GEAR | Hartmann Luggage: A great American company that went south


Perhaps one of the driving forces behind the heritage movement is that people want to hold on tight to the companies that are still making quality products, they want to hold on to the idea that manufacturers still care about history and the customer experience. I rarely write anything negative on this blog, but the Hartmann story is so disheartening that I found it hard not to.

Hartmann was founded in Milwaukee by trunkmaker Joseph Hartmann in 1877. He had a vision to build trunks and luggage that were "so fine [they would] stand as a symbol of excellence". For more than a century, his vision was carried out. The luggage was high quality and guaranteed for life—repairs were free and made without hassle. Even James Bond carried a Hartmann in Ian Fleming's 1954 novel Live & Let Die. Both Halston and Gloria Vanderbilt designed collections for Hartmann and it was all manufactured in the U.S., in Lebanon, Tennessee. 

I grew up with Hartmann, as you can see in the above photo of my mom's VW 1988 Passat wagon filled with Hartmann bags and a golden retriever. So it was a major let down when my husband bought a new Hartmann bag and the pull handle snapped off after about six uses. Isolated mishaps occur to well-made goods all the time, but after just a bit of research I found the poor quality to be a widespread event. Customers who have owned dozens of pieces and have been loyal customers for decades have been voicing dismay both for the quality and the immediate recent decline in customer service (such as "not getting" emails, long phone waits, not returning calls, not having replacement parts, and refusing to repair for free even though it's guaranteed for life).

What happened? Hartmann moved their manufacturing overseas and ultimately were bought by Samsonite. The Tennessee plant was closed for good last year. The quality has diminished, the customer service is some of the poorest I've experienced—think your cable company, but way worse—but the price tag has stayed the same. Cheap bags at a cheap price is one thing, but overpaying for a poorly-made bag is another. Make no mistake, they've kept the name Hartmann, but what you're buying today is not the old Hartmann.

This is a familiar song with many heritage companies because inevitably family companies change hands. In fact I recently heard a similar story about the iconic American luggage maker, Zero Halliburton. But why I find all this worth mentioning is not for the sake of complaining or acting like an internet crank, but because it serves as a great example as to why I and others love and feature the companies like FilsonDuluthKletterwerksGhurka, Rimowa, and all the other luggage makers around the world that still care about quality and experience.

Most of the time this blog is a "this", but sometimes I feel the need to say "not that".

Any of your luggage recommendations would be hugely appreciated.

22 comments:

Simons said...

Globe trotter!

Whats the puppy's name?

Handmade Green said...

It's so painful. You can add Hermann Survivors to the list of heritage companies that have been purchased/moved overseas/ruined.

Kate Scott said...

In addition to Duluth Pack, another great Minnesota luggage company is J.W. Hulme. And they have a great story:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2013/03/19/how-100-year-old-j-w-hulme-is-reinvesting-in-americas-manufacturing-roots/

Cait Kovac said...

I recommend trying the everlane weekender bag!

Lizzie said...

@Kate Thanks! Great story.

@Cait Agreed. The Everlane weekender bag is awesome.

I feel like there's a lot of well-made overnighters and weekenders on the market, but when it comes to substantial wheeled luggage, there isn't as much to choose from and it can get really pricey.

Beth in Virginia said...

Frank Clegg Leatherworks. Taken directly from website: "As a proud maker of heirloom-quality goods I have always avoided outsourcing production from our workshop and never allowed overseas production to enter my mind."

I have one of their handbags, and the quality and pride are unmistakable.

Lizzie said...

@Beth SO AWESOME! Thank you!

AMELIA ALVAREZ said...

Great piece. Thanks for shining light on this. I love how your blog has a real journalism element.

www.clotheshorsenyc.com

Anonymous said...

LL Bean moved some of their manufacturing overseas, but they still make some good luggage. It's not luxury, but it gets the job done.

Meg said...

Check out Eena bags (made in Portland, OR, http://beckelcanvas.com/products_type.php?products_type_id=2). Their customer service is one of kind, and my bag has held up quite nicely over the past few years. Fantastic quality and a great company.

Also check out:
Lotuff leather duffles: http://beckelcanvas.com/products_type.php?products_type_id=2

Emil Erwin: http://www.emilerwin.com/collections/luggage

BillyKirk:
http://www.billykirk.com/products/no-166-large-carryall-olive-water-repellent



www.northwestwards.com

Unknown said...

I've been a big fan of Red Oxx (another Montana company!). Their bags are great and you can get some nice zipper pulls to use on other bags that haven't worn out yet.

Michael said...

I second what Kate Scott suggested. J.W. Hulme is the real deal. They made the bags for Gokey and Orvis, and now make top-of-the-line classic duffels, briefcases, totes, and purses in their own shop. The customer service could not be better. Their stuff is built to last a lifetime, getting better with every passing year.

Mary Desing said...

I'm a little late to the party here, but I'm sad to see that Hartmann has gone downhill lately. My parents bought themselves each a set of their luggage 11 years ago, and not only was I pretty jealous at the time because their luggage looked so nice, but it has held up very well since then. They're actually packing for a trip to New Mexico right now! At the time of their purchase, I fell in love with a wool, polka dot suitcase in the Hartmann catalog. Brown with red dots! :)
I have a set of red Swiss Army luggage, and I have pushed that suitcase down stairs, tossed it onto trains, and lugged it all over the place. It's pretty utilitarian looking, but I do recommend it.

Samar Fatima said...

Truly a fantastic blog about luggage and your manner of posting is awesome.

Bagzone Samamer said...

For the best luggage bag you can go for american tourister luggage bags.

Anonymous said...

a good blog

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Jade Graham said...

which not only draws the unwanted attention of the media, but also a NASCAR champion.. Hartmann