Bags are one of those accessories that as well as being practical, can really help bring an outfit together. However, a great bag purchase should be about more than just its appearance. When shopping for your next backpack or tote, you want to also consider how long your investment is going to last.

A quality leather bag, if well looked after, should last for decades. And as advocates for quality, sustainable leather here at Billy Tannery, we know what makes a bag durable. Our leather handbags are handmade with full grain, vegetable tanned material to produce an item that will keep you company for years to come.

In this guide, we give you the rundown on what leather is best for bags by comparing different types of leather and their qualities, so that next time you’re on the hunt for a new one to add to your collection, you’ll know exactly what to look for.

Which leather is best for bags?

When determining which leather is best for bags, there are several things to consider. Obviously, you want it to be aesthetically appealing and suitable for its intended purpose, but you also want to ensure that you’ll get many years of use from it. The longevity of leather is impacted by several factors:

Characteristics of leather that affect longevity


The grain of leather refers to the surface texture and pattern. Full-grain leather, which retains the outermost layer of the hide, is the most durable and resistant to wear and tear. It develops a rich patina over time, enhancing its beauty.


Leather durability is influenced by factors such as the animal's skin thickness, tanning process, and treatment. The most durable leather undergoes careful tanning processes that enhance its strength and resistance to environmental elements. We use an environmentally conscious vegetable tanning technique for our leather which prepares it perfectly for crafting bags without the use of any harsh chemicals.


Thicker leather tends to be more durable and less prone to damage. However, excessively thick leather may compromise flexibility and add unnecessary weight to the bag.

Animal history

The history of the animal, including its living conditions and diet, can impact the quality of the leather. Well-cared-for animals tend to produce hides with fewer imperfections, resulting in higher-quality leather. All the leather we use is fully traceable and rather than coming from animals specifically bred for their skin, our hides are a byproduct of other industries. If we didn’t use them for our handcrafted bags, they’d end up in landfill.

Comparing leather types for bags

Cow leather

Cow leather is renowned for its durability and versatility. It is thick, strong, and resistant to stretching, making it an excellent choice for bags intended for daily use. Additionally, cow leather develops a beautiful patina over time, further enhancing its character.

Deer leather

Deer leather is prized for its softness and luxurious feel. Despite being lightweight, it offers impressive durability and resistance to abrasion. Bags made from deerskin leather are exceptionally supple and comfortable to carry, making them ideal for those seeking a blend of elegance and longevity.

Goat leather

Goat leather is known for its durability, flexibility, and water resistance. It is lighter and more supple than cow leather, making it an excellent choice for bags that require a balance of strength and softness. Additionally, goat leather tends to have a distinctive grain pattern, adding character to the bag's appearance.

PU leather

Polyurethane (PU) leather is a synthetic alternative that mimics the look and feel of genuine leather. While PU leather may be more affordable, it typically lacks the durability and longevity of natural leather options. Bags made from PU leather are prone to peeling, cracking, and deterioration over time, making them less suitable for long-term use.

What other factors make a bag last longer?

The type of leather used has a crucial influence on how long a bag will last. However, the other components of it and how it is constructed are also pivotal to longevity:


The hardware, including zippers, buckles, and clasps, should be sturdy and corrosion-resistant. High-quality metal hardware ensures that the bag's closures remain functional over time and that handles and straps won’t become detached.

Manufacturing processes

Attention to detail during the manufacturing process is crucial for ensuring the longevity of a leather bag. Quality stitching, reinforced seams, and precise assembly contribute to its overall durability.


Strong, durable thread, such as nylon or polyester, is essential for securing seams and preventing unravelling. Inferior thread can weaken over time, leading to structural issues.


While not always necessary, a well-constructed lining can add an extra layer of protection to the interior of the bag, preventing stretching and wear.

Edges and finishing

Smooth, polished edges indicate careful craftsmanship and attention to detail. Proper finishing techniques, such as edge painting or burnishing, enhance the bag's appearance and durability.

Is vegan leather a good material for bags?

