Beware of Imitations: 5 Things That Set Our Leather Tote Bag Apart

When KMM & Co. got its start back in 2011, there weren't a lot of great options for shoppers looking for a great leather tote bag. J. Crew had begun to make totes that were starting to get popular, and a handful of independent brands were offering cookie-cutter totes without a lot of personality.

But Kyle, KMM & Co.'s founder, fresh out of the Accessory Design program at SCAD, looked at those bags and just knew that a leather tote bag could be better.

Kyle envisioned a timeless leather tote bag, with a simpler and more classic design than what J. Crew as offering, and with heirloom-quality materials that wouldn't wear out after a season or two (unlike the poorly constructed options proliferating on Etsy even then). He also wanted a tote with traditional craftsmanship and construction, without seams that would fail or handles that would break -- common problems with other brands' tote bags.

A tote bag is the simplest leather bag to make. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to get it right. KMM & Co. has had almost a decade to perfect our tote design, and we're proud to say that we’ve learned a few things along the way. Here’s what sets KMM & Co.'s totes apart from all of those *other* leather tote bags.

Kyle Martin and Marcus Orfield at KMM & Co.

5. A leather tote bag design by a REAL designer

Anybody with a side of leather, a few basic hand tools, and an iPhone camera can set up shop making leather totes. But not everybody can make a tote bag that you’ll actually want to carry day in and day out.

Many leather goods brands get their start in someone’s garage or basement. (KMM & Co. got its start that way, too! Hi, Mom!) But Kyle, KMM & Co.’s founder, went to art school to train as a professional accessories designer. He also drew up countless designs before starting to make his own leather goods. At every turn, Kyle has relied on his rigorous design education, which even 10 years after graduation plays a crucial role in what we do everyday at KMM & Co.

Lots of "makers" put the proverbial cart before the horse and think they can learn everything they need to know as they go along. But we don’t ask customers (and their hard-earned dollars) to finance the important process of trial and error. We think that any bag we offer for sale should be properly designed, prototyped, tested, and perfected by a real designer.

Numerous other brands have come and gone over the years. Some of their founders have even met Kyle at craft fairs, made polite conversation, and then shamelessly copied his designs. (You know who you are!) But every KMM & Co. design, including our classic leather tote bag, is 100% an original design. Beware of imitations: There are very few leather goods brands who can honestly tell you that they're producing their own, original designs.

Tan Kodiak leather tote bag made in America

4. Years (and then more years) of testing and prototyping

Speaking of design, an amazing pattern is the blueprint for a great tote. Kyle first created the KMM & Co. leather tote bag design in 2011. He and the team have spent years testing and refining that original design. Those efforts have been absolutely crucial to ensuring that every single tote we make will stand up to years and years -- a lifetime -- of everyday use.

We’ve run into plenty of other leather goods brands that threw their tote design together over a few days or a long weekend. (You've probably seen them, too!) But we’re not afraid to admit that we’ve spent YEARS on our tote bag design. All that time and attention shows in the details.

What our leather tote bags *don't* have is just as important as what they do. Our totes don’t have seams that will fall apart. They don’t have pockets that look good in photos but aren’t actually usable in practice. Our totes don’t have awkwardly positioned straps (or handles that will tear off the body of the bag). And our tote bags absolutely never include inferior hardware -- watch out for double-capped rivets! -- or cheap top-grain leather that won't withstand years of use.

Kyle’s mom, close friends, and girlfriend have each carried KMM & Co. totes everyday for years on end. And we can honestly say that each of their totes looks better now than on day one. New leather goods brands pop up everyday. But very few of them have a decade of product testing under their belts.

Handmade leather tote bag Navy leather totes

3. Handmade, not homemade, craftsmanship

Craftsmanship is crucial. Don't get us wrong: We 100% believe that ANYBODY can learn to make a leather tote bag. (We're even planning workshops for the DIY-inclined to learn to make their own tote -- watch this space!) But there’s a big difference between handmade and homemade. And only one of them is appropriate for a bag that you’re going to carry everyday.

Traditional leather working techniques look simple enough to learn. But they aren’t easy to master. Many brands brag about saddle stitching, boast about extensive backstitching, or rely on expensive leather to hide their shoddy craftsmanship.

