The Quality Story - Chapter 3: How it's Made


The Design Room is where Quality Starts

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Few Seams

I once got a crocodile to come to the boat and test the strength of my bag. He clamped down and then thrashed and yanked the heck out of it. When he went for a bigger bite, we yanked it out. I was happy to get it back, but disappointed to find that he only scraped it up (I wanted some souvenir bite marks).

It would've been torn to pieces if it had been made with thinner leather or with lots of seams.

We build each Saddleback piece with as few seams as possible. Two or three large pieces of leather sewn together is far stronger than several pieces sewn into a sort of leather quilt.

They can cheat you by using a whole bunch of smaller pieces instead of a few big pieces.

It's a sly way of lowering the cost of production and diminishing the quality of the product. A large company can save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year that way.

I bought the duffel bag in these pictures in a pinch. I just needed something and it was cheap. I laughed out loud when I counted how many pieces they used to make it.

I counted 85 pieces to make up the body, 2 pieces for each handle and 21 pieces make up the shoulder strap. All together they used 117 small pieces to make one duffel bag. Remember, seams will tear before a solid piece of leather will. Having only a few larger pieces with a couple of seams costs us more, but it's one more way that we separate ourselves from the masses.


Behind the scenes of making the Worst Suitcase in the World

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Hidden Nylon Reinforcing Straps

A German leather craftsman taught me a great trick. He sews a nylon strap into all of the parts of his horse equipment that get stress. Since nylon doesn't stretch, neither will the leather. We put tough nylon strips inside the handle and where it attaches to the bag; also inside the center strap where it buckles, and in the side pieces where the shoulder strap attaches. All areas that would normally stretch now have a hidden nylon strap permanently sewn in.


All the hardware is nickel plated metal normally used for dog collars and horse tack. The d-rings are there for tying on umbrellas, jackets etc. and to act as buffers between the ground and the bag. (Note: these d-rings are very strong and the leather holding them on is too, but not meant to attach the shoulder strap to. There is a d-ring on either side specially engineered to sustain the weight of the shoulder straps). On a hitchhiking/surfing trip through the jungles and along the beaches of far southern Mexico, I tied my hammock to one side of my bag, a thin serape blanket to the other and my flippers to the bottom.

Multi-Purpose Belts

Some of our designs have removable side belts to securely close your bag or to strap something on. I strap my umbrella and tripod under mine. The straps are made of two long solid pieces of leather sewn back to back. These are very important if you're traveling in places like the subway in New York City or in Guatemala City where the thieves have really quick hands.

They'll steal your fillings if you yawn too long. Did I mention that some conveniently double as belts for a size 36 waist? Most belts only have 5 - 6 holes, but ours come with up to 25 holes so can use them for whatever in an emergency. I've also used mine as both a dog collar and leash more than once.

Making belts from long strips of leather is expensive because you end up with a lot of small random sized pieces from the hide after cutting the belts. A belt maker in El Paso, Texas showed me how he splices several small leather strips together to make one long belt. Watch out, because it is only a matter of time before that joint shows up. The illustration below shows you something to watch out for so you don't get cheated.

Converts to Backpack

I've used my bag quite a bit as a backpack. Fully loaded on an especially long trip through Poland, Slovenia etc. I used it comfortably everyday. The shoulder strap detaches from the sides and re-attaches to make it into a backpack. It also has two shoulder pads so as to be more comfortable.

A while back, I was on a small island off the coast of Panama and was making my way to a fabled surf spot called Wizard Beach, only accessible by foot. The boat dropped me off and I started up the trail (my little brother was already there waiting for me with the board), but little did I know that the 25 minute hike was all mud, slicker than snot. In order to concentrate on not slipping, I turned my bag into a backpack and only fell once. It is a real convenient feature. As it turned out, the waves were way too big that day, so we didn't surf.

False Bottoms

I usually carry a copy of my passport and some extra cash in there. Chances are, someone is going to try to steal your bag, not the contents, but at least they won't get the satisfaction of spending your money. They'll never find it. Speaking of thieves, free helpful hint: Always carry a 6-pack of Coca Cola while driving in Latin America. Pop one for yourself and then offer one to the cop when he first approaches and he should let you go without asking for a bribe. The culture teaches that it's impolite to refuse a gift. If he doesn't accept it, you're toast. Negotiate your way down to $5 and go on your way.

Shoulder Straps

Comfortable and adjustable solid pieces of leather with suede backing and real tough swiveling clips on the ends from Spain. The clips are normally used for horse tack. They detach quickly to make into a backpack and also to attach the bag to things. I connect the bag strap through my guitar case handle and attach it to the bed of my truck so no one will snatch it out when I'm stopped at a light.

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