Different Materials Used to Make Handbags

Handbags come in many different shapes, colors, sizes, and styles, not to mention materials, leaving a wide array of choices for fashion-conscious women from all walks of life.

Want to know the various materials that go into the making of handbags? We explore them with a bit more detail:


Leather is probably the most common and the oldest known type of material used in making handbags. In general, leather is strong, durable, and abundant, and even with the advent of synthetic leather made from polyurethane (PU) material, genuine leather made from animal skin is still preferred and even more prized than ever.

Any hide of an animal can be made into leather, but the following lists the most common types of leather used for making handbags:

Cowhide – It is the most common type of leather. It is usually derived from an adult cow, which produces some of the best leather that you can find. It is strong, durable, waterproof, highly resistant to wear and tear, and extremely versatile. It can be made into different materials aside from handbags: shoes, jackets, belts, pants, and a lot more.

Buffalo hide – Buffalo hide is also durable like cow’s hide, but it is also surprisingly soft and flexible. Full-grain buffalo leather sports a beautiful appearance, yet it is strong enough to withstand a lifetime of abuse. It can be made into a wide variety of items that ranges from handbags to rugs.

Pigskin – People usually associate pigskin with making footballs. But not just those! Pigskin is, in fact, tougher and more durable than cowhide – it can be even a little too stiff. Pigskin is quality hide, which can be made into many types of items, from handbags, jackets, and seat covers.

Sheepskin – Sheepskin has a soft, flexible, smooth, and lightweight quality. It is often left with wool on to be made for wool coats and vests, as well as carpets, rugs, and furniture. It is not as durable as the other types of animal hide and thus should not be used for rugged items such as shoes and motorcycle jackets. However, it can be made into fashionable handbags and jackets.

Lambskin – Whereas sheepskin is soft and smooth, lambskin is even softer and smoother. But it is also quite thin and weak, and therefore cannot be made into rugged materials such as shoes and jackets. However, lambskin is suitable for making fashionable light and delicate clothing, bags, gloves, and small purses.

Deer and elk skin – Early Native American Indians used deer and elk hides for their clothing and shelter, that is why they have remained popular. However, deer skin is not as tough as cowhide, comparable to sheep skin. Elk hide, on the other hand, is more durable but hard to find these days.

Crocodile and alligator skin – Crocodile and alligator hides look quite exotic because of their unique patterns and textures, but their quality matches their appearance. They are very tough, durable, and can last a lifetime. They can also be quite hard to work with, making them more expensive. If you want to spend your hard-earned cash and look really classy, a handbag made of crocodile or alligator hide is a wise investment.

Snakeskin leather – Hides from snakes and pythons can look beautiful. They are thin and flexible, but not as durable as the other types of leather. They can be made into hats, belts, purses, and other light fashionable items.

Synthetic or vegan leather – Synthetic or vegan leather is not derived from any animal source. Instead, it is made of man-made materials, such as polyurethane (PU), which is also known as “faux leather.” A synthetic or vegan leather bag has the appearance and texture of a true animal leather bag although it may be not as durable as the latter, depending on how it is made.


FabricFabric is also a common material for making handbags, and it also comes in several classes. Cotton fabric is the most widely used type of fabric, not just for making handbags but for making other items as well.

Common light- and medium-weight fabric bags are generally cheap and not designed for fashionable purposes. However, there are fabric bags whose designs are so pretty, you won’t notice that they are made of inexpensive fabric. They are also easy to clean and fold, just like you would do with clothes.

However, bags with naturally thicker fabric are heavy, sturdy and can have the appearance of an upright bag. They can look classy too, depending on the structure and backing. Canvas is a type of fabric which does not come flimsy or cheap, and thus very suitable for making handbags. More on canvas later.


Vinyl is also one of the most commonly used materials for making handbags. Clear vinyl bags, as the name goes, are clear; thus, their contents can be seen. It can also be made into clear purses, clear beach bags, clear makeup bags, etc. Flannel-backed vinyl is another material used for making bags. Vinyl is glossy and therefore is waterproof and easy to wipe and clean.

People can get confused between vinyl and faux leather. If a material has a woven fabric backing, you will recognize it is vinyl and not fake leather.


RubberYou can also find handbags that are made of rubber. In fact, there are luxury rubber handbags for women. It’s not because rubber is expensive, as it is a common material, but because the process of making rubber bags is a little complicated. Besides, not all types of rubber can be made into handbags. Thus, the combination of the quality of rubber and the process that is applied in using it, make rubber handbags the choice of many prestigious designer fashion labels.



Canvas is a thick, durable, and coarse material made of cotton, hemp, flax, or similar yarn. While canvas is more widely known as a surface for painting, its durability makes it quite versatile that it can be made into a wide variety of items that range from sails to handbags. Unlike other fabrics, canvas is not flimsy, and thus quality bags can be made out of it.

Aside from natural canvas, there is also synthetic canvas, which is treated with a special coating to make it waterproof.


Recycled and Upcycled Materials
The increasing awareness towards environmental care and protection, as well as sustainable enterprise over the last couple of decades, have resulted in a burgeoning market for recycled/upcycled handbags. These handbags are made of any used and discarded material you can think of – plastic bottles, cartons, coffee sacks, old canvas, foil wrappers, and even pull tabs. They are functional and fun at the same time. By patronizing manufacturers who make these eco-friendly bags, you have contributed something useful to the environment in your little way, as well as helped small cottage businesses. And that newest designer handbag? It doesn’t seem like big news to you at all.