The basic design of most tote bags or Duffle type weekenders is very simple. The patterns are simple shapes with simple sewing involved. Many companies are manufacturing essentially the same bag. A similar basic pattern is often used for the “free with purchase” tote and the $1200 Open Tote at Neiman Marcus even though the quality is very different. After sourcing and manufacturing bags for several years I learned some simple ways to improve designs with some extra time sourcing and planning.
1. Fabric & Material Selection – If the purpose of the bag is to showcase a beautiful textile or fine leather it is often easier to eliminate the need for other elements like pockets, zippers, hardware. The materials will make or break your bag. Waxed Canvas is officially my favorite fabric for tote bags and duffle bags. It is cheaper than leather and holds up just as good if not better. Here is a simple example of a great tote design. To check out our best wholesale fabrics for bags click here.
2. Lining – There are some nice bag designs out there getting away with no lining, but when I see a bag without a lining I know it was a huge time saver and corners were cut. Bags with no lining become just big dump bins. A lining makes the bag more useful and usually looks letter. In my opinion it is actually easier to line a bag than bind the exposed seams. Here is a video of my method for sewing a simple tote design with a lining.
3. Pockets – Pockets and a lining go hand and hand. Many people leave out pockets because they add several more steps. They require additional planning, cutting and sewing. If the pockets have zippers that is even more time and material. That being said, bags with pockets especially strategically placed pockets are far more preferred than bags without pockets. If a bag doesn’t have pockets many people will not even consider it as an option. Bags do not need 10 pockets or anything, but even just two well planned, placed, sized pockets will take a bag to the next level. My customers always loved the secret pocket!
4. Zippers – A tote bag doesn’t necessarily need a zipper to function properly and leaving it out saves a lot of labor and material. I found that consumers tend to want zippers even if they always keep them open. The option to securely close the bag gives it more value. Riri zippers are the best quality zippers I have ever used. They are also the most expensive to source. YKK zippers are the best zipper made in the usa and the cost isn’t to bad. Cheap zippers are really just not worth it. With the time it takes to add and source zippers it might as well be good. Keep in mind It can often take 3-4 weeks to get YKK orders.
5. Adjustable Strap – Since even the cheapest bags at Walmart and Target have adjustable straps consumers expect this feature on a Weekender bag. It is easy to add to your bag with slider hardware.
6. Embellishments – Leather trim, top stitching, monograms, bag feet, and key holders and just a few of the extras bags can have. Many times an embellishment may help compensate for the lack of pockets or zippers if the design works. It may be faster to add some nice top stitching than including zipper pockets. Finding ways to incorporate special details is important. A well designed bag has just enough details to make it special without going overboard on labor and materials.