as to whether a bag is made from real leather or fake leather, don’t purchase it. A quality leather is a natural product, and nothing manmade will ever have the same level of quality or endurance. Look for “full grain” leather whenever possible; leather that has not had its surface altered (or “coated”) to mask the natural markings on the hide (literally, the scars of the animal). Items that are stamped “genuine leather” (rather than “full grain”) are usually leather splits taken from the backside of the skins, stamped with an artificial grain pattern, then coated with a painted surface to resemble full grain leather. This can be very deceptive, as these hides will not be nearly as soft or durable.

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