The Madewell Zip Top Transport Carry-All: A Product Review
Updated 04/11/19: I wanted to write a quick update…and it’s not so favorable toward this tote. As you will read in the body of this review, after my first trip with the Madewell Transport Carry-All, I was here for it. It had it’s flaws, but I was willing to overlook due to all of the positives. Unfortunately, not a week after writing this review, the tote fell apart on me. While in the airport on my way home from a work trip (the worst situation possible), the zipper broke and it was unable to be zipped closed—the most important factor in purchasing a work travel tote, second only possible to size…and it flopped in this area as well. I was only gone for two nights, but it became increasingly difficult to place my laptop, charger, headphones, notebook and wallet within the tote. And the more you put into it, the heavier it became (obviously), but as the hand and shoulder straps are thin in both width and depth, the digging was all too real while lugging it from gate to gate. And on a much less impactful note, the leather had begun to show significant wear, but not in a “fine leather patina” kind of way; rather larger scuffs from doing things like placing under plane seats and setting on the floor in conference rooms.
So all of that combined, the defective bag was promptly returned to the store, and I am again on the hunt for a durable, travel work bag. It would be great for a shorter commute, or as a non-work tote, but this one just did not suit my needs, quality aside.
The search for a perfect work bag began innocently with Google searches, YouTube reviews and DMs to my favorite corporate-minded bloggers on their recommendations. And one thing I discovered very quickly…they are NOT budget friendly. For something so commonplace as the work tote, my expectations were to find good quality for minimal pricing, but that was far from the truth. I fell in love with the Tory Burch Gemini and Robinson totes, commanding $285 and $390 respectively. And don’t even get me started on the work tote of my dreams from Philip Lim that runs a very cool $895. My budget was less than a third of my dream bag, so the lengthy search for a high quality, travel friendly, laptop compatible work tote under $200 was underway. I went back and forth for days and compiled a list of 6 options. And due to my sometime indecisive nature, I took to Instagram to let my audience decide. The winner: The Madewell Zip Top Transport Carry-All! And seeing as I just got home from my first week long business trip with this bag in tow, I thought it would be a good time to give a full product review.
At first glance, the bag is honestly nothing special, and a possible reason I overlooked this it for quite some time. Some would even call it boring. But after holding in hand and using every day, it has an understated type of elegance to it. It is a simply designed, made for life vegetable-tanned leather tote that smells heavenly even up to two weeks later! (anyone love the smell of new fresh leather!?) No fussy external pockets, exterior prints, textures or patterns to be had. It comes with two strap options, one for hand and arm carry, and another removable, adjustable leather strap for shoulder and cross-body carry. Even fresh out of the protective plastic when I picked her up from Nordstrom, the wear in the leather had begun, but in a patina type manner. Due to the type of leather and how it wears over time, no two will look alike. Unlike my usual preference for very structured bags, the Madewell leather is soft, yet thick enough at first use for the bag to stand on its own. Throughout my most recent business trip, the leather has begun to soften a bit further, though not at all slouchy, especially when filled with all of my work and travel necessities. The top (and only) zipper is very well made, thick, sturdy, a beautiful gold color and stood up to the abuse of overpacking and overfilling throughout the week. Overall, it’s a simple yet stunning bag that looks and feels like incredible quality, without drawing attention away from you in the boardroom.
The interior of the bag is lined with a durable black fabric that held up well and did not scuff or mark easily throughout my travels and daily use. The few pockets were trimmed with the same leather found in the exterior and elevated the otherwise utility interior features.
Though in comparison to some other mega-sized totes on the market, this bag may be smaller, but it sure is mighty. The interior capacity is not quite Mary Poppins type scale, but it certainly can pack and organize your entire day. The bag holds my 14.5” work laptop, iPad, A5 notebook, laptop power cable, computer mouse, small toiletries pouch (for the lip gloss and blotting papers), wallet, both cell phones, two batter packs, etc. And in a more desperate situation, I was able to cram all of the above AND some small flats in the bag for a quick after conference dinner footwear change. Coming from a backpack, the Carry-All certainly holds a good bit less, which took some getting used to during travel. For example, I had to more forcibly shove my laptop back in my bag after moving through security, as the organization of my tetris-style packing was in disarray. For me, the size lends itself to making you more purposeful about what you carry, and would be absolutely ideal for the every day commute in which you may not need to carry half of your work station with you everywhere you go.
There is one interior zip pocket that is relatively good size and is ideal to hold my car keys, travel receipts, and the like. Two interior side pockets of different sizes were perfect organizational features. My smaller Michael Kors wallet fit just perfectly in one, while my portable charging station fit well in the other. Neither, however are wide enough to house my iPhone 8 Plus.
All in all, the Madewell Zip Top Transport Carry-All is a powerhouse of a leather work tote that does not break the bank. There is a reason the standard Transport Totes are Madewell’s best selling item, and that sentiment carries through into this model as well. Even for me, the $188 price tag was still a bit tough for swallow, but this is certainly one of the instances in which you get what you pay for. The high quality construction, styling versatility and roomy interior are exactly what you want from your workhorse daily carry and this one is most certainly a winner!
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