How to Make a Leather Briefcase
(Bloomberg) -- Lotuff Leather takes pride in producing bags and leather goods by hand, one by one. “It’s an ode to the way that things used to be made,” says Lindy McDonough, the company’s creative director. “It’s not just something that’s been mass-produced.”
Speaking from the workshop in Providence, McDonough is justifiably proud of the bags Lotuff creates. The business, which opened the workshop in 2013 with only three employees, has grown to accommodate 22 workers who produce handbags, briefcases, totes, and small leather goods from start to finish under the same roof.
Lotuff bags are logo-free with a timeless design and of a quality that’s meant to last. “You should have a thing you can pass down to the next generation and the next, and it will get more beautiful as you use it,” McDonough says. “And that was always the ethos for the company.”
Producing just one Triumph briefcase ($1,200) can take four to six weeks. “From the outside it looks very clean, but it’s actually a very complicated bag to make,” she says of the briefcase style that requires about 61 individual leather pieces.
Starting on the cutting table, rolls of specially treated leather hide are examined for tick marks or scars. The leather is fully vegetable-tanned and contains no chromium or formaldehyde, which can cause peeling over time. “Our leather won’t do that,” McDonough assures. “It gets more beautiful and patinated as you use it.”
Once the leather is chosen, all 61 pieces are cut from a single hide and individually numbered, then taken to the splitting station, where the leather is sliced to achieve the correct thinness. “We have different weights for every part of the bag,” she says. “We measure every single piece to a tenth of an ounce.” Next is the grinding/buffing station, where pieces are shaped and sanded by hand.
Then it’s on to painting. “We have about four people painting to every one person at every other station, because we do fully traditional burnished and polished edges,” McDonough says. Artisans paint the leather edges and also work on the flat surfaces to raise the grain. Pieces are then returned to the grinding/buffing station before another layer of paint is applied. A minimum of three applications, sometimes as many as eight, are needed to ensure the correct look.
Before moving over to the stitching station, a single piece is stamped with the company logo and numbered. “We log all of the numbers in our records to show style, color, and what number correlates to which bag,” she says.
At the machine-stitching station, the outer pieces are sewn together using strong thread sourced from a local maker, which is dyed to match the color of the leather. It’s all very precise. “The stitch width from the edge is really specific,” says McDonough. “The amount of stitches per inch is really specific.” The next part of the process is the “turn and burn” station, where pieces already machine-stitched are finished by hand. Exposed threads are hand-knotted, burned with an open flame, and then tucked backed into the hole to lock the stitch within the leather.
Yet another trip back to the painting and buffing stations is required before the final assembly can commence. This involves gluing the interior partitions and gussets before they’re hammered to achieve flatness. For hardware, Lotuff uses only solid brass and zippers sourced from Japan.
As it nears completion, the briefcase will revisit all the workstations about five more times to ensure correct quality and finish. The very last part of the manufacturing process involves monogramming, if desired by the client. The completed product is then gift-packaged and sent to the consumer with a handwritten note.
“It’s important that everything is made here,” McDonough says. “It’s about accountability—accountability to our customers. It’s making sure we are doing things the way that we say we are doing it, and watching every step of the way,” she says. “We can really say we look at every single piece and make sure that it is perfect before it goes out the door.”
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