Eleven years and three children later: Troubadour’s technical bags

Friday, May 24th 2024
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Samuel is one of those friends who, when we sit down, makes me realise quite how long we’ve known each other. The last time I saw him, he didn’t have any kids and lived in New York. Now, he has two and lives in Switzerland. I’ve also had another in the meantime. 

We first met 11 years ago when he launched the bag brand Troubadour with his friend Abel (below). In that time they’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, looking for their niche. They’re business-school guys and were constantly innovating and iterating. 

When I first knew them, the pitch was the finest leather bag in the world but in a sleeker, more modern design than heritage brands. I covered them in the Financial Times. They then gradually grew more technical, at one point setting up a display at Pitti with water dripping onto a bag to demonstrate its water resistance.

Eventually they pivoted into much sportier, synthetic bags made in China. In the past four years, this has proved to be their sweetspot. They’ve now gone from selling hundreds of bags to hundreds of thousands. 

What most interested me though, when we met again recently (Samuel was in town for the London marathon - he’s that kind of fitness/outdoors guy) was that their recent success has actually come from innovating in the same way they always did, often involving pretty big risks. 

“The thing we’ve really seen in the past few years is that the product will win out,” says Samuel. “We started by selling a bag that was the same price as our competitors, but not as good. Then we got it to the point that it was as good. Now it’s better - lighter, more practical, more sustainable.”

A competitor in this space would be someone like Tumi, or Bellroy. It’s not a category we cover much on PS, because of the price point but mostly because of the style. But I love a product-led story, and having used the bags myself I can also add weight to the argument that Troubadour is best in class for this type of product. 

The awards they’ve won and the reviews on places like Wirecutter also seem to back this up - assuaging my always-present fear that I like the product in part because I also like the person (a problem with tailoring too). 

The innovation of Troubadour’s that I found the most interesting was making the first entirely recyclable bag. No one else does this - not Patagonia, not Finisterre - because in the past it was thought to be impossible. 

The main issue is that to make a bag like this, you really need everything to be in the same material. That’s the only way it’s really feasible to recycle it - to grind up into pellets and use it for something else, as with a water bottle.  And the biggest challenge to make something out of one material is to avoid using polyurethane (PU).

“PU is just really useful and it’s used everywhere - it’s sprayed onto the back of things to give them strength and stop them tearing,” says Samuel. “It’s light and it’s strong; vegan leather is entirely PU. But, PU is nearly impossible to recycle and once you spray it onto a material you no longer have a mono-material so you can't recycle it.” So to make the bag entirely out of polyester, they needed to find ways to make nearly every part of it in a different way, without PU.

“There’s that saying - you learn a lot through failure - and we certainly have. In fact you’ve seen us do it more than once over the years Simon!”

Those completely circular bags are now a new range, Orbis. They’re not the biggest seller by some margin, but are an indication of intent. “Even when these things don’t work, it’s a good thing for all of us to be pointing towards it, to have it as something we’re aiming for,” says Samuel. 

“I’ve found that particularly as the company has grown so much in recent years - it’s a really effective way to communicate to everyone what we’re about.”

The next project is apparently welded bags - where the seams are literally two sides of the material fused together. This has the advantage of being completely waterproof, strong and lightweight. It’s been used for years for scuba bags, but they have thick coatings of TPU on the the fabric making them heavy and plasticky, and they have really boxy shapes. Troubadour's aim is to weld materials in a beautiful shape without needing heavy TPU to make it work.

The bag I initially loved 11 years ago is still available - the Generation Duffle, above - but now the calf leather is tanned using something called DriTan, which uses the same veg-tan ingredients but no extra water, making it less wasteful. The leather feels the same to me as the original did, and it should age the same way too.

The other product of theirs I’d use is the backpack (shown top), which is made from the same material. Ideally I wouldn’t have so much branding inside and out, but it is tonal on the outside, and the one I use currently for commuting, from Bennett Winch, is pretty similar there. 

The Bennett Winch one is also a little cleaner in design, and I like its brass hardware. But the Troubadour is more technical, with a breathable back mesh and ergonomic straps: they’re doing different things, and will appeal to different readers. 

Readers often ask about more technical accessories, and given what I’ve seen and tried, I’d certainly recommend Troubadour in that area. Unfortunately but perhaps inevitably, the bags I like are their most expensive, around £1000. But the more technical ones, like the bestseller the Apex, are a lot cheaper (below). 

Troubadour has a shop in Soho on Beak Street, and a lot of retailers in the US listed here

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No retail in Europe except the UK 🙁


Not wishing to be a pedant, but does this not need to be qualified:

“The innovation of Troubadour’s that I found the most interesting was making the first entirely recyclable bag.”

By reference at least to synthetic backpack?


It’s often things like zips and so on. You may think a leather or canvas bag would be fully recyclable but where zips have metal bonded to the zip tap this often makes it non recyclable


Hello Simon,
Troubadour says that the Orbis is an entirely recyclable bag. But does that make it completely circular? Can the polyster used to make the bag be reused an infinite number of times? Or, like plastic bottles, can the material only be reused to make an inferior product?

