At a price point of $1,450, you might wonder what makes a leather briefcase from Frank Clegg Leatherworks truly worth the investment.
It is not just the fact that President Obama procured one when he wanted an exceptional American briefcase. Known for their lifetime warranty, timeless designs, and meticulously finished edges, the name Frank Clegg has become synonymous with the pinnacle of craftsmanship in leather goods.
For this article, we visited their Massachusetts factory and had the man himself walk us through the creation of one of his bags. Don’t miss the video we embedded below!
The heart and soul of Frank’s creations lies in the quality of his leather, but we were surprised to learn just how important the edge finishing is and how much it contributes to the artistry — and, yes, the cost.
Join us on a journey that unveils the craftsmanship and attention to detail that make Frank Clegg the most esteemed name in American leather crafting.
[Further reading: The 6 Best Leather Bags for Men]
Origins of Frank Clegg – Leather Bag Company
The origins of Frank Clegg’s Leather Bag Company can be traced back to a small workshop just outside of Boston, MA. Frank Clegg, the visionary behind the brand, began his journey as a humble leatherworker with a passion for crafting exquisite leather goods.
Inspired by his father’s skillful craftsmanship, Frank Clegg embarked on a lifelong pursuit of perfection in the world of leather. Through relentless dedication and a commitment to using only the highest quality materials, Clegg’s reputation as a master leather artisan began to flourish.
What started as a one-man operation soon blossomed into a family-owned business. Today, Frank Clegg’s Leather Bag Company remains true to its roots, combining traditional techniques with a modern approach to deliver exceptional leather products.
Frank Clegg – Leather Selection
While he admits he uses French hides, Clegg keeps the tanneries he uses a closely guarded secret, a practice that’s not uncommon when trying to preserve a brand’s potency.
But his emphasis on the quality and characteristics of the leather is evident in their meticulous selection process. Clegg only uses vegetable tanned leather in his bags — a material that is, to put it simply, made the old fashioned way.
Practically all leather is either vegetable or chrome tanned (or a combination of the two), and while chrome tanning was invented less than 200 years ago, vegetable tanning is thousands of years old. While chrome tanning has its advantages, “veg” tanned is more durable and natural, using tannins found in tree bark and other plants to deputrefy the hides and make a bag that can last for decades, if not centuries. (The world’s oldest shoe, made 5,500 years ago and found in excellent condition in 2008? Vegetable tanned leather.)
While they do offer chrome tanned options, their emphasis lies in vegetable-tanned leather due to its biodegradability and strength. Although it may be more challenging to work with, vegetable-tanned leather allows for a unique burnishing effect and enables precise pattern placement during cutting.
“This particular hide conceals its qualities quite well,” says Frank. “These happen to be bellies, and their arrangement is quite impeccable. Typically, on a tumbled hide, you’d notice prominent wrinkles and creases. However, the tannery has executed a commendable job, ensuring a smooth appearance. These hides, mind you, are of French origin. The selection is generally superior, and if you were to run your fingers along its surface, you’d notice a consistent texture.”
The careful selection of specific sections of the hides is crucial. For example, areas like the butt, backbone, and outer pockets are cut from the best sections, ensuring consistency and a pleasing appearance.
Clegg’s tannery executes a remarkable job of producing hides that display relative uniformity and a smooth texture. You’re unlikely to ever find a hide that’s full grain — meaning without the top layer sanded away — and totally consistent in appearance, but Clegg and his staff make sure to click carefully. The term refers to how pieces of leather are selected for each parts of the product: if there’s loose grain that might produce a wrinkled appearance, the hide is cut so that it’s concealed beneath another piece of leather (say, a load bearing strap).
Frank Clegg’s dedication to superior hides and careful clicking ensures that their bags not only endure the test of time but also retain their timeless beauty, all while improving with age.
Frank Clegg’s integration of high tech cutting technology offers an exciting advantage in their leatherworking process. By utilizing CNC cutting — computer numerical control — they can place patterns with precision, replicating the meticulous approach of hand cutting. This significantly reduces the time and effort required for manipulating the hide. Moreover, CNC cutting allows for maximum utilization of the hide, avoiding unnecessary waste.
“This here brings forth the same concept, you see,” says Frank, referring to traditional clicking. “It grants (the leatherworker) the ability to lay down the patterns just as one would while cutting by hand. You gather all your templates, carefully arranging them to determine the desired placement, and then proceed with the cutting process. However, when working with a clicker, you cut one piece at a time, searching for the specific piece required before moving on to the next. And let me tell you, it can be quite time consuming.”
This means that more leather is used.
Once the pieces are confirmed, the machine cuts them out with a razor just like a person would, but with even more precision, less time spent, and less waste. It combines the advantages of traditional techniques with the efficiency and accuracy of modern technology.
[Further reading: Our Picks for the Best Leather Backpacks On the Market]
Once the leather pieces are cut, they are organized on trays, ensuring that all identical components are grouped together. This step leads to the next crucial stage known as splitting.
The splitter plays a pivotal role in the process. It enables the separation of layers in the leather, but the applicability of splitting depends on the type of leather being used. When it comes to veg-tanned leather, the strength primarily resides in the top layers. In contrast, chrome tanned leather possesses strength throughout. So splitting the hides is a different operation depending on the leather.
