The Quality Story - Chapter 1: No Breakable Parts
Leather 101: Parts is Parts
Why We Don't Use Breakable Parts on our Quality Bags at SaddlebackPlay Video
No Breakable Parts
So I was wandering around Poland one time with my briefcase on my back and one of my first suitcase in hand, when all of a sudden my suitcase handle broke. The thing weighed about 50 lbs. and so, as you can imagine, it was VERY inconvenient. I had to bear hug it, lug it around by the straps, balance it on my head or bend over and carry it on my back for the next 3 weeks.
So when I got back to Mexico, that was one of the things I worked on first, a nearly indestructible handle. I’m sure glad it wasn’t the zipper or one of the snaps. Oh wait, that’s right, I don’t use zippers and snaps. They break. Now that would have been REALLY VERY inconvenient. You know, a billion dollar submarine with a plastic hatch ends up being just a really expensive fish tank.
Pro - only costs $1.50/1000m.
Cons - Rots/falls apart with moisture or sunlight. Wears away with very low friction.
Pro - only costs $3/1000m. Good thread common for leather.
Cons - Made of short strands that rub apart. Deteriorates with sunlight.
Pros - Strong enough for airbags, ship sails, hiking boots. About 4 times as strong as nylon. UV and saltwater resistant. Made from several long continuous filament strands of polyester.
Con - costs $7/1000m. We use a very thick version of this thread.
If you want to figure out which thread your current bag is made with, light the end of the thread with a match. If it turns to ash, it's cotton. If it smells like burning hair, it's silk or wool. If it balls up, it's nylon. If it's hard to even melt, then it's the kind we use.
Watch out for the “good thread on top - cheap thread in the bobbin trick. Let me explain. A few years back, someone asked me if we could make their leather bags for them since they were having such a tough time having them made in China.
When I got the bag he sent me, I pulled it inside out and couldn’t believe my eyes. The stitching should have been illegal. It was thick cotton thread on one side of the leather and thin on the other.
A stitch is made when the needle pushes the thread through the leather from above and hooks the thread of the bobbin. So, the stitches that you see are made with good thread and the stitches on the bottom or under the lining are made with cheap thin stuff (weakest link). Besides saving money on thread, they save time, which is money.
With thin thread in the little bobbin, a large company won't have 40 stitchers stopping an extra 5 times a day for 2 minutes to refill the small bobbin. They can fit at least 3 times as much thin thread in that tiny bobbin as they can thick. So, if you do the math, it's 40 people x 5 times x 2 minutes x 300 days a year x 10 years = 20,000 hours that they have to pay out extra to refill the bobbins. That's a lot of money.
Machinery and Stitching
Finding new stitchers is always tough for us. One time, we interviewed 15 stitchers and had them sew one of our bags together. Several of them walked out and said it was impossible. In the end, only two of them could do it. But they wouldn’t have been able to if it weren’t for our machines. There’s a reason we spend up to $14,000 for some of our machines. And it’s always men who use the big machines because it takes a pair of strong hands and forearms to manipulate the leather in some spots.
Heavy Duty Rivets
It's kind of like killing a fly with a shotgun, but we rivet every point that could possibly develop a weakness and give your grandchildren a headache. The corners and most places where leather joins together, get a well placed stout rivet. Remember, even rocks wear away.
You'll find that most trendy pretty boy bags are lined with a cute shiny fabric. Once that tears, say goodbye to your pens and loose change. I line all my bags with solid whole pieces of pigskin. Pigskin has the highest tensile strength rating of all leathers (second only to kangaroo). Not only does it help reinforce the bag’s strength and shape, but it’s real soft and helps keep spills on the inside of your bag from staining the outside. You’ll see when you get it.
Insulation of Leather
Blue and I drove around Juarez, Mexico for three years in a truck without A/C (avg. summer temp is 95°). In the morning, I'd pack my Nalgene bottle with ice and then water. If I kept it in my leather bag, the ice would last 4 to 5 hours as opposed to one hour if the bottle were on the seat. Leather is a great insulator for keeping in and out the heat or cold; and how much more so with Saddleback's abnormally thick leather. Below is a small scientific chart measuring the thermal conductivity of various materials. The lower the number, the better it is at insulating.