You’ve heard it many times: “Quality over quantity”.
It’s always better to invest in a well-made product you can use for years or decades, versus buying something cheap and having to replace it after just a few months because it rips, breaks, or simply looks old and sad.
When it comes to great products we spend our hard-earned money on, we expect them to last a long time.
And nowhere is poor quality more apparent than in a man’s leather briefcase.
Think about it: We take our leather briefcases with us every single day. It’s plopped down on the train floor or thrown in the backseat of our car.
When we’re not paying attention, we bang it up against walls and scratch it grazing the corner of our desk.
We’re constantly zipping and unzipping, pulling out our laptop and important documents, and hastily shoving everything back in at 5pm.
A leather briefcase goes through a lot. It’s one of the things we carry that NEEDS to be well made if we want it to last.
We also want it to look good, not only when we first purchase it, but even as it ages.
In this article, I’m going to show you what to look for in a quality leather briefcase so when you’re ready to buy your next one, you can easily identify what’s worth the money and what isn’t.
Prefer video? See a quality leather briefcase in detail
In case you’re more of a video guy than a reader, I put together a video on Effortless Gent’s YouTube channel all about how to tell if the leather bag you’re buying is high quality.
Check it out below:
A Quality Men’s Leather Briefcase: 4 Key Things To Focus On
To make it easy, these are the 4 key things you want to pay attention to when it comes to identifying a quality leather briefcase (or any leather bag):
With leather bags, you get what you pay for
To some extent, the old adage, “You get what you pay for”, is true.
Not to say you have to spend thousands on a great leather briefcase. In fact, it’s completely possible to buy a quality leather bag for much less, so long as you do your research and know what to look for.
Our friends at LeDaveed have been gracious enough to partner with us for this article, and I couldn’t have asked for a better example of quality leather goods.
I’ve been chatting with Andy, LeDaveed’s founder, for a few months now, and while the brand itself is still relatively new, leatherworking runs in his veins (Andy’s grandfather was also a leatherworker).
The care with which he sources material, designs his products, and oversees production down to the tiniest detail is immediately evident.
So, let’s get into it. What should you be looking out for, exactly?
1. Leather quality
TL; DR: You want full-grain leather. Avoid “Genuine Leather”.
In case it wasn’t obvious, not all leather is created equally.
And when a bag doesn’t age nicely (or worse, cracks or flakes at the creases and wear points), it’s most likely because the leather is subpar.
All you have to understand is that when buying a leather bag, you want to make sure it’s made from full-grain leather.
Essentially, full-grain leather is leather that hasn’t been corrected in any way (other than removal of hair), which allows its unique characteristics and natural markings to show.
Full-grain leather is the highest quality and most expensive part of the hide. It’s also the most durable and longest-lasting type of leather you can source.
Again, you get what you pay for.
Brands that use full-grain leather in their bags will proudly let you know because it is one hallmark of quality.
On the other hand, if you can’t tell, or if brands don’t say so, you can bet they do not use full-grain leather.
You may see the words “Genuine Leather” stamped on a leather bag you were thinking of purchasing. If that’s the case, I’d stay away from it.
Genuine leather (also known as finished split leather) is made from the least durable part of the hide. While technically it is “genuine” leather, it’s among the lowest quality leather you can get, so if you’re looking for long-lasting quality, stay away, because you won’t find it there.
LeDaveed actually developed its own full-grain leather named Nixburg with a leading tannery in Germany: Heinen Leather.
It’s a beautifully supple leather with a natural pebble texture. At the same time, Nixburg is very durable, lightweight, and waterproof. Pretty much everything you’d want in a leather briefcase.
So just remember, leather quality is #1 when shopping for a good leather briefcase or bag. Full-grain leather only, if you want top notch quality and durability.
2. The Craftsmanship
In short: Where was the leather bag made, and by extension, how was it made?
Let’s just put this out there: Most bags (in fact, most of the consumer goods we buy in general) are made in China.
Nothing necessarily wrong with that, and yes, there are some good factories in China… but it’s more the exception than the norm.
Brands who are proud of where their product is made and how it’s made will be happy to tell you. They probably even say it front and center on their website (or at least on the About page).
The LeDaveed briefcase in these photos is a good example.
I know it’s made in Montreal by Rayata Accessories—one of the last few remaining luxury bag manufacturers in North America—by a team of leatherworkers who’ve been making leather goods for decades.
You might be wondering, why does the factory’s location affect how a leather bag is made?
When products are made abroad in places like China, we don’t know their production standards.
We can’t even be sure the factory you think is making your bag actually is, because many times, they outsource it to some other factory to make… which is crazy.
(By the way, I know this happens because my wife worked in fashion for many years as a designer and product developer for both big and small brands, and this is the kind of shit she had to deal with when working with factories in China.)
Plenty of details can get lost, not only in language translation, but going across time zones and having to speak with multiple representatives at the factory.
When a brand produces their goods locally, yes, it may be more expensive, but they have so much more control over the production and quality of the product. It also allows for the smallest details to not be overlooked.
Using LeDaveed as an example, Andy, the founder, can literally travel a short distance to the factory, Rayata, actually watch the product being made, and give direct input to the leatherworkers.
I should also mention here that LeDaveed is a certified B Corporation, which isn’t an easy certification to acquire. Your company has to meet strict social sustainability, environmental, and accountability standards, as well as be publicly transparent with your assessment. (Patagonia is a fellow B-corp, so LeDaveed is in good company.)