Samuel Bail

Hi Simon, just jumping in here. Thanks for the good question. Yes, the Orbis bags are completely circular. The benefits of making a mono-material bag from polyester is that can be recycled without being downgraded. Another option we explored was making a mono-material bag from Nylon – one of the reasons we chose to work with polyester over nylon is that nylon does get downgraded in the recycling process.


polyester is not recyclable without degradation. No oil derived product is.

Samuel Bail

It depends on the recycling processes. With some recycling processes there will be downgrading (degradation). Other processes don’t downgrade the PET (if you control for purity among other factors).
We are able to use the recycled pellets to make another one of the same bags – full circularity, no downgrading.

John Q

I’m interested to know what technology you use.

Here is a paper published by the Royal Society of Chemistry in November last year.
Catalytic depolymerization of polyester plastics toward closed-loop recycling and upcycling – Green Chemistry (RSC Publishing)
Part of the title is ‘Catalytic depolymerization of polyester plastics toward closed-loop recycling’ – suggesting the chemists writing the review don’t believe it’s been done yet. And from the abstract ‘discuss the key factors that limit the efficacies of the different methods and formidable challenges towards closed-loop recycling’.

If you’ve achieved full circularity with no downgrading I suggest you let the Royal Society of Chemistry know.

(And this paper, also from last year, suggests they’ve achieved yields of somewhat less than 90% in the lab and found that noteworthy enough to publish on: Closed-loop utilization of polyester in the textile industry – Green Chemistry (RSC Publishing) .)

Would also be interested to know how much energy is required in your revolutionary process and what chemicals you need to use – and how that compares with turning crude into new plastic (plus burning hydrocarbons to ship the bag back and package it etc – I assume that the plants that make your bags don’t us energy from coal – which would be even worse – can you confirm?).


It’s great to see innovations like this and products moving towards full recyclability.
However, for the efforts of Troubadour to be effective, the afterlife of the product needs to be looked at as well. If the consumer throws it out and it ends up with a lot of other non-fully recyclable products – such as the vegan leather products as mentioned in the article – will it have been worthwhile? You explain in the article that the product needs to be  grind up into pellets and can then be used for something else. Therefore the product needs to be isolated from other products, otherwise you effectively reproduce the situation of a product made up of different materials. Now, how is this practically going to be done? We have separate waste collecting for plastic bottles, batteries, etc. but that hardly seems worthwhile for Troubadour bags.
Without doubting the good intentions behind this product innovation, I sometimes wonder whether such innovations are really helping in practice or only serve to assuage the consumers sense of guilt about the environment.

Samuel Bail

Hi Willem, thanks for the note. I share both your perspective that innovations towards full recyclability are important and I also share your concerns about how this works in practice. I could chat with you for a long time on this topic but I’ll try to keep this answer relatively short.

In the short term, to recycle these bags, we send customers a return label and we recycle the bags.

The recycling industry is developing quickly but it has a ways to go. We’ve been pleased to see meaningful growth in recycled materials over the last 10 years (more materials available made from recycled materials rather than virgin materials) We’re seeing developments in mono-materials and recycling now that we expect to follow the same trend as we have seen in recycled materials. The Orbis bags we’re selling now, for the most part, won’t need to be recycled for many years. We expect more and better recycling options available at that time. We are not depending on innovation in recycling for our bags to be fully circular but we are optimistic that the recycling process for these bags and other similar products to be be more simple, more available and efficient in the coming years.

One other component is that we believe it’s valuable to start somewhere. These Orbis bags are a step towards an efficient circular model. We’re proud of the innovation and proud to show that it’s possible to make bags like these from a mono-material. At the same time, we’re very conscious that it’s not perfect. We’re working hard ourselves and with many phenomenal partners to continue to make strides on circularity.

Thanks again for the thoughtful question. It’s a topic we think a lot about and it’s at the crux of many of our discussions both within troubadour and outside of Troubadour.


I was equally wondering about the practicality of the recycling the product at end of life, claims of being recyclable are all well and good but little practical use if recycling centres discard them assuming they cannot be recycled.

It good therefore that you offer the return option to ensure they are properly recycled but was surprised that when looking at a random product (orbis 1 pocket backpack) there is no mention of this service of return at end of life and neither is that mentioned in the FAQs or even your Environmental page.

Obviously anyone buying will hope it lasts a long time but were they to damage it themselves it seems likely it goes in the recycling bin and then gets put in landfill or burnt when the recycling centre assumes its mixed materials or includes PU like most bags


A very nice brand that i had an eye on when i bought a filson bag. I find them pretty expensive and the style is not for me but thats a personal taste. I am looking for a very long time for a small slinge bag to carry my keys wallet phone and a small camera but every single one doenst fit my style. If you where to buy such a one, which i know you wouldnt which brands would you suggest ?


Foe environmental reasons, I have built up a collection of Chapman holdalls, rucksacks, totes, shoulder and other bags in deep olive bonded canvas. All, without exception, have been discontinunued. The replacements are generally smaller in size and the choice is now very limited.

