Three years ago, I was in the market for a new work bag. At the time, I carried my heavy laptop in a shoulder purse on my half-hour walk to and from the office. If I wanted to bring gym clothes, I needed to pack a separate gym bag, which I would usually forget at the front door. It was the same situation if I wanted to bring a different pair of shoes. Homemade lunch? Ditto. I also traveled a ton for my consulting job and needed something that could fit a few days of essentials and would withstand the security line treatment.
The direct-to-consumer lifestyle brand Cuyana is now best known for making the bags that Meghan Markle carries, but way before the Duchess of Sussex endorsement, I had heard about their products from a colleague who had bought their cape and liked it. While on a business trip in 2016 I stumbled into a Cuyana pop-up store and impulsively bought their leather travel case set. Subsequent trips were so much easier—I kept one case permanently packed with travel-sized toiletries, so I could just toss it in my suitcase and never worry about forgetting a toothbrush or losing a full-sized shampoo bottle to the TSA. When I saw Cuyana’s flagship store while on another trip to San Francisco later that year, I popped in to see what else they offered.
This bag fits everything I could ever need
I had been eyeing Cuyana’s Oversized Carryall Tote online, and seeing it in person sold me. It’s big enough to fit my laptop, extra shoes, and gym clothes, and has enough room left over for last night’s leftovers. It even has a removable strap if I want to free my hands and wear it like a cross-body bag, which puts a lot less stress on my shoulder. And the top zipper makes sure nothing spills out.
At $265, the price point was comparable to other bags I was considering, but being able to touch the Cuyana bag let me see that it would be perfect for my needs. I picked navy.
This bag survives everything I throw at it
It’s been three years of daily use and this bag still looks like it did the day I bought it. The leather isn't scratched, the color is still vibrant, the zipper is still sturdy and shiny, and the handles are strong and show no obvious signs of wear. The thing is, I’ve put this carry-all through bag hell. I’ve stuffed it to the gills with gym clothes and work books. It’s doubled as a grocery tote and carried home bottles of wine. I’ve stuffed my winter coat in there while walking around on a mild January day. In the time I’ve owned it, I’ve treated this thing remarkably poorly and it still looks great.
Over the years, this bag has survived:
- 2 apartments
- 3 countries
- 4 laptops
- 23 TSA checkpoints
- hot yoga locker rooms
- spilled water bottles
- at least one unfortunate 20-minute soak in a beer puddle on a dark dive bar floor
In addition to lugging my life every day, I’ve stashed this bag in overhead compartments, kicked it under the seats in front of me, carelessly tossed it into rental car trunks, and hugged it in my lap on a crowded Amtrak up the Connecticut coast. It was a pillow during an Atlanta airport layover and a footrest on a flight to Barcelona. It’s big enough to fit a week’s worth of clothing and small enough to be my “personal item” next to my bigger carry-on suitcase. I have never had to check a bag since I bought this one.
The one flaw was fixed fast
Now, this bag hasn’t been entirely perfect all these years. It did break on me—once. About a year after I bought the bag, I slung it, way-overpacked, over my shoulder and its momentum kept going as the clasp on the cross-body strap gave way. (It skidded remarkably far across the sidewalk pavement.) When my heart rate returned to normal, I found it was fully intact, with the exception of the clasp hardware.
For US purchasers, Cuyana offers a free two-year warranty covering manufacturing defects. So, two days and two emails later, the company sent me a brand new strap for free with an updated, stronger clasp to replace the broken part. The color is an exact match and you would never know it’s not the original.
The founders of Cuyana started working together in 2011, but you may have heard about the brand recently—Meghan Markle was spotted with both their saddle and weekender bags on recent trips. The direct-to-consumer lifestyle brand is popular with the Instagram crowd, and for good reason. The brand focuses on “affordable luxury” products and the CEO says she spent the first few years shoring up their sourcing and supply chain. It shows. The company partnered with a factory in Argentina whose owner was involved in overseeing that country’s leather quality in the 1990s. (My bag has a tattered tag inside says “INDUSTRIA ARGENTINA MATERIAL: CUERO VACA” or “Made in Argentina from cow leather.”) I felt compelled to check them out when I passed their pop-up store in Washington, DC. I’m glad I did.
Was it the best money I’ve ever spent?
Work bags are an essential part of modern office life. You need something strong enough to carry the necessities—laptop, phone, wallet, business cards, and maybe a notebook and pens—that’s also attractive enough to make you look professional and put-together when you show up to a client meeting, and doesn’t look too businessy when you show up to after-work drinks. This bag does all that with effortless ease. It’s my most useful purchase of the last few years, and the most resilient.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.