So why does caring about craftsmanship matter for you, exactly?
Well, this ensures that the leather briefcase you’re investing in is ethically made by the actual factory who was contracted to make it.
You know the leatherworkers paid a high level of attention to its overall quality, as well as to every single design and production detail, just as you’d expect.
3. The Hardware
Have you ever bought a bag, and after using it a handful of times, the zipper breaks? Or the clasp mechanism on the strap bends or snaps?
By far, the most common point of failure is the zipper.
It may not be obvious right away, but after a few uses, when the zipper breaks and your bag is rendered useless, you’ll realize the shortcomings of a budget zipper.
This, by the way, is the problem with cheap stuff. It breaks after a handful of uses and you have to replace the whole thing because simply repairing the zipper is cost prohibitive. Replacement costs can sometimes be as much as what you paid for the bag!
If a leather bag seems to be a good deal at a low low price, there’s a good chance:
- the leather is subpar, and
- the zipper is low quality.
Two names you should be familiar with, and you’ll see them on the zippers themselves: YKK & RiRi.
YKK is a Japanese company mostly known for their zippers. The company itself has been around for 80+ years and is the largest zipper manufacturer in the world.
The zippers themselves are fine (they make different lines, not just one kind). They work and get the job done. It’s the perfect mid-range example with a good price-to-value ratio.
RiRi zippers, on the other hand, are crème de la crème. Top of the line. The BEST.
They are made in Switzerland with an overall build that’s much more solid compared to other zippers. Their teeth are also more substantial when compared to YKKs of a similar size. They have a nice polished finish and the zip mechanism is smoooooth like butta.
Just to give you an idea, the cost difference between using YKK and RiRi can be as much as 10x.
So if it costs a designer $0.20 to use YKK zippers on a bag, it can cost $2+ per bag to use RiRis. That may not sound like much of a difference, but if you’re producing tens, hundreds, or thousands of bags… $2 adds up!
All this to say, using RiRi is a deliberate choice for bag designers (including LeDaveed), and as the customer, you can rest assured you have the best zippers that will always glide open and closed smoothly with a very slim chance of breaking.
Another important piece of hardware on bags? The rings and clasps, the two pieces of (hopefully) metal that hook together so you have a functioning shoulder strap!
Cheaper leather bags sometimes skimp on this piece of hardware and they use plastic. Even the metal clasps and rings cheaper bags use tend to snap or bend over time.
You can imagine how annoying it is if you use, say, a messenger as your daily work bag. If the cheap hardware gives out and renders your strap useless, you can no longer use your bag because there are no handles!
LeDaveed sources their rings and clasps from ABC Morini of Tuscany, Italy, a global leader in bag hardware. They’re made from a durable zinc alloy that won’t rust.
A bonus: the clasps swivel, so no matter how you hook them on, they’ll always be right side up and your strap won’t twist.
4. The Details
Finally, the little details are where a quality leather briefcase really shines, and if you pay close enough attention, the cream will rise to the top.
I obviously haven’t tried all high-end leather briefcases in the world, but since I’ve been spending time with my LeDaveed bag, I’ll point out what I noticed here:
The zippers are an important detail, of course.
The Riri zippers don’t just glide beautifully, they are also two-way – meaning there are two zipper pullers and either one (or both) can be used to open and close the bag. It’s beautiful, and this allows the bag to be easily closed when full without forcing the zipper along its track.
The size of the teeth. The buttery-smooth feeling when opening and closing the bag. The polished metal. All really beautiful and a pleasure to use.
The main compartment opens wide (the zippers go almost all the way down each side), allowing easy access to all your belongings without having to dig through and not being able to see inside.
The two rings that the shoulder strap clasps onto are oriented kitty corner to each other (meaning on opposite ends of the bag, one on each side).
This helps with weight balance when you’re late to work and running to your car or trying to catch the train… it minimizes the slippage, prevents excessive twisting, and keeps things steady.
The strap itself is made from a durable nylon and has a padded full-grain leather shoulder sleeve. It’s always a pain when the shoulder strap hurts and it was nice to see one that was actually comfortable to use.
A premium twill lining—made from organic cotton and recycled water bottles, no less—in a stunning deep hue that’s not only an eye catcher, but also much more durable than cheap scratchy nylon or acetate that usually lines cheaper versions of leather bags.
The button closure for the padded laptop compartment is covered in leather… a nice, luxurious touch.
The durable luggage strap on the back side of the bag, to easily secure your briefcase on top of your roller bag when running through the airport.
A long leather key ring attachment so you never lose your keys.
Pockets and zip compartments of various sizes to help keep the little things organized and within easy reach.
Finally, on the inside tag, a laser-etched edition number, a reminder that each bag is one of a kind.
These are the little details that should be in every luxury, high-end leather briefcase, and if you’re in the market for one, now you know what to look out for!
That’s it! A quick guide to buying a great leather briefcase
I hope this article helps you when investing in a high-end, quality leather bag, so you don’t get caught in the trap of spending $1,000+ on a briefcase with a famous brand name on it without ensuring it’s high quality.
So when you’re ready to upgrade your leather bag to one that will last you years, possibly decades, and be a pleasure to use every day, you know exactly what to look for, and what to avoid.