The Bag Buzz: Cuyana Tote & Conference Bag Contents

I spoke about how much I enjoyed using my new Cuyana Leather Tote as my conference bag when I attended Alt Summit last month in my recent favorites post.  Here is the promised detailed look at this beauty as well as what I carried in it during the conference.


I spent quite a bit of time considering this purchase.  It all started about a year ago when I first noticed photos on Instagram of the Whipping Post Tote that some of the #PlannerEnthusiasts I follow own and love (apparently this tote has been on trend, at least in the Planner community, for a little while now).  I actually already own a similarly sized tote by Louis Vuitton (a Neverfull MM in the Damier Ebène pattern I’ve had for about five years now) that I use on a regular basis, so I wasn’t in any hurry to buy another bag.  I knew I wanted to add another tote to my collection eventually, particularly something a bit less “flashy” and easy to travel with that would work well in a variety of situations across all seasons.

All image sources that are not originally my own photos are from the links provided below.  Please be advised that some of the links provided are affiliate links and I do receive a small commission if you make a purchase using those links.  I very much appreciate your support of this blog in doing so!


I narrowed it down to four choices of totes that offered all of the features I was in the market for, including beautiful leather and simple construction in a medium size.  I knew that a zip top closure wasn’t that important for me for the functionality of this bag (although I do prefer a secure closure in my everyday handbags), but I was hoping for at least an interior zip pocket.  I also didn’t want to pay over $200 for the bag.  I considered it a bonus feature if I could have it personalized with a monogram.

The Madewell Transport Tote includes an interior zip pocket, but has a more rustic feel than I was going for.  The J. Crew Downing Tote is a gorgeous classic (and typical J. Crew preppy style) design, but no zip pocket, although it does include a detachable wristlet.  It’s a bit more narrow in width though and I felt it was stiffer than I’d like.  Both can be monogrammed.  The ever popular Whipping Post Vintage Tote is gorgeous, albeit with a bit more rustic look like the Madewell option.  It also has no zip pocket, although it does have a built in slip pocket.  As far as I can tell there are no customization options offered for it.  It also seems to always be out of stock or backordered.  I’d love to see this bag in person someday, since I was able to make a better informed decision about the other two after seeing them in shops.  I relied heavily on online reviews before making my decision.  I like to do my research before I buy something special.

OJ_TBBB_02-10-2015_11Ultimately, I decided to spring for the Cuyana Leather Tote.  I cannot say enough good things about this bag.  To me, it’s an A+ all around.  Handcrafted from buttery soft Argentine and Italian leathers, this bag is super soft to the touch and moves well with the body.  It’s the perfect tote size to me as well, fitting into that “just right” or Goldilocks category, measuring 13″ high x  18″ wide x 5″ deep (this is the official measurement listed on Cuyana’s website, but I found it held much more than 5″ deep worth).  The strap has a comfortable 9″ drop that makes it easy to carry on your shoulder even when it’s stuffed to the brim without gaping open by hanging too low.


The simple construction of the bag helps to keep it lightweight, since there aren’t a lot of built in bells and whistles.  There is one small zip and slip pocket on the inside of the bag, which is great for stowing keys or other small valuables.  My iPhone fits perfectly inside the little slip pocket for easy access.

I love how the classic design blends well with any outfit.  After much debate (and a little help from my Facebook friends) I decided to go with the caramel shade.  I am so happy I did (and thank you if you weighed in on that decision)!  I paired it well with all of my daytime conference wear at Alt and it would have gone nicely with most of my evening outfits, too, although I chose to carry a purse to those instead.  I already have plans to take it to some other conferences I hope to attend this year and know it will now be a staple of my regular wardrobe.


In addition to describing the details of the bag, I wanted to share how I packed it for my first conference, since I felt like what I brought really worked for me.  Plus, it’s always fun to share these types of “What’s In My Bag” posts.  I know I am not alone in my enjoyment of seeing what other people carry in their bags for different purposes.  As you can see, typical me, I went a bit pouch crazy, but with this roomy open style tote that really was the only way to keep all of my on-the-go conference necessities organized and easily accessible.  My cases filled out the bottom third or so of the bag, which left plenty of room to toss any swag or other things I picked up during the day on top.


Here’s what I carried in my conference bag (you can see more detailed photos of the contents below):

1. Poly Zip Letter Size Pouch – I wanted a place to put any loose papers I might pick up throughout the day.  Of course, I opted for this cute panda one (it’s from Staples but I can’t find it on their website anywhere sadly).

2. Pen Case – I used a small pencil case from the Orla Kiely for Target collection (my favorite, as you’ll see) not only for extra pens, but also a folded reusable shopping tote (just in case of really big swag 😉 ), a backup battery for my iPhone (essential as a blogger at one of these things), a backup camera battery (not pictured but equally essential), and mints (I just discovered the Bach Rescue Remedies Pastilles and really like them).

