When deciding on a new bag, one of the first things to consider is what type of material or fabric you’d like it to be made out of. As a Nike bag designer once said, “when I design anything, my first instinct is to think about the materials and the properties of these materials.”

The reason you want to think about the materials first is because they can determine a bag’s shape, aesthetic, durability, price, among other factors. Understanding what materials are good for what use case can give you a better idea of how you’d like your bag to look and function like.

With common fabrics, it’s important to consider that even within the same category of fabrics, there can be many variations with grades of quality and price, similar to how there’s different levels of qualities with zippers.

So, here’s a list of the 9 most commonly used materials that bags are made of. With each material, we’ll break it down into a few sections, factors like:

  • What is it?
  • Pros and Cons of using this material in your bag?
  • What types of bags use this material?

1. Leather

What is Leather?

Leather is one of the oldest materials used in bag making, due to its durability, strength, and abundance in wildlife resources. Even with the recent creation of vegan leather made from Polyutherane (PU) synthetics and a shift in consumer consumption to non-animal based leather goods, leather made from animal skin remains a popular choice for many people.

With animal based leather, there are over 24 types of animal skins that are commonly used to make leather in leather goods and accessories, with cattle skin being the most widely used.

Advantages of having a leather bag?

A high-quality leather bag will last for years and will actually look more refined with age. Especially compared to using vegan leather alternatives that are made of plastic, full-grain leather is more durable and will last longer.

Full-grain leather also has the advantage of giving any leather bag or accessory a polished and sophisticated look that isn’t seen in other bag materials. From backpacks, to handheld bags, to shoulder bags, to wallets and purses, you can very easily elevate the look of an outfit with a classy leather bag.

Disadvantages of having a leather bag?

A full-grain leather bag, compared to other types of fabrics commonly used is much heavier due to the volume of leather required to make a bag. This is why you see many fashion focused brands creating popular bags that combine other common bag fabrics like Nylon with high quality leather trims to that you can still get a polished and sophisticated look, which a much lighter (and hopefully more affordable) bag.

Another disadvantage of full-grain leather bags is that they require more care and personal treatment in order to maintain their quality over time. Leather bag care tools like a leather cleaner, leather condition, or cream polish are used frequently in order to keep a bag looking new and without blemishes. What kind of bags are commonly made from leather?

What kind of bags are commonly made from leather? 

Leather bags are commonly featured in many types of everyday or travel bags, but they’re often the most expensive type of bag due to the costs associated with using high quality top grade leather like full grain leather (hides that have not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed.)

Top grade leather is also quite common in small leather goods, like card holders or key cases, because use they typically don’t require as much leather yardage as bags do.


2. Cotton Canvas

What is it?

Cotton Canvas is an inexpensive and slightly heavyweight rough woven cotton material. It’s great for use in all types of bags, from casual totes to cross body bags.

Pros & Cons of having a Cotton Canvas bag?

Most of the cotton canvas bags you’ll find are quite affordable and depending on the material finishing, there can be a layer of water-resistant material added on top of the canvas to make it weather resistant (coated canvas).

Canvas bags are also comparatively lightweight and easy to clean. While other types of bags like a leather bag require a more intensive care and maintenance process, cotton canvas bags can be cleaned with liquid soap and cold water.

Cotton canvas bags, especially ones that come in lighter colors like white or grey can tend to get dirty more easily. Depending on the quality of the material and construction, they can also wear down faster than other materials like ballistic nylon or full grain leather.

What kind of bags are made from Cotton Canvas?

Cotton canvas bags are some of the most common bags that you’ll see people wearing. Because of the low manufacturing cost to make cotton canvas, bags in this range are normally low to moderately priced, although you’ll also occasionally see high end luxury brands use cotton canvas with a mix of leather trims.

Backpacks

Like this Cotton Canvas Backpack from Muji.

Shoulder Bags

Like this Cotton Canvas Tote Bag by Aubin & Wills.

