Too often when discussing durability of bags, there is talks about utilizing rivets, metal bars to attach handles, and other rugged components. When I first started buying bags, that’s all I knew to look for. After seeing and handling some French/Swiss packsaddles from the early 1900s, I was taken back and realized what ensures quality and longevity. These packsaddles were made when rivets and a lot of reinforcements weren’t so prevalent – yet they’ve lasted nearly a century due to bare-bones materials – quality leather and quality stitching. With that in mind, when I stumbled upon BennyBee Leather of Edinburgh, UK, I was not so hesitant when I noticed the beauty and simplicity of their bags.I was overtaken by first the look of the bags, and spent less time looking for rivets and reinforcement bars. After reaching out, Dani of BennyBee decided to let us test out the 13 inch messenger in chestnut, one of their top-selling bags.
As for those who have read some of my previous reviews, I am a big fan of discovering the etymology of company names. BennyBee is broken down from “Benny” which is the nickname of Dani’s brother, and “Bee” to signify the preservation of nature and respect for the namesake insect. Dani began making small leather goods after borrowing tools from his late grandfather’s shop, who had worked as a cobbler. Upon advancing to making bags, BennyBee Leather was born in 2014. They currently offer a variety of bags and wallets for both women and women.
It’s not often I talk about aesthetics before going into the construction and build quality, but the chestnut color of this bag is absolutely gorgeous. Indoors, the color at times looks a nice dark brown. Outdoors, the chestnut-red color really blooms into a hue that I cannot stop gazing over. Even while taking photos at a nearby park to me, I was interrupted a few times by passerby’s to explain who made the bag and how to get it. I must also mention that the shipping time internationally was fast – 3 days from shipment to receiving. To add icing on the cake, the bag comes nicely packaged inside its shipping box with brown wrapping paper, a twine closure with a red candle stamp seal. Included was also a can of homemade wax and instructions to treat the bag.
The overall construction of the bag is quite simple. The exterior boasts one large piece of full-grained, vegetable tanned leather from the front flap to the back; One long strip to serve as the gusset, a front piece and a small front pocket constructed of two pieces of leather. Considering the shape and size, it is easy to tell the bag was constructed to avoid patchwork – stitching of multiple small pieces of leather, which often leads to poor durability. The entire bag is saddle-stitched by hand, with lovely characteristics such as the honey-comb like corners decorating the handle pieces and belt keepers and the slightly angled stitch pattern from the classic saddle-stich. Avoiding traditional rectangular patterns, I believe is a nice feature. The front buckles, side d-rings, and handle mounts are constructed of aged brass hardware. The buckles are riveted in, with the rivet partially hidden under the leather keeper. Over my use I have gotten more familiar opening and closing the buckles quickly so it really does not seem time consuming when compared to quick-release bags, also with the benefit of being much more secure against pickpockets. Each bag of this style takes roughly 15 hours to assemble, and is well worth the time spent.
The interior pocket of the bag sports a small sleeve insert as well as a panel with pockets for business cards, a cellphone, and pen holder loops. Being complete unlined, the suede finish is lovely to touch. If carrying a small laptop or tablet, I would suggest keeping it in a small sleeve or case, as this is not necessarily a tech bag, but would protect contents fairly well. My iPad mini fits perfectly in the insert, as would a full sized iPad. BennyBee also makes a larger 15’’ messenger that accommodates a MacBook Pro and other larger laptops. The front pocket on the bag is perfect for holding field notes, a cellphone, or other small items for quick access without digging into the main compartment. The main compartment is spacious enough for a leather-bound notepad holder, a few books, and other daily carry items.
Cased iPad Mini with plenty of room in the sleeve; iPhone SE, business card wallet, two pens and carabiner with keyset attached.
The strap is constructed of one thick piece of full-grain, vegetable tanned leather, with a non-padded shoulder pad. I love the feel of the pad as it is just one piece of thick, soft leather with the suede side exposed. Though it is not padded, it is quite comfortable and contours well to your shoulder whether wearing off one shoulder or crossbody. Longevity wise, the shoulder pad may be the first component to wear out, especially if one neglects to condition their bag. However, a replacement or repair would be an easy fast fix if a problem ever developed. The brass buckle is riveted in as well as the lobster-style clasps at each end. These attach to the d-rings at on the sides of the bag. While the d-rings are not riveted to the bag, I highly doubt under normal use and the intended amount of things carried that they will fail to support the load. Like I refereed to earlier in the post, early Swiss packsaddles did not have rivets, and they are proven to hold up. The bag handle is thick and sturdy, stitched from two pieces of leather and quite comfortable.
The rear of the back is sans pocket. When I asked about it, Dani said the number of requests for a rear pocket (2) compared to the one thousand-plus messenger bags made so far didn’t constitute a design change. Of course, Dani did say they can accommodate as they do honor custom requests, so do not hesitate to ask if you are wanting a rear pocket or other design modifications. Quite frankly, the only modification I would request is a key keeper on the inside pocket panel; however, that is easily remedied by slipping a carabiner upside down through one of the three pen loops as I’ve shown above.
Truthfully, this bag has become my go-to for daily carry. I’ve typically enjoyed slightly bigger bags in length and interior dimensions, but the BennyBee Leather 13 Inch Messenger bag has convinced me to just carry what I need to carry. Priced at roughly $285 plus shipping, I honestly would pay more and still be impressed knowing and having experienced the bag thus far. I need to make it a point to say that even though BennyBee is based in the UK, buyers in the United States can breath a sigh of relief as we won’t be charged hefty import and duty taxes as long as the value of items shipped is below $800. This makes it a clear benefit for US customers to explore leather products internationally. You can check out BennyBee Leather on Etsy as well as Instagram to see more shots of their products.