Meet Henry Hibbard

One of the things I like most about the internet is the plethora of interesting people out there. As a blogger, I can even write about them. Speaking of blogging, interesting people and handbags, meet Henry Hibbard. Henry makes leather handbags. Actually, Henry does a lot more than make handbags. I really don’t even know where to start with him although we have a lot in common. Henry does a lot of product development of custom bags (a former machinist, he can even make starter dies!). Although he’s not a manufacturer –he once was– he’s a craftsman who takes his stewardship responsibilities seriously. Yes, Henry is also an educator. He really should be blogging. He has a marvelous web site with an amazing array of interesting information and tutorials for anybody who’d care to know anything about making bags. Did I forgot to mention that his products are all leather? Right about now most of you are wondering what I -as a vegetarian- have in common with leather goods maker but that’s only if you don’t know that I specialize in the manufacture of leather coats. I realize I’m a contradiction but I never claimed I wasn’t. I only claimed to be competent. Competent and contradictory are not mutually exclusive.

Here are some photos of Henry’s work:


Henry is more than just a maker but a designer as well. There are tons of photos on his site. Actually, to get access to the best part of Henry and how to make (leather) bags, you’ll have to join his discussion list (scroll all the way down to find the subscription box). I note with chagrin that Gigi Louis has already beat me there (she gets around). While not heavily trafficked, the content is very high quality. For example, I’ve already found an answer to many a handbag maker’s quest for rigid liner (aka “guts”). Henry likes the products from a company called Bontex (Josh gave me the tip on Bontex and Henry). Henry says to call Simon Gruber at 973 454 4375 for more information.

Speaking of sourcing handbag guts, I neglected to ask Henry who he likes for hardware but I’ve found Rome Fastener Corp and Ohio Travel & Bag to be great suppliers for small quantities of hardware. If you’re looking for general resource in leather work products, I’d recommend visiting Proleptic Inc which publishes “Shop Talk” (formerly the Harness Shop News). Dan Preston (publisher) puts out a great buyer’s guide, free with your paid subscription. I’ve been getting it for years. The guide includes information of use to those of you who want to get a start in shoes and footwear.

Henry and I had a chuckle over some of the people obsessed with patent and intellectual property rights; he thinks they’re a little loopy too so I’m not the only one. Actually, Henry is less diplomatic (in his defense, it was a private email) and describes them as “losers”.

I get what I call the designer of the week… if they go to lawyers to patent their idea…they all seem to be losers

Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy Henry Hibbard as much as I have. I close with some emails that he’s received from his site visitors in reference to the topic of communicating ideas in product development (reprinted with his permission). Some of these are pretty funny:

I love leather back packs! But as hard as I have looked, I have not been able to find all the features I like in one back pack. So, I have a design in my head, and I’m going to try to put it on paper. If I can do that, and send it to you, can you make it for me? If so, how much would it cost me? Please let me know. I am really, really looking forward to your response!


I’d like the color to be like the Coach #6, but a tad lighter like #6 and#7 mixed. But not red. Basically I’d like that neutral deep brown/tobacco/tan that can go with everything. Perhaps you can suggest something. I’d like the leather to be very soft but sturdy… The size is a bit large – about 17x4x13. I’d like the exact same shape as the GUcci cruise hobo, but just a tad rounded at the corners. Maybe cropped just where the flowers end at the corners. The handles: I’d love a strap that is actually a double strap, but attaches like a single strap. I’m trying to skecth something now.

Regarding the general impression we have of designer-copyists as not being quite bright:

hi,can you make my daughter a louis vuitton bag ?that looks like my authentic hand bag ,i can ship the bag to you ,and can you copy the bag ,so it would look just like the real thing ,i will pay thing ,pleade advise ,thanks

Here’s a sample of the long-winded “artist” type designer who tries to impress:

I really enjoyed your website and your work seems quite impressive! I am American, but I live in Paris, France now and I used to live in Cambridge, England and gained much of my training and early commercial work experience in London designing ladies suits, and later creating custom wedding gowns. I have begun a small accessories collection here in Paris, it is successful, but, frankly, I can’t keep up with the demand…so, I need to expand my little operation a little bit. My choices are to form a company in the US and export goods from the US to France (and other places in Europe, eventually) allowing me to keep ties with my home country, as well as benefiting and helping in some small way to reduce the trade deficit, or to form a company here in France…frankly, the latter option very complicated, and I see more benefits in forming a US company…
Soooo, my question to you is…do you have the capacity to work with a combination of tissue and leather? I use very expensive fabrics, and have been dying for the chance to combine some leather in my designs, but I don’t currently have the equipment necessary…my collection is quite exclusive, and the price reflects that, so I would need a collaborator with your apparent level of experience.
Additionally, I am looking for a workshop with the capacity to grow with the demand. I realise that you are an artist specializing in very individual items and it is very important for me that my bags never begin to appear mass produced. I have no intentions of becoming a mass market label, so I think I should be able to keep my vision on this point.
If you are interested, or, if you have any ideas you would like to share with me, I would be most grateful to hear from you when you have a moment. I would be happy to email a sample of my work for your consideration.

From someone who thinks leather colors can be ordered like fabric colors:

I don’t have the leather, although if you prefer I can find it and send that off to you with the pillow inserts. I am looking for a bone-beige color (having said that, if you have a pantone swatchbook handy, something in the #OAEA-C range). What do you think?

A comment from someone who fails to understand the concept of custom artisanry:

Hi, I’m looking for a custom hand tooled belt for my man. He would like a belt with “GAMBLER” tooled on the back and perhaps dice and cards opposite each other on the front. If you would consider taking this project on, please respond a.s.a.p. Thank you for your time.

The comment below is sadly, also very typical. It’s a designer who’s using a lot of words to say very little (this is her second email!). In spite of all the words, one would have no idea as to the ultimate design of this bag, no dimensions or anything. Most of the time, it’s not worth the expenditure of time to get the dimensions, it takes forever, eating up all your profit because you can’t charge for estimates (usually).

Thanks for the feedback. I would like to know if it is possible to make that bag with zippered pockects on each side with long opened pockets on each side (that would hold a small umbrella, zippered pocket on the flap, a zippered pocket on the back of the purse and someplace inside the bag (that might zip ) or out that might hold pens or pencils so that they would not be loose. I like the large backpack shown on the site too. It would be nice to have a bag that is a combination of the two. I like the zipper that zips into a pocket. That is cute. I like the two zipper pockets inside the bag too. I would also like to have other kinds of zipper pulls other than the leather ones because they seem to always come off. If yours stay on, than I am just fine with that. Let me know.
I have someone else sitting here with me, and we are both interested in purchasing wallet organizers similar to the Osgoode Marley styles. We both want lots of pockets inside, larger pockets that would hold a checkbook, a coin pocket that zips, a pen pocket that fits nicely inside or out so that it does not interfere with the way the wallet closes, we want the the whole bag to be able to zip completely closed with no snaps used. Would like to have some sort of open pocket on the outside of the wallet We like the double zip styles of the organizers but want all of the items we have mentioned above. I would be interested in getting these made at the same time I get the backpack made. Again, we like all of the pockets. I also like the separate ID item. We would love to have this be used in a hurry if we didn’t want to use our purses. Could there be a detachable shoulder strap made to use on this type of wallet? I am getting excited just waiting to hear about how you will do what I asked. I also like the prices are reasonable. I like to types of styles that your bags are modeled after. Sounds like to you take pride in what you do.

Speaking of time wasters, Henry writes “some guy kept me on the phone for about 30 minutes on two occasions today talking about belts and buckles… now he sends an email saying ‘lord willing, i will place an order soon’ followed by an email asking me to join his eBible news letter…”

This one’s also a bit convoluted. I love the phrasing “flee market”. While the misspelling is unintentional, it mirrors my sentiments exactly :)

Hi I’m looking for a cigarette case that’s made of soft leather but it’s got a trifold on back side that holds paper money with two snaps to hole it closed on the left and a little sipper on the outside of the left side that holds change. When you opened the trifold it had a key tab that snaps in place, this key thing I could do without. Also on the other side of the cigarette case it had the lighter holder under a flap that came over the cigarettes and lighter then snaped closed to hold them in. It’s got a small wrist strap on the top. This is all made in soft leather. now to tell a little more it’s like this, to get ot the cigarettes you unsnap the flap and flip it back and theres the lighter then the cig. to get to the money you flip the wrist strap over the cig. and unsnap and open the trifold ( something like a mans wallet). My sister lives in Calif. and found this at a flee market a long time ago. I haven’t been able to fine one like it. Could you tell me how much something like this would cost? Thank you Pati

Another problem in custom product development is when designers have scant understanding regarding the nature of product inputs. For example:

I like your double groove in the 1 1/4″ belt with solid brass buckles. However, I don’t want the brass to rub off after a few months.

