SIC 3161

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing luggage of leather or other materials. The luggage industry produces a wide variety of products, including suitcases, briefcases, attache cases, hand luggage, tote bags, trunks, and occupational cases. Materials used in addition to leather include plastics, nylon, cotton, linen, and metals. Many products use a combination of these materials. Construction methods include sewing, molding, and laminating.

NAICS Code(s)

316991 (Luggage Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

Luggage shipments decreased steadily throughout the late 1990s and into 2000, falling from $1.42 billion in 1997 to $1.28 billion in 2000. Total industry employment declined from 9,550 workers to 8,195 workers, roughly 6,474 of whom were production workers, over the same time period. More than two dozen types of occupations exist in the luggage/leather products industry, including sewing machine operators, plastic molding machine operators, leather workers, assemblers, inspectors, and packagers.

Background and Development

Luggage—defined as a product designed to carry items by hand from place to place—has been around in some form or another since the beginning of time. Cave men and women likely carried sticks, stones, bones, and furs in small leather sacks or large skins as they moved from cave to cave. Egyptians packed precious objects into casket-shaped trunks and buried them in tombs with their kings and queens. In those early days, separate trunks or chests were used to transport different types of items; for example, there were jewelry, linen, and wardrobe cases. This practice endured for centuries and is still popular with those who have no need to travel lightly.

How one traveled dictated what type of luggage one used. When traveling by foot, for example, a simple sack was often sufficient. If beasts of burden were available, items were boxed or bagged and secured atop the animal. Travel by ship or barge made it possible to use large trunks and chests. Of course, the more money one had, the grander the style of travel and the type of luggage. "Heaven only knows how many people it took to get Cleopatra's barge up the Nile, Marco Polo to China, or Mrs. Vanderbilt across the Atlantic," wrote Diane Sustendal in Showcase. "It's only in recent years that hopping the Concorde with a single bag has become a status way to travel. Prior to that, three or more matched pieces of luggage lined up at a dock, train station, or airport said something about the status of the traveler."

Whole groups of people, she noted, have been identified by the types of luggage they carried. The "Casket Girls of Louisiana," young women sent from France to the colonies (now the United States) to marry, carried their belongings in caskets. Carpetbaggers got their name from the bags in which they carried cash and clothing to the South following the Civil War. "Old Saddlebags" referred to the early Pony Express riders who carried mail in such pouches on the back of horses. Some types of luggage have gotten their names from modes of transportation, including the coach bag, train case, flight kit, pullman case, and steamer trunk. The luggage lexicon has also been affected by war. British soldiers during World War I had their "kit bag." American G.I.s packed their belongings in a "duffle bag" or "furlough bag."

The luggage industry bubbled with new ideas after World War II. Many materials developed for the wartime effort were put to use in the industry, including rip-stop nylon, fiberglass, plastics, simulated fabric, leather, and aluminum. Manufacturers learned to design products that were durable, yet light enough to meet plane travel requirements. Luggage became available in three categories: constructed, or molded luggage; semi-constructed, with such features as side zipper entry and compartments for easy packing; and soft luggage, which is lightweight and collapsible.

Color added a fashion statement previously missing from luggage. Fashionable women travelers could choose from such colors as bright red, pale blue, pink, and cream; men had gray, navy, forest green, and burgundy as alternatives to the more conservative black or brown. In the late 1960s, the colors of luggage mimicked the colors of fashion—hot pink, neon yellow and orange, and bright blue.

By the 1970s, with the idea of space travel no longer a distant reality, luggage resembling space suit fabrics first appeared. During that same time period, "designer luggage" became the vogue, and luggage sported designer logos. As plane travel became faster and more efficient, travelers began placing a higher priority on speed. Manufacturers recognized this and devoted more of their attention on carry-on luggage, which permitted passengers to save time by avoiding check-in lines and baggage claim areas. The Mac Pac by Casecraft Incorporated illustrated this trend. This European-styled set consisted of a three-suit garment bag, a four-zipper expandable boarding case, and a 10-inch grooming kit.

In the 1980s, an era known for conspicuous consumption, customers demanded that their luggage demonstrate their wealth, status, and personal taste. They looked for classic styling, quality, and high-fashion touches. Leather, tweeds, and stripes were big sellers. For example, Henry Rosenfeld Travelware introduced several new tweeds and leather designs in 1988. One line of luggage featured interchangeable sets. Popular colors included earth tones, blue-black, burgundy, melon, pumpkin, olive green, and deep gold.

Responding to the consumers' increasing interest in quality, name-brand luggage, vendors introduced luggage with better fabrics and more features, such as zippers, pockets, and compartments to hold such items as shirts, hair dryers, running shoes, and tennis racquets. Peters Bag Corporation introduced a Sasson Executive Style Luggage set in 1989, which included a garment bag with full front zippered pocket, adjustable shoulder strap, boarding bag with dual zipper opening, front and side zipper pockets, and a utility kit with a fully-lined interior and two-way zipper.

