Buckle & Seam Sierra 15″ Messenger Bag review

I have developed a real affinity for leather products. When they are well made, they are sure to last a lifetime. When Buckle & Seam offered their Messenger Bag – Sierra 15″ for review, I was eager to give it a try. I found that it is an attractive bag and has a variety of pockets and slots to organize my materials, but for $320 + shipping, it is not as well made as I had hoped.

What is it?

The Buckle & Seam Messenger Bag – Sierra 15″ is a leather messenger bag for business use and accommodates 15″ laptops.

Package contents

The Buckle & Seam Messenger Bag – Sierra 15″ came in a navy blue non-woven polypropylene material bag (or poly non-woven which is the same material used in reusable grocery bags) and also came with printed materials about the leather and leather care and about their commitment to educating Pakistani girls. The cards were actually printed in German, so I had to use Google Translate to help me understand the information.

Design and features

This messenger bag is the larger version (Sierra 15″) that Buckle & Seam offers and will hold a 15″ laptop (there is also a 13″ version without a handle – Cara 13″). The bag is made using full grain leather (their website states that the bag is made with the “entire grain – meaning that all layers of the leather have been kept and worked together”).

The leather has been vegetable tanned which is more environmentally friendly than Chrome VI tanning or other chemical tanning processes and takes four to five weeks to complete. This leather is susceptible to scratches and will develop a patina over time. They call the leather Crazy Horse Full Grain Leather.

The true colors of the bag were difficult for me to accurately replicate using a camera. The color displayed on the left in the photo above has red tones in it that my bag does not have. My bag is actually very brown – no red at all as depicted in the photo above on the right.

The front of the bag shows how the bag is assembled with a double stitch using recycled polyester thread. The main compartment flap uses a tuck catch lock closure.

The plain navy blue custom lining of the bag was “developed by our in-house design team and [is] manufactured only for us out of premium cotton” according to Buckle & Seam’s Managing Director, Marco Feelisch. There are different lining colors and patterns to choose from: Dots, Checked, Boats, Paper Planes, and Plain.

The bag comes with a key to lock the tuck catch lock closure. When the bag was shipped to me, the key and the Buckle & Seam tag were tied to the bag through one of the pen/pencil slots using a strip of leather as shown above.

Here is a close-up view of the tuck catch lock closure. I’m not sure what kind of metal the bag uses in order to determine if the hardware will endure years of use (perhaps brass?).

The key is very small and thus very easy to lose. However, the locking mechanism is not complicated. The two prongs on the key insert into the lock and when turned in a clockwise direction lock the bag such that the button can no longer be pressed to release the closure. So, if you should lose the key, a paper clip or similar device could be used to access your contents.

The above photos show how the metal D-rings are attached to the sides of the bag. The D-rings are used to attach the leather shoulder strap to the bag. 

Here is a close up of how the D-rings are attached to the bag using stitching and two metal rivets. You’ll also notice that all of the edges of the leather have been turned in and sewn (I kind of like seeing the raw or burnished edges of my leather products which also helps me to see the quality of the leather being used).

The back of the bag also shows the stitching and another zipper pocket. YKK elastic zippers are used on Buckle & Seam’s business bags according to Mr. Freelisch.

The back zipper pocket will hold more of your documents (11.5″ wide x 9.5″ high) but, in addition, it also has a trolley strap so that you can slide the messenger bag over a suitcase handle to make traveling easier (Buckle & Seam calls it a “hidden trolley solution”).

The trolley strap is attached to the bag using elastic fabric and can be tucked back into the pocket until it is needed again. I do wonder if the elastic fabric will hold up to traveling over time. 

The bottom and sides of the Sierra messenger bag are made from three pieces of leather. The seams of a bag can be weak points especially if there is weight or stress exerted on those areas. Such an issue can be eliminated by using a single thick piece of leather to make up the sides and bottom of the bag. 

The handle is sewn and riveted onto the bag.

The Buckle & Seam website states that they use leather that is on average 1.8-2mm thick. However, the handle of the bag is one of those areas where two thin layers of leather were sewn together to make a handle that measures about 2mm thick. This is thin for a handle and since this is a high-stress area, could very well fail if it is used a great deal. 

The leather shoulder strap is adjustable by using the metal buckle. 

The shoulder strap is made up of what looks like three thin layers of leather sewn together but I also noticed that in order to get the length that they desired, the strap is made up of sections that are spliced together as well. The seam you see above also exists on the other side at the same point. Again, the shoulder strap is a high-stress area of the bag and thus has greater potential to fail in the future because of the design of the strap. This could be eliminated if the strap were made entirely from one or two thick layers of leather without splicing.

The shoulder straps are attached to the bag using swiveling metal lobster claw clasps. 

The main compartment of the bag is entirely lined with cotton lining. This compartment contains a padded laptop pocket. The material that separates the laptop from the main compartment is sewn into the inside of the bag using two 2″ wide strips of elastic material on each side (top and bottom) so that the pocket can stretch to accommodate thicker laptops. The top of the laptop pocket uses a round magnetic closure (about 2 cm in diameter). This pocket will accommodate 13″ and 15″ laptops according to the Buckle & Seam website. 

The main compartment’s internal measurements are about 14″ wide x 3″ deep x 11.5″ high.