Making a great leather tote requires a lot of skill. You have to acquire those skills slowly, by practicing and perfecting traditional leather working techniques over a period of years. There are no shortcuts. Spending a few weekends following YouTube tutorials doesn’t cut it!

Each member of KMM & Co.’s production team follows a painstaking training program before they get to make anything that our customers will see. And that training all takes place under the supervision of a professional designer who spent many intense years at school to learn his craft. Practice isn't always fun. But it makes the difference between handmade and homemade.

Honey carryall leather tote bag made in America

2. Made in America from start to finish

Each of our leather tote bags is made in America, in our Atlanta studio. You can find a leather tote bag that’s less expensive than a KMM & Co. bag. But almost all of them are made overseas. And if you find a cheap bag that *is* made in the states, that guarantees either that it's made by workers who aren't paid a living wage, or it's made with sub-par materials.

Every once in a while, these inexpensive totes come from safely and ethically operated factories. But most of the time, cheap totes are made in developing countries with a high risk of labor violations and lax environmental protection standards. Even brands that boast about creating jobs in developing countries often engage in exploitative labor practices, and these brands often hurt people in vulnerable communities more than they help them.

If you care about the safety and wellbeing of the people who make your tote (and the leather that goes into it), you should always buy American-made. KMM & Co.’s totes are handmade by skilled employees in our Atlanta studio, where we have stringent safety rules that everybody has to follow. Just as importantly, we look out for the safety of the people producing our leather by sourcing leather exclusively from the U.S. and from countries with strict labor laws and environmental protections, even if that means that we have to pay more for our leather.

We also pay each of our employees a living wage (and benefits!), and every KMM & Co. employee is truly a member of our family. Each employee receives extensive training in every skill needed to complete their job. And all of those employees take a hands-on approach to quality control to ensure every single leather tote bag meets our standards — something you can’t do if you’re making your totes in a factory or in a sweatshop.

Leather for leather tote bags made in America

1. Heirloom-quality materials of the best possible quality

Finally, a leather tote bag is nothing without a piece of heirloom-quality leather. Full-grain leather is the highest-quality leather. So full-grain leather is the only kind that KMM & Co. uses to make our tote bags. We're extremely picky about the leathers that we order to make into totes. (Our team sees hundreds of samples every year, but we choose only 10 to 20 of them!)

When we're selecting a leather to make into leather tote bags, we have very high standards. We want leathers that will either make a soft and slouchy (but not unusably floppy) tote, or leathers that will make a beautifully structured (but not uncomfortably stiff) bag. Each leather has to be colorfast. It has to show the natural characteristics of the hide. And, perhaps most importantly, it has to acquire a unique patina, and look more beautiful with age and use.

While many other brands have figured out how to select leathers that look good brand-new, few of them use leathers that will actually improve as they age. And very few brands have figured out the perfect balance of qualities that make a leather the perfect choice for a bag you'll use everyday for a lifetime -- a bag that will become an heirloom you'll pass on. 

Leather mini totes made in America at KMM & Co.

A KMM & Co. tote is the best leather tote bag money can buy

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of leather tote bags to choose from. But a KMM & Co. tote is the best leather tote bag because of our original (and often-copied) design, the years of testing and prototyping we've put into our totes, our expert and heirloom-quality craftsmanship, our safe and ethical American supply chain, and the incredibly high-quality materials we use for every single bag.

We aren't making leather tote bags just because they're "trending," because they're simple to design, or because we saw someone else making them. We produce each and every leather tote bag in our collection because Kyle and the whole KMM & Co. team believes that totes are a classic and versatile bag, and we because we take pride in making them the right way, the way they would have been made 100 years ago.

If you've been searching for the perfect leather tote bag, you've come to the right place. We've heard from countless customers who ordered a KMM & Co. tote and never again used their handbags from other brands. Take a look around, and drop us a line if you have any questions. (You can always get in touch at hello@kmmco.com!) We're looking forward to hearing from you -- and to making you a bag that you'll use for a lifetime. 

Shop our leather tote bag collection to see the totes that we've been making since 2011. Check out our mini tote collection if you want a smaller twist on our classic tote design. Or browse our carryall collection if your motto is, 'Go big or go home!'

May 14, 2020 — Jess Bolluyt