The perfect black leather messenger bag for a geek with sensitive skin
September 17, 2013 10:06 PM   Subscribe

So I found this black leather messenger bag, and it meets my needs in just about every way...but I'm wondering whether I can find a better one in this vein for a similar price.

Here's what I want in a black leather messenger bag:

1. It's basically this exact size, shape, and style (though slightly thicker wouldn't be bad) and has at least this many pockets in roughly these sizes, so it can fit a 13-inch MacBook along with other items as needed, but on most days would just serve as my go bag/purse, sans laptop. It is all black—if there is a colorful logo, it must be removable. It must have a shoulder strap. Having a small zipped pocket inside the flap would be a nice bonus.

2. It has black leather that has been tanned using a formaldehyde-free process, as I'm allergic to formaldehyde and will be covered in hives if I'm exposed to formaldehyde resin or off-gassing on a daily basis. That's one place this bag falls down—the seller was unable to tell me how the leather was tanned. As long as I'm making a wish list, I guess, my ideal leather would not be tanned or colored using heavy metals, carcinogenic dyes, or endocrine-disrupting polymers. (Is it possible to get black leather without some of those things?) Maybe "organic leather" is what I mean.

3. The top flap closes with metal snaps, or if that's not possible, with metal side-release buckles—not magnets, Velcro, plastic side-release buckles, or belt-style metal buckles—over a zipper that ensures my stuff doesn't fall out. This is where both my current bag and the linked bag fall down: My current bag has a flap that uses Velcro (which is coming off/no longer sticking), with no zipper underneath to keep things in, and the linked bag uses magnets rather than snaps on the flap. (I don't want a magnet closure because I'm sick of things getting magnetized—my entire keychain is magnetized right now because I kept a magnetic pen on it for several years—and I don't want to worry about my credit cards getting demagnetized either.) If I bought the linked bag, I would want to have it altered to remove the magnets.

4. It has silver-colored hardware, preferably stainless steel, that won't poison me or irritate my skin. I'd like it to be lead-free, and if I'm really wishing, it wouldn't be primarily composed of zinc or contain hexavalent chromium or other heavy metals, either. I'm not a big fan of aluminum for this sort of application because it tends to be flimsy, wear poorly, and be prone to eventual breakage.

5. It has no plastic hardware, or if it must have some, the plastic is limited to the strap resizer bar and/or zippers (though metal zippers would be sturdier/cooler).

6. It's as light as possible, given the fact that it's leather and has metal hardware, while still adequately protecting my laptop. Some small amount of padding would be nice.

7. It costs $100 or less.

Does such a bag exist, or should I give up and take my chances with this bag (which, with shipping and alterations, would end up around that price)? Or is there an equally sleek bag you could recommend made of, say, nylon that would meet all of my other qualifications? Alternately, if such a bag doesn't yet exist, is there someone out there who could make it for me?

This is truly what I want, so thank you in advance for any recommendations or directions you can point me in!
posted by limeonaire to Shopping (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And yeah, I did try to do due diligence, but I've spent way too many hours looking at bags on Etsy at this point, and most of the links are broken or outdated in the short thread on this from 2011. I'm really not freaked out by chemicals and/or magnetism in the way this question might make me sound... I'm just getting sick of compromising on buying items of unknown provenance in the global marketplace, I guess, especially after my experiences with my (very real) formaldehyde allergy. Anyway, any leads you guys could give me would be much appreciated!
posted by limeonaire at 10:26 PM on September 17, 2013

I think you are looking for full grain leather. The bag you've linked is most certainly corrected grain leather, and is likely problematic for your allergy concerns. Read up on the differences between the two types.

You aren't going to find a full grain leather bag for less than $100, not new anyway. However, a used full grain leather bag is a broken in bag quite often, and I would recommend looking on eBay for such things.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:44 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, because full grain leather is such a precious commodity, you aren't going to see it listed without it being made fairly obvious in one way or another.

Genuine leather is NOT code for full grain leather.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:46 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hm. That's useful, oceanjesse. I'm also open to suggestions of a different price range and other terms I should be considering. I do want this bag to last a long time—I just want to keep my costs within reason!
posted by limeonaire at 6:57 AM on September 18, 2013

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, search eBay for "Jack Georges" (steer clear of the Lite stuff) or "Saddleback Leather". You can check out their actual stores online, too, but things seem to price upwards of $500, so be warned. That's the good stuff.

Because quality leather bags are fairly heavy and expensive, you might also want to be completely sure that the durable, synthetic, and cheaper options of Patagonia/Timbuk2/Chrome messenger bag ilk are absolute dealbreakers, first.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:04 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't know if you've read William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, but I guess I've kind of got Cayce Pollard's condition—allergic to logos, so to speak. That's one of my issues with the Timbuk2, Patagonia, and Chrome bags—they all have prominent, hard-to-remove logos and embroidery, and they're just so clunky. A subtle stamped logo in leather wouldn't bother me too much, though, and I'm definitely open to synthetic bag options, if anyone knows of some that are a bit sleeker, less sporty, with nicer hardware.

OK, I'll stop thread-sitting now—just wanted to clarify my preferences! I really appreciate the help!
posted by limeonaire at 7:27 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Can't speak good or bad for the leather offerings, but check out for the Cayce angle.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:23 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for minimal, acceptably stamped logos on high end leather, you want men's Coach bags.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:31 AM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the most difficult ask here is for "organic leather." Per oceanjesse's recommendation, would older/used bags from Coach minimize any allergic reactions? Otherwise, you might look at the offerings from Nau or Mission Workshop or, if you really want to splash out, get something from Bagjack (they make the bags for ACRNM, which Gibson wears).
posted by evoque at 8:43 AM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

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