The Outcome of High Intention - Forging Outstanding Bags

November 28, 2018

The Outcome of High Intention - Forging Outstanding Bags

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.


An apt quote if I do say so myself. The Jack Stillman bags of 2018 onwards are the result of over 5 years of effort to make the bags we have achieved today. The principal by which we make gear is now summed up with the following service promise:

They must be durable ,
They must be functional, and 
They should be handsome

Read on to see the work that is done in order to bring you a world-class product not easily matched. 

The Leather

We only use top grain, vegetable tanned 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 Barmer, have up to 13 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 turn 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

The Waxed Canvas

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

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 only 3 very skilled tailors.

Canvas bags assembly processes

My chief tailor, Mr Thoi is so meticulous he won’t allow anyone else to work with him, his nephew and his wife because he doesn't trust anyone else to be as careful. He’s very proud of his work and so he should be. He’s in his element, he says, making top quality bags. 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.

The Finishing

Finished bags are inspected personally by me and my assistant Linh. Prior to shipping we add the Jack Stillman swing tag and each bag is placed inside a custom printed 8oz cotton dust bag for protection. The dust bag is also a surprise gift to you from us. The cotton cover bag is styled as a rucksack with a drawstring opening and side shoulder straps. It makes a great shopping or occasional bag or, as I prefer, a bottle-o bag!

 Jack Stillman Cotton Cover Bag

Hopefully this article gives you an insight into what makes my bags so special and why, in some cases you need to wait a little while in order to get something that will last you a lifetime. 

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