What does it take to make a leather tote bag?

This month, we invited Andy Ives to share his experience working with the Darzah team in Palestine when he visited our artisan center in 2016. Andy has been a key supporter of Darzah since the brand's inception. In Spring of 2016, Andy joined his wife, Cayley Pater, Director of US Operations and Marketing, on a month long trip to work with the Darzah artisans in Zababdeh, Palestine.

black leather tote bag

Andy Ives

What does it take to make a leather tote bag? I’d never posed that question to anyone either, but in April of 2016 I certainly found out. My wife, Cayley, and I had travelled to Palestine to work with the incredibly talented artisans at the Darzah and Child's Cup Full artisan center to develop the Fall & Winter line of products for the women’s empowerment non-profit Cayley helps run stateside. The ethical fashion brand, Darzah (meaning stitch in Arabic), employs 8 full-time women artisans in the West Bank (Palestine) creating jobs for women who historically have a 63% unemployment rate. 

andy ives with lead artisans at darzah

Shireen, Rahaf (lead artisans at Darzah and Child's Cup Full), Cayley and me on the roof of a fabric shop in Nablus

Our task: develop, from scratch, the tatreez leather-made product line for 2016 / 2017 — the signature piece being a beautifully hand-embroidered leather tote bag. This was the first time the organization explored working with leather, so we had to secure a totally new supply chain, and help identify the right bag maker in Palestine to do the job. We began by sourcing leather from 100 year old family run leather tannery in Al Khalil/Hebron, choosing between countless grades of leather and the hundreds of colors it could be tanned. We travelled across the West Bank finding items like the perfect thread colors and the right magnetic snap to keep the tote closed. All of this with the sole purpose of sourcing every last stitch of this new bag from Palestine, which we discovered was a very tough thing to do. 


making tatreez leather tote bag in darzah

handcrafting tatreez leather tote bag in darzah

We knew this tatreez bag design had to resonate with American women, our target market, and communicating every detail of the finishing on the bag to the tannery and the bag makers was a much more tedious process than I predicted. All of the nuances of explaining how the stitching should look (never make assumptions when it comes to these small details!), how the embroidery could be applied with the cleanest look, and finding new artisans you can rely on to ensure quality control -- not an easy task! 

camel tatreez leather tote bag

a palestinian tatreez shop for leather tote bags

Never have I worked harder on anything in my professional career. 18+ hour days for a month straight making use of every second we had with the artisans and in an amazingly beautiful country. The end result: a breathtaking blue tote bag with stunning traditional, hand-stitched embroidery panel, which alone takes more than 24 hours to produce. Not to mention the dozen other products we developed while in Palestine from leather soled women’s flats to wristlets and chokers. What does it take to make a leather tote bag? Quite a lot actually.

Tatreez embroidery by darzah

tatreez leather tote handbag