All About Bags

Tom Taylor handmade designer bags are some of the finest in the world, and yet it is their uniqueness that makes them stand out above the rest. How do you craft uniqueness? We sat down with Tom Taylor bag designers Gary Wiles and Abbie Caplin to find out.

Gary Wiles - Billy Sunday Leather Bags

Gary Wiles, Designer & Craftsman Billy Sunday Leather, LLC.

TT: What are your customers looking for?

WILES: Something unique, different; something representing the west, and not gaudy, but subtle. They are looking for a handmade bag that will be highly functional, housing and protecting equipment and supplies needed for the mobile office.

TT: What’s different about the materials used in your bags?

WILES: I try and use only the best American produced materials, like top quality Wicket Craig (tanning leather since 1867) English Bridle leather and solid brass hardware. There is a big difference in the leather, the condition of the original hide (lack of scars, stretchmarks & brands) and then how it is tanned. All of these factors determine the appearance and quality of the finished product. Then only the select sections of the actual hides are used in my finished product.

TT: What process do you go through in designing a bag?

WILES: As technology changes, like iPads, small notebook computers, and the trend toward a paperless office, so do the needs and demands of our customers. Six years ago no one was using iPads or smart phones. Now everyone relies on the convenience of these products. I still travel and pay close attention to how people work and how I work…if my iPad is buried deep in my briefcase and not accessible it is not convenient. That’s one of the reasons I added an iPad case to the back of my briefcase. The iPad is not only conveniently located, but is also well protected with 9 ounces of English Bridle leather. After a design is finalized, I make prototypes that are field-tested to determine their suitability for the task.

Billy Sunday Briefcase

TT: About how long does it take for you to make a bag?

WILES: Depending on the bag, it takes about 3-4 days because of the different processes involved. For efficiency, I like to make 3 of a style together. That saves time in setting up sewing processes and cutting pattern pieces. Some leather must be formed using wet leather and a mold. Other pieces are hand-dyed and formed.  Shaping and finishing the edges also takes time.

TT: What are some of the details that make your bags unique?

WILES: I use only select leathers. Each hide is inspected for weight, color, blemishes and overall appearance. I hand-cut each pieces and if it is not perfect it lands in the trash. The thread I use is 100% heavy duty polyester that is marine grade that will not break, stretch or get brittle with extended wear. We design our products to have a minimum of seams, few moving parts (like zippers) and Chicago screws rather than rivets. Our products are fully lined with leather, not fabric, which would quickly show wear.

TT: What is your biggest motivation in making your bags?

WILES: I try and make each piece better than the last, with the overall goal of a museum-quality piece that will carry my maker’s mark stamp with pride. It is the challenge of perfection!

TT: Where do you find your inspiration?

WILES: Leather comes from a living, breathing creature. It is not man-made, and for centuries it has been used for shoes, clothing and shelter. When I select a hide I can picture it as a finished product, just as a cabinetmaker looks at a piece of wood and visualizes how it will look as a cabinet or furniture. Making fine products is a tribute to the animal and again, a challenge of perfection.

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Abbie Caplin, Designer Abbie Caplin LLC.

TT: What do you think a woman is looking for in a Tom Taylor bag?

CAPLIN: Anything we do as artisans or designers is about creating value for our buyers. When you spend your time, energy and money on a purchase you want it to be special and you want passers by to stop you on the street and say, “What a great bag!” When you purchase a bag handmade by an individual artisan, you know that it is really special. It’s not a matter of need but more the pride that comes from carrying a piece created by a particular designer or craftsman. Tom Taylor bags have been painstakingly crafted over hours and hours. When a woman purchases a Tom Taylor bag I think that she is looking for something that is truly unique.

TT: How do you begin designing a bag?

CAPLIN: It’s starts with an idea or vision, then we go about creating a pattern. After that we have to find the right material, and then we put our blood, sweat and tears in to the actual creation. Even after we’ve put the bag together there are sometimes alterations that need to be made before it is ready to go on the shelves.

TT: About how long does it take to make a designer bag?

CAPLIN: From start to finish a larger designer bag might take from 8 hours to months to complete.

Handmade Leather Bags
TT: What are some of the details of your bags that set them apart from others?

CAPLIN: For one thing, all of the bags are lined with pig suede because it is easy to clean and durable due to the cross fibers. When a designer bag is laced by hand, each hole is measured and punched individually. Not by machine. Also, the braided straps on the Abbie Caplin bags go through 6 steps before reaching completion.

TT: What is your biggest motivation in designing bags for women?

CAPLIN: The pure joy and satisfaction of a job well done. The love of leather and hides and being able to construct items of beauty and usefulness…or we could say – being able to construct pieces of art that are beautiful and useful.

The smell of the leather and seeing a finished work of art gives me goose bumps.