Portland Leather Vs. Madewell: The Best Quality Leather Goods

Leather goods never go out of style. A high-quality leather bag or pair of boots can last for decades with proper care. Two popular brands known for their leather items are Portland Leather and Madewell.

But which offers the better quality and value? Here’s an in-depth look at the pros and cons of each brand.

A Brief Comparison Table

CategoryPortland LeatherMadewell
Leather QualityFull grain leather from USAMix of leathers including saffiano
Leather SourcingAmerican tanneries like HorweenSome USA, some imported
StyleClassic, timelessModern, trendy
Price Point$$-$$$$-$$
Shopping ExperienceLimited stores, focus on onlineOmnichannel, stores and online
Brand ReputationHeritage qualityAccessible everyday style
Where It ExcelsClassic looks, lifetime durabilityBudget-friendly prices, trendy styles
ConstructionHandcrafted in USAMix of USA made and imported

Overview Of Portland Leather

Founded in 1969, Portland Leather is one of America’s oldest leather goods companies. Their products are handmade in Portland, Oregon using full grain leather sourced from the United States. Portland Leather is best known for their line of leather bags, briefcases, and accessories. However, they also make small leather goods like wallets, belts, and keychains.

Portland Leather
Portland Leather

Some key advantages of Portland Leather include:

  • Made in USA: All products are handcrafted in their Portland factory using American leather. This supports local manufacturing.
  • Full grain leather: Portland Leather only uses thick, high-quality full grain leather which develops a beautiful patina over time. This ensures durability.
  • Classic styles: Their bag designs are timeless and never go out of fashion. Many styles have been offered for decades.
  • Custom options: Customers can choose custom leather colors and opt to monogram their items. This allows personalization.
  • Strong warranty: Portland Leather offers a 10-year warranty against defects in materials and craftsmanship. This shows the brand’s faith in their quality.

However, there are some downsides to consider:

  • Higher prices: Being made in America from full grain leather drives up costs. Their bags are an investment.
  • Limited styles: The classic focus means trendier options are limited. Choices skew traditional.
  • Leather care: Full grain leather requires periodic conditioning to stay supple and prevent drying.

Overall, Portland Leather is a premier American leather brand that offers timeless, durable goods. Customers pay for quality construction and full grain leather.

Overview Of Madewell

Madewell was founded in 2006 as a subsidiary of J.Crew, aiming to provide quality denim and eventually leather goods. They have grown rapidly, especially among millennials drawn to the brand’s effortless stylish aesthetic. Their leather bags and accessories fill a niche between fast fashion and luxury.

Here are some of the pros of shopping Madewell leather:

  • Trendy styles: Madewell’s designs feel fresh and modern. There are new collections each season.
  • Mid-range pricing: Quality leather is attainable for more budgets. Full grain leather bags start under $200.
  • Easy care: Madewell often uses leather with a top coating for stain and scratch resistance. Less maintenance needed.
  • Youthful image: The brand has a cool, casual vibe that resonates with younger shoppers.
  • Omnichannel shopping: Available widely online and in stores for easy browsing and returns.

Possible cons to note:

  • Lack of custom options: What you see is what you get. No custom leather shades or monogramming.
  • Mostly imported: While some products are handcrafted in the USA, many are imported to control costs.
  • Focus on fashion: Trendy styles may not have longevity. Some bags skew seasonal.
  • Lower quality leather: Many bags use saffiano leather instead of full grain. This leather is durable but thinner and less supple over time.

Madewell hits a sweet spot between affordability, style, and quality. Their leather bags offer a lot of look and function for the price.

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Leather Comparison

One of the biggest differences between Portland Leather and Madewell comes down to the type, quality, and source of the leather used. This impacts overall durability and longevity.

Portland Leather exclusively uses full grain leather from American tanneries like Horween. Full grain is the highest quality leather which develops a rich patina. It’s thick and supple, improving with age. Madewell relies more heavily on saffiano leather, which has a crosshatch texture stamped into the surface. Saffiano is durable but thinner with a plastic-like coating. Over time, it may crack rather than developing a patina.

