October 25, 2021 6 min read
A high-quality bag makes for an amazing Christmas present—that’s for sure. Now, if it was only so easy to choose the type of bag that you should get.
Luckily, two materials consistently come out on top when it comes to buying a bag: nylon and leather. Picking one of these will result in a bag that’s a stylish, long-lasting, and sure-to-please Christmas present.
To help you decide between the two, here is a brief guide from Andar on how nylon and leather stack up against each other.
Unlike leather, nylon isn’t a material that exists in nature. Instead, it’s a man-made product that uses chemicals found in coal or petroleum.
On the grand scale of time, the history of nylon is a fairly recent one. It goes like this: About a century ago, U.S. scientists began to experiment with a new fabric. It took them 11 years, but they were finally able to develop what we know today as nylon. Those scientists worked for a company called DuPont—a chemical company you’ve surely heard of before.
While we say “nylon” without giving it a second thought, there is actually one caveat: There are actually several different types of nylon.
After the scientists developed the original nylon material at DuPont, they patented it and made it impossible for others to make the exact same thing. Of course, that didn’t stop other scientists from creating an almost-identical fabric shortly after. Hence, the correct term would be “nylons.”
Nylons are made from a type of plastic that we refer to as a polymer due to its chain-like molecular structure. It’s produced using cold drawing, which is a method that literally stretches out plastic until it reaches its desired thickness and elasticity.
The mighty toothbrush was the first commercial product to officially use this material. A bit later, nylon made its way into women’s stockings, netting them the nickname “nylons.” In the 1940s, nylon was famously used during the Second World War to make parachutes.
Today, nylon has countless uses. The ones you’re most likely familiar with include all types of clothing and accessories. Because of its chemical properties, it’s an incredibly popular material for gym bags, backpacks, and reusable shopping totes.
Leather is one of the oldest materials for making clothing, bags, and accessories. Indeed, leather-making is a trade that has been practiced for well over 7,000 years.
Historically, early leathers were preserved with salt. But around 400 BCE, a more sophisticated technique was developed by the Egyptians: vegetable tanning. Tanning is a way to preserve animal skins and hides using certain chemical agents, which helps to turn a decaying material into one that can survive for an entire century.
By the 15th century, leather tanning became a worldwide practice. And with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, it was turned into large-scale operations using sophisticated machinery—something that prevails to this day.
You might be wondering why animal skins have to be tanned in the first place. Tanning helps transform a hide into high-quality leather goods that we rely on every day. A hide is made up of three layers: the epidermis (the thin upper layer), the dermis (the thick middle layer), and the subcutis (the lowest layer composed of fat).
The layer used to make leather is the dermis, which contains a great deal of water, protein, and fat—most of which have to be removed in order to make leather. The process of tanning specifically accomplishes this goal by dissolving fats while strengthening the bonds between proteins.
When it comes to making leather, virtually any animal skin can be used. You’re probably most familiar with lamb, alligator, and, of course, cowhide leather. However, exotic skins such as ostrich can be made into leather, as well. That said, cowhide leather remains the most popular choice to this day.
As you know, leather is an incredibly versatile material that we most often associate with luxury. Besides being the most coveted material for bags, leather can be used to make clothing, accessories, furniture, car seats, and even baseballs!
Now that we have a rough idea of how nylon and leather are manufactured, let’s jump right into comparing the two materials.
Here’s how they stack up against each other in the following categories:
When it comes to the appearance of these two materials, it’s really hard to make comparisons. That’s because nylon and leather each have unique physical and chemical properties that determine what they look like.
For example, leather has an elegant appearance that makes it appropriate for any occasion while enduring through seasons of trends. And while black and brown hues are classic choices, it’s possible to find a dyed leather bag in whichever color speaks most to you.
When it comes to full-grain leather, the material is unique because it shows all the imprints of the cowhide. Whether it’s bug bites or blemishes, no two pieces of full-grain leather look exactly the same. And as you become the new owner of a leather bag, you’ll be able to leave your unique print on it as it develops a patina.
Nylon, on the other hand, has completely different properties that contribute to its unique appearance. First of all, it’s an extremely lightweight fabric, which makes it perfect for a sporty aesthetic.
Second, it can be dyed in a wide variety of colors. This makes it possible to get a nylon bag in any color and pattern you can think of (unless you want the unique color and pattern of full-grain leather).
Both nylon and leather are pretty hard to scratch up—although this does vary a bit more according to which type of leather we’re talking about.
With that being said, when nylons get scratches and tears in them, there’s really not much you can do. Fixing it is difficult and expensive, which means that it’s not worth it for a nylon bag.
On the other hand, scratches and even tears in leather are fairly easy to patch up—no professional help is required. So while it’s completely possible for leather to get scratched up, the solution to fixing leather is much simpler than that for nylon.
You might be surprised to know that nylons can actually absorb water, which is the main reason they’re not used to make swimsuits. But when it comes to bags, a coating is usually used on the fabric to make it repel moisture. This isn’t a 100% perfect solution, but it goes a long way in blocking excess moisture.
You might also be surprised to learn that full-grain leather bags are water-repellent, as well. While leather will never be 100% waterproof, most leather bags won’t warp or crack if briefly exposed to rain, humidity, or the occasional coffee spill. If treated with the right type of oil, leather can be an incredibly water-resistant material.
When it comes to cleaning nylons, all you have to do is grab a wet cloth and wipe off any stains on the bag. If the stains on nylon are a bit heavier, then you can even throw it in the washing machine. There’s no need to be gentle with nylon, which means that the bag can be washed along with the rest of your clothes.
Leather, on the other hand, needs a bit more TLC. To clean a leather bag, it’s important to use a light touch and to go for non-abrasive cleaning agents. To preserve the soft texture of leather, applying a leather conditioner every once in a while is an absolute must.
Perhaps the biggest selling point of leather is that it will lastdecades if cared for properly. For this reason, a leather bag is an heirloom to be passed on through generations. As the years go by and the leather develops a natural patina, a leather bag will only improve in appearance.
The story isn’t quite the same with nylon. While it’s also a long-lasting material, it’s not as charming when it goes through normal wear-and-tear. Being extremely careful with a nylon bag can pay off in the end. However, when it comes to everyday bags, we want something that can stand up to the challenges of daily life.
Nylon is a synthetic material which means that it’s not biodegradable. Similar to plastic, nylon stays in landfills for decades.
Leather, on the other hand, is a natural material and will naturally degrade in the environment in the unlikely case that it’s thrown out. As an added bonus, the vast majority of leather comes from the meat industry, which means leather production reduces waste.
We now know that nylon is a synthetic material that is strong, fairly resistant to scratches, and is very easy to take care of. Despite all of its qualities, it’s hard to measure nylon against the standards set by full-grain leather—the highest quality bag material for millennia.
Our Sources:Tanning: Leather Manufacturing | Britannica