Vegan leather has gained popularity in recent years and there are now several different varieties to choose from. While vegan leather can look good initially and appears to be a planet-friendly option, how sustainable vegan leather truly is is still up for debate. When comparing eco-leather to real leather, in most instances, fully traceable animal leather will always outlast any vegan option which ultimately, makes it the most sustainable choice.

How can I look after my leather bag?

Knowing how to clean a leather bag and how to treat it effectively will extend its lifespan. To look after your leather bags, keep the following in mind:

  • Regular cleaning: Wipe your bag with a soft, damp cloth to remove dirt and dust. For deeper cleaning, use a mild leather cleaner and conditioner recommended for the specific type of leather.
  • Conditioning: Apply a leather conditioner to keep the leather moisturised and prevent it from drying out or cracking. Use a conditioner formulated for the type of leather your bag is made from.
  • Protection: Use a leather protectant spray to create a barrier against moisture, stains, and UV damage. Reapply periodically, especially before exposure to harsh conditions.
  • Storage: Store your leather bag in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Avoid hanging it, as this can cause stretching or distortion. Use a dust bag or pillowcase to protect it from dust and scratches.
  • Avoid moisture: Keep your leather bag away from water and humidity, as moisture can cause damage and promote mould growth. If your bag gets wet, gently pat it dry with a clean cloth and allow it to air dry naturally.
  • Keep it away from heat and sunlight: Avoid exposing your leather bag to excessive heat or direct sunlight, as this can cause the leather to fade, dry out, or become brittle over time.
  • Handle with care: Handle your leather bag with clean hands to avoid transferring oils and dirt. Avoid overloading the bag with heavy items, as this can cause stretching or deformation of the leather.
  • Professional care: For stubborn stains or extensive damage, seek professional cleaning and repair services from a reputable leather specialist.

Our most long-lasting leather bags

Our sustainable leather bags are crafted from goat and deer leather that has been vegetable-tanned at our micro tannery in the Midlands. Our leather is of the highest quality and our products are too. Every bag is handmade using time-honoured techniques with full visibility of our supply chain and labour practices. So, whether you need luxury leather travel bags or a bag that you can use day in, and day out, we are sure you’ll find the perfect option at Billy Tannery.

Discover our Bag Range Billy Tannery

The rolltop backpack

Great for adventurers and those who like scope for new experiences, our rolltop leather backpack is expandable up to 26 litres in volume. It's available in brown, black and forest green leather and features wide shoulder straps, double carry handles, a padded back panel and an easily accessed external slip pocket. It’s also fully lined with cotton drill sourced from Manchester’s oldest textile company.

The ziptop backpack

You can think of our leather ziptop backpack as the rolltop’s little brother. It’s smaller and lighter weight but still has the same functionality and finesse of finish. It’s perfect if you are headed for a weekend getaway or want a sturdy, durable bag that will stand up to the daily demands of your 9-5.

The Gote

Our take on a classic leather tote bag, the Gote is available in three rich colours in goat leather but is also available as a deer leather tote bag too. It’s the ideal bag for carrying your life essentials with you but is also a great size if you need to pack for an overnight stay or a day trip to the city. Carry it with the double handles or sling it over your shoulder using the detachable bridle strap.

The zip tote

After numerous requests, we gave our popular tote a zip closure and made it more compact. Say hello to the zip tote bag. It features two Swiss-made zips; one for the main closure and another for an internal pocket. It has a padded pocket which can house 14" laptops and an easy-access external slip pocket for those things you always need to have to hand.

The pouch

Leather pouch bags are incredibly versatile and as our range includes a large pouch, medium pouch and a small pouch, there’s one that will suit every use and occasion.  Available in a range of beautiful colours they all feature solid brass zips and fittings. Our small and medium pouches have a leather wrist strap, making them the ideal evening bags or travel companions, while our large pouch comes with a detachable strap meaning it easily transforms from a laptop sleeve to a shoulder bag.

If you’d like to shop our entire range or find out more about a particular piece, take a look at our leather bags

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