When shopping Madewell, check product details to see if the leather is full grain. Some of their premium collections like The Logan use higher grade leather. However, Portland Leather does not cut corners when it comes to leather selection. You can trust that any item from their original collection will be meticulously crafted from durable, full grain American leather.

If your budget allows, Portland Leather is the clear winner when it comes to leather quality. But if cost is a concern, Madewell bags offer decent leather for the price as long as you read descriptions carefully. Treated or synthetic leather will not wear as well over decades.

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Style Comparison

Beyond the leather itself, Portland Leather and Madewell offer very different aesthetics. Portland Leather has a timeless, classic American style. Their silhouettes hearken back to the old days of fine leathercraft. The focus is function and quality construction over trendiness. Madewell offers much more variety with of-the-moment shapes and details. They release seasonal collections that tap into current fashion. Their styles range from classic satchels to novelty bags and accessories.

Madewell is undoubtedly the place to shop for fun, fashionable leather goods. Their diverse selection has crossbody bags, leather totes, purses, wallets, and more at various price points. Their cool vintage vibe resonates with millennials. In contrast, Portland Leather skews traditional. Their briefcases, folios, dopp kits and satchels have an old school gravitas. Portland Leather represents enduring luxury and quality. Madewell is accessible everyday style.

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Brand Reputations

Both Portland Leather and Madewell have stellar reputations, but for very different reasons. Portland Leather is respected for being a heritage American leather brand that still makes goods by hand locally. They have multi-generational fans. Their reputation centers on quality materials and meticulous construction. Reviews consistently praise the supple feel and aging potential of the full grain leather.

Madewell conjures a trendy, laidback lifestyle brand. The vibe is casual sophistication. Reviews indicate fans love the affordable prices for genuine leather combined with of-the-moment silhouettes. Complaints sometimes cite quality and durability compared to higher end designer bags. But overall Madewell garners loyalty for bringing a cool style sensibility to leather goods across price points.

When it comes to reputation, Portland Leather represents master American craftsmanship while Madewell offers accessibility to leather’s stylish versatility. It comes down to personal preferences and budget.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What type of leather is Madewell?

Madewell uses a mix of leathers including full grain, top grain, pebbled, and saffiano. Many of their bags feature saffiano leather which is embossed with a crosshatch texture and coated for durability. They also offer some high end full grain leather bags. Always check product details.

Where does Portland Leather come from?

All Portland Leather is sourced from American tanneries and handmade at their factory in Portland, Oregon. Their leather mainly comes from the venerable Horween Leather Company in Chicago.

Are Portland leather boots made in USA?

Yes, all Portland Leather goods including their popular boots are handcrafted in their Oregon factory. They use goodyear welt construction and only American leather.

What kind of leather does Portland Leather use?

Portland Leather uses full grain leather which comes from the outer hide layer. This leather quality improves over time as it develops a rich patina. They hand pick all hides for suppleness and durability.

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The Verdict

So, when considering these two popular leather brands, which comes out on top? Here are some key considerations:

  • For classic style: Portland Leather can’t be beat for timeless leather bags and accessories built to last. Madewell has limited options for traditionalists.
  • For budget buyers: Madewell provides genuine leather style often under $200. Portland Leather requires a higher financial investment.
  • For quality leather: If full grain, supple American leather is a priority, go with Portland Leather. Madewell uses some top grain but relies more on saffiano and coated leathers.
  • For variety of styles: Madewell wins for on-trend shapes and novelty details. Portland Leather focuses on perfecting classic silhouettes.
  • For painless shopping: Madewell offers easy online ordering and returns plus a fun in-store experience. Portland Leather has limited stores so online ordering requires more sizing precision.
  • For made in America: Portland Leather is crafted domestically while Madewell imports many bags. Support American manufacturing by going Portland.

The reality is Portland Leather and Madewell each shine in separate areas. Madewell excels at making leather approachable to wider age groups. Portland Leather represents heritage quality and craft. Determine your individual priorities to pick which brand better fits your needs.

Want investment pieces? Go Portland. Need cute bags on a budget? Choose Madewell. With insight into their differences, you can shop both brands wisely.

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