I need another large holdall for holidays but Chapman option now is the nylon cargo range. Similarly, Bennett Winch’s cargo range (made by Chapman in Carlisle?) is also made from 600 denier nylon. Any recommendations for large holdalls in bonded canvas would be greatly appreciated as Tusting’s colour schemes are not to my taste.

Tom Bell

Hi Simon,
This is a really interesting post, thank you. There is a very simple answer to your hold-all search – just ask Tusting to make you a bespoke colour way, one that is to your taste. I’ve done this – their bespoke service is superb, and not much more than the standard prices.


Hi Simon,
Not specifically related to this article. I thought readers in London (or visiting) and yourself may be interested in an exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands called Fashion City. Link below. It’s the about the Jewish emigres who came to London from around 1880 onwards who eventually developed more accessible clothing from an early start with more traditional clothing through the 50s,60s,70s. Such names as Moss Bross, Cecil Gee, Irvine Sellars who developed London (eg Carnaby St) as a fashion centre. I really learnt a lot and would highly recommend.


The backpack shown here, while nice, would not be quite my style.
It reminds me of the backpack that I bought for my wife, a Briggs & Reilly slim backpack , and which elicited some positive family comments at an almost similar price to the Troubadour one but with a lifetime guarantee and again Troubadour with it’s recyclable material is a good attribute.
Each have their merits of course.

Samuel Bail

Hi E.S. Thanks for the feedback. In case it’s helpful context, we do repair our bags for life. In the first 5 years any repairs are free and after the 5 years we pass on the costs for the repair – these costs are typically no more than £15 to £20.

Brian Phillips

I stumbled upon the Soho store in 2021 and could not be happier with my purchase of the Carrier Tote. It’s held up beautifully withstanding heavy use. Since then, I’ve made other purchases for family and myself. Delighted all around!

Samuel Bail

Brian, just want to say thank you for the note. It’s lovely and motivating for me and the entire team to read about you enjoying the bags. This is why we do it!


Wow has it really been that long? I still have the original leather pathfinder briefcase and apex backpack. Both have held up really well despite pretty much daily use and not being precious with them.

Great products and a joy to continue using. Surprising how satisfying it can be when you’re reminded you’ve made a good purchase because you enjoy using it every time whenever you use it with no thought of wanting to replace it with the next new shiny thing.


Perhaps more of a philosophical (or economical) question, but how big is the value of a completely recyclable high quality bag? Outside of the PR value, that is.

Being recyclable matters most for products that are replaced/discarded often, or products that use large amounts of materials. A high quality bag should last you several years at the minimum, and the amount of material used isn’t huge. The best thing from an environmental pespective would still be to keep using an already made thing – in that perspective, a more durable bag in a non-recyclable material may be as good (or bad, as it is) from an environmental perspective, when you consider that recycling and replacing the bag also carries an environmental cost.


Definitely good points, Simon. I do agree there are a lot of backpacks out there, but the ones that would be most beneficial to recycle would be the disposble ones that are worn a season or two and then thrown away, just like recyclable fast fashion would be more useful than recyclable bespoke tailoring.

That said, it is like you say, you can only really influence your own business, and perhaps if higher end brands make fully recyclable products, fast fashion brands will follow. Someone has to be first.

Still, as you often point out in your articles about vintage: making new things will always have an environmental impact, and using already made things is always going to be better. Get things built to last, that can be sold or passed on if you no longer use them, and consider recyclability a bonus.


The idea of plastic as a recyclable material is mostly a lie — even the monomaterial plastics mentioned can only be used for one additional cycle before the polymeric binds and other factors render the material basically useless. It’s a petroleum product that lasts forever and is only briefly useful. A sustainable product would be one made of a renewable meterial (plant or animal or fungal), and well designed and well made enough to last forever. The most sustainable bags, clothes, and building are ones that already exist: antique, vintage, or just old and used—their carbon and energy costs already amortized by years of utility. So these bags may be clever and fun and stylish, but a sustainability story around them does a disservice.

John Q

But the maker does make such a claim. On their home page they have a bold title ‘Sustainability As Standard’. To the uninformed (i.e. most) this will give the impression that these bags are sustainable won’t it?

It’s a little like a cigarette maker removing 10% of the tar and advertising their product with the tag ‘Health as Standard’. As James points out, bags made from plastic (and especially bags shipped from China) are very far from being sustainable even if some old plastic bottles are used in their manufacture. They also use an especially pernicious type of marketing – pointing to the fact that their packaging is made from recycled materials – as if the packaging was a significant, or even material (apologies for the pun), part of the effect of these bags on the environment. The makers are clearly targeting people who want to make an informed decision to use a product that doesn’t harm the environment much – and make it hard for such buyers to see that this definitely isn’t a Troubadour bag!


Simon, I’m thinking of getting one of their Apex backpacks, but I’m torn between navy and black. What’s your opinion? I’d like it to work with casual clothes (for kicking around town or traveling) and business clothes (if I’m cycling to work).