Splitting veg-tanned leather presents certain challenges. The drying process for veg-tanned leather is a natural one, akin to drying greenwood. This natural drying can lead to cracks and other variations in the leather. However, the splitter machine provides a solution by allowing Frank Clegg to take hides of varying thicknesses and split them accordingly.
For instance, when creating a shoulder strap, it is necessary to reduce the thickness of the leather. By splitting each panel down to the desired thickness, the pieces become more suitable for construction. These split sections are then sewn together and integrated into the briefcase.
Finishing The Edges
The meticulous attention to edge finishing really sets Frank Clegg’s Leather Bag Company apart.
“Our edges are truly remarkable, and I say that not just because of my own judgment, but because our competitors affirm it as well,” says Clegg. “We have invested significant effort in perfecting those edges. If you were to pick up a product and encounter unfinished edges, you’d immediately sense the difference in feel.”
To experience the difference, simply hold an item with finished edges alongside one without. The tactile sensation and overall feel are noticeably distinct. This disparity becomes even more pronounced with thicker, sturdier items like a briefcase. Although wear and tear can impact the edges, Frank Clegg offers a refinishing service to restore their pristine condition. Compare Clegg’s edges above with this unfinished edge below on a competing bag.
While some younger customers may appreciate the raw appeal of unfinished edges, as the customer base matures, they tend to seek a more sophisticated aesthetic. They recognize that luxury brands consistently exhibit beautiful, polished edges on their products. However, achieving such polished edges requires significant time and effort, equivalent to the bag-making process itself. This attention to detail limits production quantities and necessitates higher prices.
“If you were to pick up a product and the edges weren’t finished off, it would feel different,” says Clegg. “Every single edge is polished and buffed. We could make two or three times the bags if we didn’t do our edges — and we could sell ’em for a lot cheaper.”
Nevertheless, there is a segment of customers who genuinely appreciate these meticulously finished edges. They understand and value the craftsmanship involved. The finished edges not only enhance the overall aesthetics but also signify the brand’s commitment to craftsmanship.
Attaching the Rivets
The riveting process at Frank Clegg’s Leather Bag Company involves a variety of rivet types and methods. When inserting a rivet, a steel shaft is placed through a punched hole in the leather, and a cap secures it in place. The steel and brass combination is used to ensure a strong and secure hold. The crimping action of the rivet creates a larger diameter than the hole, allowing the cap to hold it firmly. This combination of steel and brass contributes to the durability and functionality of the riveted components.
“Alright, picture this: You’ve got a cap and you’ve got this other component, right?” says Clegg. :Now, when this component is inserted, it folds or crimps right at that point, making it larger than the hole itself. And guess what: the cap comes into play, securely holding it in place. The cap is made of steel, while this other component is brass. You might be wondering why we combine the two materials. Well, the reason is simple: steel has a remarkable grip on the brass part, ensuring a reliable connection.”
The design process for Frank Clegg’s Leather Bag Company began with a young entrepreneur who had a passion for creating functional and visually appealing bags. His goal was to design bags that would speak for themselves, without relying on hype or trends.
“Back in those days, there was no Internet at our disposal. I couldn’t just browse online and find inspiration,” says Clegg. “If I wanted to explore high-end stores, I had to venture into Boston or similar places. I had this notion that if I could create something beautiful and place it on a table, people would appreciate it without any need for hype or marketing tricks. So, I followed my instincts and relied on my keen eye for shapes and designs. That’s all I did, really. I embarked on this journey because I had a backpack during my grammar school days, an army backpack to be precise. However, I was never quite fond of locks or zippers. I yearned for something more enduring, something that exuded durability.”
Driven by a desire to make quality products that would evoke admiration from others, the young designer embarked on his journey, honing his skills and refining his designs along the way. Through trial and error, he developed a unique style and approach to bag design, relying on his intuition and craftsmanship.
Why Is Frank Clegg worth it?
Frank Clegg’s worth is undeniable, and it can be attributed to several key factors that set the brand apart:
- Exceptional Leather Selection: Frank Clegg personally sources the best leathers available. With a commitment to quality and consistency in appearance, the brand ensures that every bag is crafted from premium materials, resulting in a superior end product.
- Timeless Design: These classic bags will never go out of style, which works out well given they’ll last for decades.
- Edge Finishing: As Frank says, he could make two or three times more bags if they weren’t so committed to finishing their edges.
- Talented Team: Frank Clegg surrounds himself with skilled individuals who share his passion for craftsmanship. Their expertise and dedication contribute to the brand’s reputation for excellence and attention to detail.
- American Manufacturing: Absolutely nothing is outsourced: every step of the process happens in the Massachusetts workshop.
- Vertical Integration: Unlike many other companies, Frank Clegg Leatherworks controls every aspect of the production process. From sourcing materials to manufacturing, the brand maintains strict oversight, ensuring the highest standards are met at every stage.
- Personal Touch: Frank Clegg approaches each bag as if it were being made for himself. This mindset translates into a level of care and attention that is evident in the final product. Every detail is meticulously considered to create bags that meet his exacting standards.
By combining the best materials, a talented team, full control over production, and a personal approach, Frank Clegg creates bags that reflect his uncompromising vision of craftsmanship. The result is a brand that consistently delivers exceptional products, making it worth every investment.