Business Cases. Attache cases or briefcases have been around as long as people have called on clients. Scribes and physicians may have been the first to use some form of business case. Blacksmiths, cobblers, carpenters, seamstresses, musicians, and artists used bags, boxes, and small cases to transport the tools of their trade. The attache, with its hard sides and box-like construction, is a direct descendant of an artist's paint box and the scribe's writing box. Early coverings designed to protect books, letters, sketches, and legal briefs were forerunners of today's portfolios or briefcases.

Throughout the twentieth century, the functions and appearance of the business case have changed frequently and sometimes dramatically. While leather business cases are still popular, there are now more choices than ever before—molded cases of plastic or metal, fashion cases, canvas cases, and cases made of exotic skins. In the late 1980s, R.F. Kilpatric and Associates even introduced a wooden briefcase from Sweden, available in natural wood and a mahogany color. Briefcases that doubled as luggage also made their appearance.

Like luggage, business cases eventually became available in a variety of colors. Gray, burgundy, tan, forest green, even red, white, and blue became acceptable options for business executives. Such features as contrasting trim, gleaming or burnished hardware, detachable shoulder straps, and retractable handles also became available. Compartments for holding pens, business cards, calculators, checkbooks, cellular phones, computers, and mini-televisions were added to many of the new designs, as were sleeves to accommodate portfolios, notepaper, computer readouts, legal pads, agendas, and reports.

Business cases and attache's were expected to retain their traditional flavor throughout the 1990s. Sales for business cases rose 4 percent in 1996.

Current Conditions

In the United States, 279 establishments claimed luggage manufacturing as their primary occupation; the highest number of establishments (41) was in California. New York had 32 and Illinois had 18. Although Washington only had 8 establishments, its shipment value was higher than that of Illinois.

In terms of shipment value, the largest industry segment in the late 1990s was luggage with a leather or mostly leather outer surface ($90 million). Business cases of leather or mostly leather had a shipment value of $35 million that same year. Total industry shipments in 2000 reached $1.28 billion, compared to $1.34 billion in 1999. The cost of materials declined from $549 million to $478 million over the same time period.

Industry Leaders

Samsonite Corp., headquartered in Denver, Colorado, is the world's leading manufacturer of luggage. In 1996, the company had an estimated $800 million in sales. In 1999 the company reported sales of $697 million. Samsonite was founded in 1910 as the Shwayder Trunk Manufacturing Company. It was not until 1966 that the company operated under the name Samsonite. From a one-room business near downtown Denver with 10 employees, Samsonite has grown into a network of 30 manufacturing and distribution centers employing 10,000 individuals throughout the world. Samsonite products are sold in more than 100 countries.

Samsonite established its reputation by producing a product that was extremely durable. The company's original slogan ("Strong enough to stand on") was first illustrated by a picture of founder Jess Shwayder, his father, and three of his brothers standing on a plank that rested on a Shwayder hardcase. Samosonite became famous in the 1980s with it's television commercial featuring a gorilla throwing around Samsonite luggage; the commercial emphasized the durability of the product. Today Samsonite makes both hardside and softside luggage. Hardside luggage is made by the molding and assembly of plastic components, utilizing either vacuum forming or injection molding techniques. Samsonite's softside luggage involves the manufacturing of hand-assembled luggage made of synthetic fiber materials and steel or plastic frames. The company's hardside luggage sales continued to grow dramatically in the early 1990s, particularly in the European market. Samsonite is the leading manufacturer of hardside luggage in the world. Samsonite holds 900 patents worldwide for it's luggage designs and is the parent company of the number two brand of luggage, American Tourister.

A major foreign player in the luggage industry was LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, a manufacturer of high quality luggage based in Paris, France. This company also handles champagnes, wines, and cognacs; perfumes; and fashions.

America and the World

The resurgence of pride in America and American-made products in the 1980s prompted many luggage manufacturers to focus on American-made goods and push the "Made in the U.S.A." logo. Promoting U.S. made luggage was often challenging, however, since few luggage products are actually made in the United States. "Almost all nylon goods, whether it's Samsonite, American Tourister, Verdi, it's all imported," said Gallup. "It has the good old American name but basically it's an import." According to American Tourister manager Karl Czerny, however, approximately 25 percent of their merchandise is made in the United States. That percentage is made up primarily of hardside luggage, which is bulky and expensive to import.

Further Reading

Hoover' Company Profiles. Hoover's Online, 2000. Available from .

LeTellier, George. "Higher Fashion Key in Luggage." Upscale Discounting, March 1987.

Sustendal, Diane. "Where We've Been: A History of Luggage, Business Cases, Personal Leather Goods and Components." Showcase, November-December 1988.

United States Census Bureau. "Manufacturing-Industry Series." 1997 Economic Census. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 24 January 2000.

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

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