How Your Briefcase is Made

At Daniel’s, we’re proud of how our briefcases are made and in this blog post, I’m excited to share with you the story of how it happens.

Firstly, our leather comes from a tannery in Novo Hamburgo, Brazil, a city of about 240,000 people located in the very southern part of the country, about 1200 kilometers southwest of São Paulo. German immigrants settled in the area in 1824 and eventually formed a city, naming it Novo Hamburgo, which means New Hamburg in Portuguese, after Germany’s second largest city, Hamburg. To this day, Novo Hamburgo's population is still predominantly of German descent.

Novo Hamburgo is known throughout the world as a major producer of leather as well as shoes.

A tannery is a facility where raw animal hides are turned into usable leather for leather goods. We’re proud to source our leather from a tannery rated Gold by the Leather Working Group for environmental sustainability and stewardship.

Formed in 2005, the Leather Working Group is a group of brands, retailers, product manufacturers, leather manufacturers, chemical suppliers and technical experts that have worked together to develop rigorous environmental standards specifically for the leather industry.

The group promotes best practices by conducting hands-on auditing of tanneries and awarding ratings of bronze, silver, and gold to tanneries that meet the highest environmental standards. Some of the areas monitored include energy consumption, water usage, waste management, manufacturing processes, hide traceability, and environmental management systems. Only those tanneries that meet the very highest of standards are awarded the gold rating and we’re proud to partner with a tannery that has achieved this award.

After the raw cow hides are tanned into usable leather, the leather is flown from Novo Hamburgo to our factory in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

As far as factories go, ours is relatively small, consisting of about 120 artisans. We visit often and regularly oversee the manufacturing process. It’s amazing to watch the factory staff skillfully transform what arrives as uncut leather into Daniel’s briefcases.

Lunchtime at the factory is always a sight to see. At noon, as if someone flipped a switch, absolutely all work stops. Machines shut down and a noticeable quiet replaces the regular buzz and hum of a factory in action. There is a kitchen on-site and lunch is catered for the staff daily. They eat together at big communal tables and we always enjoy eating with the staff on our visits.

Lunch typically consists of rice, meat, vegetables, soup, and the obligatory cup of tra da. In Vietnamese, tra means tea and da means ice (pronounced “cha da”)—in Vietnam, iced tea is the drink of choice with meals. An ice-cold cup of tra da is a real treat and we have yet to ever find the particular crisp taste of a cup of Vietnamese tra da outside of Vietnam. We’ve tried.

Most of the staff finish lunch in about 15-20 minutes and then it’s time for the Vietnamese custom of a midday nap. The staff nap for the next 40 minutes, and the entire factory is totally silent. Everyone is fast asleep. After the one hour lunch break, machines start buzzing again and it’s back to work. Leather is cut, pockets are sewn, and briefcases are made.

When finished, the briefcases are inspected by the factory’s quality control team before I personally inspect each briefcase by hand to ensure that each one meets our rigorous quality standards. Inspecting each briefcase is one of my favorite parts of the production process as I get to sit shoulder to shoulder with the staff on the factory floor, inspecting the briefcases that they just worked so hard to make.

This extra step of double-checking briefcases in-person at the factory does take time but it’s something we’re happy to do. When we promise uncompromising quality and unbeatable value, we mean it.

After passing quality inspection, briefcases are packed away for their ocean voyage from Ho Chi Minh City to New York. There are websites that allow you to track the position of container ships all over the world and we always get a kick out of tracking the container ships carrying our briefcases as they make their way across the world from Vietnam to the United States.

The journey takes about a month with the ship sailing west from Ho Chi Minh City, around India, up through the Suez Canal, through the Mediterranean Sea, through the Strait of Gibraltar and finally, traversing the Atlantic Ocean to New York City.

It’s truly amazing to think about all the people, industries, and effort that goes into making one briefcase. From the tannery in Brazil, to the pilots who fly the leather to Vietnam, to all the customs officials who regulate international trade, to the factory staff, to the factories who make our zippers and hooks, to the staff at the port that make sure the right containers get on the right ships, to the ship’s crew that navigates across the world’s oceans—it’s really a remarkable feat of human organization.

We make it a priority to be involved in every part of our supply chain and are proud of the strong relationships we’ve developed with our partners. We could not have done it without them. As I carry around my Daniel’s briefcase every day, it always strikes me to think about all the people and businesses involved that helped turn our idea of a high quality, affordable leather briefcase into a reality.  I find the story of how things are made absolutely fascinating and hope you found the story of how Daniel’s briefcases are made both interesting and insightful.