The same person writes again (after 4 more emails)

Forgot to mention, will the belts be 1 1/4″? I don’t see the belt width on the dress belt page. (Maybe I’m missing it.) What size is it?

Then, there’s always the people who want us to source impossible things for them -and for which we’ll receive no remuneration. Insult to injury, this writer is looking for a competitor’s product:

HI, I’m sorry to bother you but I am desparately looking for a company in oregon or washington state, I think, that I bought a backpack from about fifteen years ago. they make these beautiful leather bags and when one is damaged they sell it at a very good discount. I thought you might know the company name I’m looking for. I’d sure appreciate it. I live on a boat in new zealand and I always buy packs with zippers because there much easier for me because of my arthritis. I don’t like the drawstrings that most leather packs have. If I hear from you I would greatly appreciate it.

[post amended]
Regretfully, I’ve closed off the comments feature for this post. For some reason, it attracts a lot of comment spam. Email me privately (see under Admin) if you’d like to add your comments to this post and I’ll add them manually.

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  1. Gigi says:

    Thanks for sharing those emails/letters. Hysterical! People never fail to amaze me.

    I am on Henry’s email list. I can’t tell you how much I have learned in a short time. He’s such a craftsman! I have a beautiful but well-worn wallet that will need replacing soon. I’m hoping that Henry will agree to copy it for me. I’m also drooling over the Harley Hobo….

    Kathleen, I don’t think it’s odd that you’re a vegetarian and work with leather. Leather is a byproduct of the meat trade which will continue to exist whether we eat meat or not.

  2. christy fisher says:

    I love this guy..never heard of him before , but I sure will be tuning in to him now.. what a hoot the e-mails are..
    You and he are peas in a pod…
    Thanks you for sharing all this

  3. Big Irv says:

    Got to like a man that expresses his love and fondness for animals. I am still howling at the emails you shared with us. Makes you want to buy that “special” piece from him more than ever.

  4. kelvin says:

    Kathleen, as a handbag junkie who doesn’t want to spend inflated prices, I’m about to be hooked on Henry’s site. Good workmanship and high-quality materials are everything to me so I’m going to have a hard time resisting bagging a bunch of his bags. I can’t wait to get into his instructional pages.

  5. Gigi says:

    The list isn’t very active but when you receive a message – wow! I’m just getting into leatherwork and Henry was very generous when I had questions about making a belt. I never tire of looking at his photos. If you are the least bit interested in what goes into a top quality hand-crafted bag join the list and check out the custom bag he is making for Dawn. Makes me wonder how he’d go about lining the Beth Mitchell bag… :-)

  6. SilkKnots aka Heather says:

    Thanks for posting this Kathleen, now I have a source for the handbag of my dreams! All I have to do is wait for him to have a spare moment. Wow, what a nice generous man!

  7. karen v. says:

    I really enjoy your site, and in my next life I am going to be a patternmaker or DE, for sure.
    I think the word is remuneration, though, not renumeration.
    respectfully submitted,
    Karen V.

  8. Samantha says:

    Sorry to be a party-pooper, but I have to comment on the leather being a by-product of the meat industry. I used to think so too, but it’s actually not. If it were, the leather would be all scarred up…animals bred for leather aren’t handled the same way meat animals are. If anyone is really interested, try peta’s website for more info.

  9. Kathleen says:

    Actually, I meant remuneration. I mix those two up a lot. I’ll have to watch that. Renumerate means to tell somebody something. Remunerate means compensation.

  10. Dana Cox says:

    Hi – not sure who this email is actually addressed to –
    I came across this site while doing research for other studies – instead of focussing on the task at hand I drifted into space I’d rather be. Working with leather.
    I am an Australian so colour, practicality and quirkiness are the parameters that drive my imagination. So, my work is a little different.
    I would like to know more about Henry Hibbard and his work and to learnvia his tutorials.

  11. Martha Hart Honders says:

    The same Henry that built the go cart for my son Gus ? Thinking of you both and sending you
    affection from Nevis. St. Thomas church roof is turning red again. Can send pics of 3 beautiful
    paintings. Would love to have and use a leather bag of yours. Gus is working and living in Fl. He is
    musically inclined and still composing beats. Needless to say your work is wonderful , Henry.
    LOL Martha Hart

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