Larger Travel Bags

Like this Cotton Canvas Duffle Bag by Herschel.


3. Nylon 

Right: The Classic Backpack by ISM made of half nylon packcloth, half leather

Nylon, along with cotton canvas and leather is another popular material often seen in a range of backpacks. Since Nylon is a synthetic material, there have been many variations made for different bag types, those include:

Nylon Packcloth

A smooth and shiny nylon material that has a slick hand feel often seen in backpacks, daypacks and designer backpacks, like the Prada Nylon backpack.

Ripstop Nylon

A lightweight nylon fabric that is much more durable than nylon packcloth and is known for its resistance to tearing. It has a signature “grid” pattern.

Ballistic Nylon

A thick and durable synthetic nylon fabric that is easy to clean and is therefore often used in functional travel bags, and softside luggage. Tumi became well known for their professional looking but also extremely durable ballistic nylon backpacks and luggage.

What kind of bags are made from Nylon?

Backpacks & Daypacks

Like this Nylon backpack with leather trims from Theory.

Shoulder & Crossbody Bags

Like this Under Armour Cordura Regiment Backpack.

Luggages

Like this softside luggage from Samsonite.


4. Cordura

Cordura is a very durable and strong material, originally created and designed by DuPont for his own products. Because it’s an “air treated” rough nylon fabric, it is water repellent as well as abrasion and puncture resistant, due to the high denier count and dense weaves.

Pros & Cons of having a Cordura bag?

Bags made from Cordura will last for a long time and will withstand much heavy damage, even in harsh weather conditions.

However, because the material costs are higher than that of other facbrics like Cotton Canvas, Cordura made backpacks will be more expensive compared to other bag materials.

What kind of bags are made from Cordura?

Since Cordura is famous for its strength and durability, bags made from Cordura are normally functional bags like backacks and daypacks.

Backpacks & Daypacks

Like this Under Armour Cordura Regiment Backpack.

Larger Travel Bags

Like this Cordura Black Duffle Bag by Supreme.


5. Denim

Denim, though originally used in workwear or jeans, is now also quite popular with bags since it creates a stone-washed effect that many designers like to use.

What kind of bags are made from Denim?

Backpacks 

Like this Denim Backpack by Rebecca Minkoff.

Shoulder & Crossbody Bags

Like this Denim Mini Flap Bag by Chanel.


6. Straw

Straw is one of the oldest materials for bag making and is more commonly used today for beach bags like totes or crossbody bags. It can be woven into the bags for a timeless look that’s also easy to clean.

What kind of bags are made from Straw?

Shoulder & Crossbody Bags

Like this Summer Tote by Tory Burch.


7. Neoprene (Synthetic Rubbers)

Denim, though originally used in workwear or jeans, is now also quite popular with bags since it creates a stone-washed effect that many designers like to use.

What kind of bags are made from Neoprene?

Backpacks

Like this Dakota Backpack by Dagne Dover.


8. Mesh

Mesh fabric is mostly made of nylon or polyester and is a lightweight, thin, and strong material that can be made in a variety of styles depending on the bag.

What kind of bags are made from Mesh?

Small Goods

Like this nylon mesh pen case by Muji.


9. Vegan Leather

Vegan leather, also known as faux leather is generally made of plastic (Polyutherane) but it. can also be made from other types of synthetic materials. It’s not as durable as real leather and will start to show signs of wear and tear within a year but it is water resistant. Because of its man-made properties, you can also find a wider variety of colors with vegan leather bags.

What kind of bags are made from Vegan Leather?

Because vegan leather is made from plastic and not real leather, it’s on average 3x – 5x cheaper to produce the same yardage of material, making vegan leather bags great for low to medium priced bags, backpacks, or small leather goods.

Backpacks, Shoulder Bags, Leather Goods

Like this vegan leather bucket bag from Mat & Nat.


Continue Reading the Bag List

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