How to Make a Killer Bag

How to Make a Killer Bag
This article takes you through the process of making a Jack Stillman bag. From choosing the leather to packing it for delivery to you.
Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.

I love this quote! It sums up my devotion to Jack Stillman over the past 6 years. Those that know me know that I have scarified a lot for this business and that quality of service and loyalty are two of my top priorities. 

In June 2018 I became frustrated with the lack of control I had over materials and quality. Business was going great but I knew in my heart that this wasn't the road I wanted to go down. My bags needed to be based on durability and usefulness. I had no interest in imitating Crumpler or Herschel, bright colours and modern nylon fabrics. The audience for my bags would be tiny compared to these styles but I didn't care. I wanted Jack Stillman luggage to be unique and stand on its own values. 

Almost 12 months later and I have never been prouder of the bags I am sending out to my customers. I have personally selected materials and construction methods that reduce failure rates and waste. Materials are chosen based on how well they add character to the bag as well as how impactful they are on the environment. Almost every piece of a Jack Stillman bag can be produced and recycled with the lowed impact on our planet. 

The purpose of this article is to share with you the process of making a typical Jack Stillman bag. 

The Leather

We minimum the use of leather as much as possible. but where we do use it we only use top grain, chemical free leather. Top grain leather means it comes from the outside edge of the hide where the fibres are the most compacted. The outside skin of the beast is exposed to weather, low hanging branches and pests so it’s the toughest.

Vegetable (veg) tanning is one of the oldest practices of man and it is the process of turning skin into leather. Veg Tanning uses traditional methods to change the state of the hide using tannins in tree bark. Most modern leathers use chemical tanning to do this faster. We don’t accept chemically altered leathers.

Once the leather is selected our small leather studio prepares each piece.

(1) Each piece is cut. We try to cut using a die cutter as often as possible but some pieces must be handcut. The die cutter ensures consistency and reduces waste.

(2) Cut pieces are then edged by hand. The edging process smoothes the edges and places a nice bevel on the corners.

(3) Each piece is then coloured by hand. Once the initial colour is applied we carefully blend in a darkening dye to the corners to create an antique look for the leather.

Painted pieces then have their edges painted by hand using an edge sealing paint. This protects the exposed edges from fraying and absorbing moisture.

Final pieces are then assembled and bagged as kits; one kit per bag to be made. Some kits, such as the Rogue, have up to 10 individual pieces of leather, each one created by hand.

FACT: We produce our bags and wallets in small batches but we often use the same pieces on more than one design. For example, the locking tab on the Scout Satchel is the exact same piece as used on the Rogue Duffel and the D-Ring anchor on all bags (except the Tommy) is the same piece. Using the same pieces on as many designs as possible saves waste, protects quality, reduces costs and shores up product longevity.

The Brass

My choice of hardware is solid brass. Brass is an alloy with an ancient history that reached popularity in the 18th century. It has declined since then and is often substituted in cheaper products for inferior, plastic plated die cast metals. This cheaper hardware generally turns a dirty black colour after 12 months and the low quality alloy is easily broken.

I choose to use solid brass because it’s tougher and ages with absolute class. You can keep it shiny if you want or you can let it patina and age along with other parts of the bag.

Additionally, brass is brass and it’s value per gram is likely to increase from the day you bought it. So there you go: It’s an investment!

Brass is collected as kits for each bag to be made. Some bags, such as the Nomad have up to 18 individual pieces of brass.

FACT: Instead of using rivets on Jack Stillman bags and luggage I use Chicago Screws. Chicago screws perform like rivets but instead of micron thin metal being mashed together to bind two materials, Chicago Screws sync to one another without losing their structural integrity. I could explain all of this in detail but I think a picture probably explains it.

Jack Stillman Chicago Screws

BeesWaxed Canvas

There is no substitute for the charm and effectiveness of waxed cotton. Using natural substances it becomes water resistant while still being able to breath. Modern chemically waterproofed materials such as nylon and Cordura offer superior waterproofing under extreme conditions but don't allow for the flow of air through the fabric. 

I use 16oz heavy beeswaxed cotton canvas. The canvas is pretty tightly woven to begin with but after being coated with a beeswax solution the wax forms a barrier between the fibres to aid in water resistance. The wax also causes the water to bead and run off preventing water saturation.

Our beeswaxed canvas is 100% natural which means it can be maintained and patched throughout its lifetime but in the end, it is completely biodegradable (unlike nylon and polyurethane fabrics)

water beading off Waxed Canvas

The Assembly

We make all bags in small batches as the moment: No more than 20 units per style at a time. We do this out of necessity as well as for maximum quality control. The truth is, our workshop is very small and the final assembly is performed by a small team of skilled tailors. 

Canvas bags assembly processes

The byproduct of that is a slow and careful workflow but I am more than ok with this considering the word-class product we are producing here.



If you have any questions about any aspect of our construction process why not drop us a question on Messenger?