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What is Paper-Leather?

When I was a kid, my mom packed a homemade version of Fruit Roll-Ups in my paper lunch sack. It was called Fruit Leather. It seemed about five times as thick as a Fruit Roll-Up and you could probably knock someone out with it if you were to whip them in the back of the head hard enough.

Fruit Leather. Nutritious yet deadly.

The paper from which the DrawBag is made is also pretty tough. It’s tear-proof, won’t easily break under load, looks great, and with a good soak in water and a drip-dry, it’s back to its original shape and look. Technically, it’s called kraft paper, and the process by which it’s made was invented by a German named Carl F. Dahl back in 1879.

No, I don’t REALLY know what Carl Dahl looked like…

All variations of kraft paper are remarkably strong, with elasticity and tear-resistance thanks to the process by which it’s made. Due to its versatility, kraft paper has a number of applications, such as the packaging of deli meat, providing a base for sandpapers, and lining cartridges for hunting ammunition.

It should be mentioned as well that kraft paper is eco-friendly.

Not all wood can be used for traditional paper-making, although the kraft process allows for some wood that can’t be used otherwise, including bamboo and resinous pine. Almost all of the chemicals used to produce kraft paper are recovered and reused in the same process, and the two main byproducts which are not recycled (turpentine and tall oil) can be reused in other manufacturing processes. Kraft paper is not extensively bleached, which maintains its strength and decreases manufacturing costs. And, being a mono-material, kraft paper is bio-based and bio-degradable, and is easily recycled.

What a champ, right?


Most papers are made from wood, although they can be made from other fibers, too. Wood is composed of lignin and cellulose. Lignin isn’t very good for making paper, so it has to be removed during the paper-making process while the cellulose is preserved. However, during Dahl’s kraft process, the way in which these two are separated is unique and leads to the special properties of the paper.

Kraft paper begins as long-fibered softwood which is shredded into chips. These wood chips are steamed and then boiled in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide which chemically break down the bonds of the wood. Once these bonds are broken, the lignin can be separated from the cellulose. However, this particular chemical breakdown is slow enough that it maintains the strength of the wood’s connective fibers and helps to create a very strong and durable paper at the end of the process.

Sprechen zie Chinese? niu pi zhi... bull-skin paper.

Kraft means strong in German, and that’s why the paper was originally given the name. In China (where I currently live), I found that kraft paper is called niu pi zhi or “bull-skin paper” because of its natural brown color as well as its toughness. But I felt it still needed another common name that conveyed its character and qualities when used for the purposes of fashion.

Introducing… Paper-Leather.