There aren’t that many high-end American made leather bag manufacturers around anymore. It is just really expensive to produce quality leather goods in this country and the bigger company you are the more expensive it becomes, in terms of labour and materials. I am asked all the time when customers come to my workshop about other American-made leather goods manufacturers and if their goods are really American made and what that even means. Ghurka Bags has come up a number of times even though we both have different styles, so they will be my focus for this post and to compare their Counselor No 95 briefcase to my Russel bridle leather briefcase.
Ghurka Bags has been around since the seventies and have had some really nice soft leather bags. They started out right here in the neighbouring state of Connecticut. They have lots of styles and employ lots of unnamed “artisans.” I am biased towards leather goods being built by employees. Obviously, when a company grows and the original maker dies like Louie Vuitton and Hermes, craftsman have to build the styles, but no matter how well they copy the items they are still replicas. This is why I always consider my leather goods original artwork by the maker.
Most of the information about other leather bag companies or their products that I have gathered through the years has come from my close interactions with my customers. Since a large part of my work is custom they would come to me to make the briefcase they always wanted, armed with years of experience from using other brands. This is literally how I built my styles and reputation. Listening, collaborating, and making.
One of the brands they would always bring up is Ghurka Bags and how at a certain point their American made image was misleading. I’ve had a few customers tell me that they purchased Ghurka Bags thinking they were made in Connecticut when they found “Made in China” tags inside. I don’t fault them for making their bags in China. I understand as a business owner to scale a company and deal with the wholesale costs that retail stores demand you need to cut costs wherever you can.
Skilled labour is the largest cost in the American production of high-end leather goods, but when you manufacture bulk in China the leather becomes the largest cost. International labour is cheaper than American labour. An unnamed American “artisan” labour is cheaper than an artist who made the item and stands behind the item with his reputation and name. A company would never want to name their employee because the customer would associate more with the artists than with the brand. An artisan that understands he has a true skill would never produce his highest quality possible for another named brand. That is what I learned in this business.
- What does American made mean?
- Can you design in America and manufacture in another country?
- Can most of the parts come from another country and manufacturing be done in America?
Many people really don’t care where the leather bag is made, so I’ll let you be the judge on Ghurka Bags and if they meet the American Made label. I can tell you that I always list the manufacturing origins of not only my bags which are all made in New York but also my leather and locks that are made in America, England and Italy as of May 24, 2017. If I made in China it would reflect in price and on the listing.
COUNSELOR NO. 95 | WALNUT LEATHER BRIEFCASE
- 17″ x 4.5″ x 11.5″
- Top Handle With 2” Drop
- Adjustable Shoulder Strap 48″
- Shoulder Strap Drop 24”
- Two spacious interior divided compartments
- Bag closes securely with two leather straps concealing brass tuck locks
- Interior utility pockets
- Brown English Bridle Leather (USA)
- Size: 16″ x 12″ x 4″ (2″ x 2″)
- Double Marcellino Latches brass
- Signature Bottom Cross Stitch Handle
- Standard Flat Pocket Set & Newspaper Pocket
- Sand Lining Green
- Adjustable shoulder strap
- Hand Stitched and Crafted To Order in Huntington
It is real simple, I custom make this style by hand stitching. The name on the label is the artist that makes it, not an employee and not as Ghurka states from “…artisans [that] have been crafting Ghurka bags throughout our long history and reside in Norwalk, CT, northern Italy, the foothills of southern Spain, and beyond.” It’s the beyond that makes me think.
They say that the majority of their leather goods are made from French Calfskin and that’s great but I’m not clear if the COUNSELOR NO. 95 briefcase is French calfskin. Even if it was “French Calfskin” to really judge the quality I would need to know the tannery, which are not all equal. I don’t doubt the Ghurka leather quality. I can tell you that the leather I use for the Russel briefcase is vegetable tanned bridle leather from the American Wickett and Craig tannery. I use Grade A hides and from them, I only use a portion of the hide which has the firmest fibres. Soft and especially tumbled chromium tanned leather make the bag parts like the belly usable, but get stretchy in the long term. I can only use the good parts with vegetable tanned leather. I use steer leather which is much more durable than the softer calfskin chromium tanned leather and that along with my hand stitching that goes into the bag is why I offer a lifetime warranty. I’m not sure on the Ghurka Bags warranty, I don;t think there is one.
There are 2 major things I do not like in a briefcase that I see in the COUNSELOR NO. 95 bag. I build my bags to last decades, so the parts I use should reflect that and that is why I normally don’t put zippers in the briefcases. I’ve done it on custom work and will do it if asked but this is why I usually do not include them in my bags. The other thing I see in the COUNSELOR NO. 95 bag that I will not do it put fake buckles with the thumb catches underneath. I know at first to the average customer this looks great and easy to use, but if you are going to really use the bag they will be the first thing to break. I never put those thumb catches on double section bags and by using fake buckles I think you take away from the classic style.
The Ghurka Bag is lined with leather on the main panel and I think the rest is unlined. Soft calf leather gets pelty so you really have to be into that look. The Russel briefcase including the shoulder strap is fully lined in firm cow suede leather, very durable.
Finally, that COUNSELOR NO. 95 briefcase is a machine stitched soft floppy leather bag and filled with stuffing for the photos, the Russel briefcase keeps its form like an attache case because of the way I stitch my corners and the nature of vegetable tanned leather. They really are 2 different styles and you can’t go wrong with either, I just think the Ghurka Bag is a bit pricey for a factory-made bag.