When we started designing our first Billy Tannery products back in 2015, we always knew that a leather tote bag was going to be a core part of the range. Tote bags are an unsung hero. Whether you’re on your way to the shops, the office, the gym or even a weekend away, a tote has you covered. We particularly love the versatility of a soft leather tote bag as it has all of the practicality with the added ability to dress up for a smarter occasion.


The word tote literally means to carry, which is something humans have been using simple bags to do for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s not hard to imagine a caveman with some form of animal skin tote bag slung over his shoulder, carrying his finds from a recent forage in the forest.

Fast forward to modern times and the tote bag is such a common sight that you’d be forgiven for not giving it much thought. We’ve been thinking about the style a lot recently and being committed product obsessives, have been trying to understand exactly what makes the tote so great.

Bags for a Hands on Life Billy Tannery

The physical nature of toting something around evokes a practicality that is vital to the appeal. In fact, the tote as we know it has its origins in a heavy canvas bag created by iconic US outerwear brand L.L. Bean. Launched in the 1940s, it was designed to haul ice cubes (back when that was necessary) and to this day the brand promises their tote bag can “carry more than you can carry”.


Our caveman almost certainly didn’t analyse the various material options for her tote bag and just used what she had available, but we can. Heavy canvas definitely has its benefits, but what about those moments when you need something a bit more sophisticated? This is where leather has the edge. Not only is it also practical, but a classic leather tote bag is equally at home in the supermarket as it is for a weekend stay at that particularly stylish hotel.

Perhaps one reservation you have with a leather tote bag is that it might be too heavy for everyday use. However this is where goat leather comes into its own, as not only do you get the beautiful grain pattern and durability, but it’s also lightweight and soft. But isn’t leather bad for the environment, we hear you say?

Billy Tannery goat leather is very different. All of our leather is tanned in our own microtannery in the English Midlands in small batches that mean we can keep an eye on all of the details. Our ancient bark tanning process is much kinder to the environment than most industrial methods, but we also make use of modern science to maintain the highest quality standards. Vegetable tanned leather maintains its natural characteristics, which we believe deserve to be celebrated. Tote bags also tend to have large panels of material, which means that our goat leather’s unique grain pattern can be shown off to its fullest potential.

On top of these physical characteristics, each piece of our leather can be traced back to the farm, which is a guarantee that it is a by-product of the meat and dairy industry. When you consider that many alternative tote bag materials, such as cotton or polyester, travel halfway across the globe and take up huge amounts of energy to produce, the benefits of our leather become even clearer.


All of this means that The Gote, our signature soft leather tote bag, has always been one of our best-selling products. When designing The Gote, we made sure to keep it large and at around 15L there is definitely plenty of space. True to the origins of the tote bag, practicality is key so the 3mm vegetable-tanned bridle leather handles are firmly attached with solid copper rivets. Much like L.L. Bean, we guarantee you won’t be able to break them and offer repairs for life on all of our products. We also understand that the choice between short or over-the-shoulder handles is a personal preference, so we've combined both. Our new Gote has a short handle and a detachable shoulder strap.

Our leather tote also has pockets galore, with an exterior slip pocket for items that you need to grab in a hurry and also a selection of internal pockets sewn into the heavy cotton lining, including a secured area for your laptop. Incidentally, all of our cotton linings are finished in the UK and sourced from Behrens, Manchester’s oldest textile company.

Colour also has a vital role to play in making a tote bag versatile but the question of which colour is the most flexible is something we’ve debated at length. For sheer practicality, a black leather tote bag should be your go-to as come rain or shine it’s going to hold up. Our Chestnut brown leather is the classic choice and over time will form a beautiful patina, darkening as it picks up character from your travels. For the more adventurous the newest colour in the Billy Tannery collection is Forest, a shade of green leather inspired by the Black Wattle tree, the renewable source of the bark tannins used in our microtannery.

So there we have it. The flexible, adaptable and all-round performer of the bag world, made even better with leather. While many a cotton bag will come and go, a leather tote bag will be a trusty partner for life.

Discover more and shop The Gote and our other British made bags. If you have any questions, please get in touch.

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