Besides the main compartment, there are a couple of other pockets located toward the front of the bag. The thin zippered pocket shown above has internal measurements that about 11.25″ wide x 9.75″ high.

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The open front pocket, which measures 14.75″ wide x 8.5″ high internally, contains all the organizing slots and pockets which include places to hold three pens/pencils, a pocket for business cards, and a phone pocket. You may also store more documents here if desired.

Use

After filling the Sierra messenger bag with some of my materials, I found that it could comfortably carry a 1″ binder and a couple of thin paper folders as well as a pencil case. In the laptop pocket, I was able to store my portable keyboard which measures 11.75″ x 7.75″ x 0.75″ (my laptops are larger than 15″ and thus do not fit). 

In the front pocket, I stored two pens, an insurance card, my Nexus 6 phone (without its case), and small zipper pouch.

The pens fit snugly and were a bit difficult to retrieve as was my phone. My phone measures 6.25″ tall x 3.25″ wide x 0.375″ deep. If your phone is any larger, it will not fit in the phone pocket. I normally have a thin case on my phone and it would not fit in this pocket with the case on.

The Sierra messenger bag organized my materials well and the padded compartment was nice and seemed to provide enough protection for my portable keyboard.

However, when the bag was full, the above photos show how much stress is placed on the handle when carried this way (and I do not even have a laptop inside the bag). The leather that the handle is sewn and riveted on is not very thick here but they have included under the handle attachment sites a 7″ long x 0.5″ wide rigid strip of reinforcing material hidden on the underside of the main compartment flap behind the lining of the bag.

The Sierra messenger bag was easy for me to carry using the shoulder strap but was a little bit of a challenge for my husband to keep it on his shoulder when worn as shown above. However, you can use the shoulder strap as a cross body strap as well.

Buckle & Seam products can stand a small amount of water but are not waterproof. And according to Buckle & Seam’s website, if your bag gets scratches on it, they can be minimized or eliminated by rubbing your finger or a clean smooth soft cloth over the marks. For deeper scratches, you can apply a neutral leather wax to the area but be aware that the leather may look darker for a while.

The humanitarian side of Buckle & Seam

Buckle & Seam makes their leather bags in Pakistan. The founders of Buckle & Seam traveled around and worked in Pakistan and were drawn to the country and its people. They are committed to providing the highest standard of working conditions for their employees. And for each bag sold, a part of their revenue goes to sending a girl to school in Pakistan.

According to UNICEF statistics, Pakistan’s Adult Literacy Rate is 54.9%. Already one of the lowest rates in the world, the situation for women is even worse. Only 45% are able to identify and write their name – the only two criteria to be considered literate according to UNICEF. Such circumstance in a country vast of resources and craftsmanship, is a true inhibitor to greater growth of Pakistan and improvement of living conditions for millions of Pakistanis. (Buckle & Seam – One Bag, One Child Program)

What I like about it

  • The messenger bag has an attractive design
  • The bag has a hidden trolley strap to make travel easier (strap that fits over a suitcase handle)
  • The leather is vegetable tanned which is more environmentally friendly than other chemical tanning processes
  • The founders of Buckle & Seam are committed to the people of Pakistan and providing good working conditions for their Pakistani employees
  • They are helping to fund the Anum School for girls located in Pakistan to help decrease the illiteracy rate among women in Pakistan

What needs to be improved

  • The handle is way too thin; much thicker layers of leather should be used to make the handle more resilient
  • Sections of the shoulder strap were spliced together to make up the desired length which weakens the strap; eliminate splicing and use thicker layers of leather to make the strap
  • The sides and bottom of the bag are made using three pieces of leather; improve strength by making the sides and bottom of the bag out of a single thick piece of leather
  • I personally, would like to see the bag made of thicker leather all around for a more robust feel

Final Thoughts

The Buckle & Seam Messenger Bag – Sierra 15″ is an attractive business messenger bag with many pockets and slots to organize your materials. It is made from vegetable tanned leather which is more environmentally friendly than chemical tanning processes. Buckle & Seam also donates a part of their revenue to send Pakistani girls to school to help increase the literacy rate.

However, I was disappointed in the quality and craftsmanship of the bag. The handle was made from thin layers of leather which make me question its durability. I also had the same feelings about the shoulder strap because it was made of what looks like three thin layers of leather sewn together and in order to get the length that they desired, the strap is made up of sections that are spliced together as well. The strength of the bottom of the bag could be improved by making it out of a single piece of leather instead of three. The zippers were YKK elastic zippers, but I could not tell what type of metal the hardware was made from and whether or not the hardware would be durable over time. Buckle & Seam uses recycled polyester thread in assembling the Sierra bag, which sounds great but will it last?

In addition, the Buckle and Seam leather products are backed by only a two-year warranty. It has been my experience with other companies that create premium leather products that their products are backed by a much longer warranty. Thus, the length of the warranty will tend to reflect the quality of the materials used and craftsmanship.

Buckle & Seam is environmentally conscious and has a wonderful commitment to the Pakistani people and more specifically, educating Pakistani girls. However, I personally would not purchase the Messenger Bag – Sierra 15″ at this time because it was not as well made as I had hoped for the price you pay. They seem to be committed to improving their products, so I look forward to their future bags.

Price: $320
Where to buy: Buckle & Seam
Source: The sample used in this review was provided by Buckle & Seam. Please visit their website for more information.

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