3. Walking Pharmacy – This is the case I keep my daily on-the-go necessities in.  I pulled it right out of my purse and left the contents as is for my conference bag.  If you’d like to see what I keep in my Walking Pharmacy, I go into detail in this post (although I have downsized a bit since then, so maybe it’s time for an update).  I now use the Orla Kiely small cosmetic cube for this purpose.

4. Vlogging Camera – I target=”_blank”>vlogged my Alt Summit experience, so naturally I needed my camera at the ready.  I like to keep my Sony RX1003 in a lightly padded case from 1154 Lill Studio (sadly this shop is no longer open) with a little Mickey lens cleaning cloth attached that I bought at Disney World years ago.

5. Business Cards – Yet another Orla Kiely case from Target!  This medium sized pouch actually comes in a set of three (that isn’t currently available online).  I am able to fit just about one hundred of my business cards in this little case, all stacked neatly for easy retrieval.  Let me know if you’re interested in a post about my business card design and what printers I used.  I couldn’t be happier with them!

6. Notebook & Pen – I brought this small spiral notebook, which I picked up at Walmart for a couple of dollars.  I prefer to use spiral notebooks when I take notes so I can easily write on both sides of the page.  I tucked a retractable pen onto the side so I could easily grab the whole setup and start jotting away at a moment’s notice.  It’s important to remember, however, to put a lid on your pen or click it back closed or risk getting marks on the interior of your bag like I foolishly did.  Lesson learned!

7. Business Card File – I found a coupon file on clearance at Staples for less than a dollar (much like this one from The Container Store) to use as an on-the-go business card filing system.  I made labels breaking down each day by time/event and sorted the cards I received into the according slots to help me remember the people I met.  I also crafted a small folder with my favorite full adhesive sticky notes by Post-It which I used to take a few notes about the people I met and then stuck it to their business cards.  I struggle with names sometimes, especially when meeting a whole bunch of people at once, and any clues I can give myself  to remember helps immensely.

8. Wallet – I opted to carry around my wallet with me, although I think in a larger conference setting I would probably leave it in the hotel room safe and just carry around my ID and some cash if necessary.  This wallet is from Mulberry, but it’s sadly no longer available.

9. Phone – This is self-explanatory, really, but having my phone with me was very important to keep up with social media and look pertinent people and websites up throughout the conference.  I actually noticed quite a few people with my same beloved phone case while I was there, which is the Rifle Paper Co. Clear Rosa iPhone Case in case you’re wondering.  It’s no wonder, since it’s so pretty!


You can see the contents of some of my pouches better in these photos.


Having my little on-the-go business card file made it easier for me to better remember the many lovely women I met.

OJ_TBBB_02-10-2015_06I mentioned earlier that I chose not to carry my tote around during the evening events (although I wish I had brought it to a couple of them), and instead used my regular purse (actually this one that lives out at the Utah house if you’re curious).  I basically kept my everyday purse contents the same for these evening events, with the exception of adding in one of the small Orla Kiely pouches that comes in a set of three filled with about forty of my business cards.  I also carried a business card snap pouch I picked up at The Container Store to slip other people’s cards into since I couldn’t carry around my larger business card file with me.  This helped me keep everything together and in its place.

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The Cuyana tote’s gorgeously soft leather and no frills construction lends itself to a bit of a floppy nature.  While this makes it super easy to fold up flat and pack, it also leaves the bag without any internal support.  One of my pet peeves with tote bags in particular is when they sag a lot on the bottom.  I just don’t like the look personally.  It’s also not good for the leather if you’re carrying a lot of heavy things.  I decided to construct a simple removable and reinforced base for my Cuyana tote from a few basic supplies.

OJ_TBBB_02-10-2015_08You will need:

・One plastic mat (see note*)

* I picked up a pack of inexpensive flexible plastic cutting mats from Walmart (plastic placemats work well, too).  I use these to protect my table and desk when I’m crafting, particularly if I’m gluing something, and when I’m painting my nails to avoid any hard to fix accidents.


✻ Lay the tote out on a flat, clean surface, folding the base up so it is exposed.  Measure the base and take note of its depth.

✻ Line up the mat with the base and make a mark for the width.  Using your ruler, create a line guide where to cut based on these two measurements.

✻ Once cut, round off the edges with scissors to take away any sharp edges that might damage the interior of the tote.

✻ Use the already cut portion and trace out a second piece.  There should be enough space on one mat to cut out two pieces.

✻ Use a thin layer of glue to attach the two pieces together and allow to dry completely.

My base measures 13.75″ long by 5.35″ wide.

Now you have a removable and reinforced base for your tote!  It’s easy to pack flat along with the tote in its dust bag for protection during travel.

I show the tote and my conference bag contents in more detail in this video:

It’s giveaway time!  I wanted to share the Orla Kiely for Target love with you.  The Orla Kiely Pouch Giveaway will run until Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 6 PM CT.  The giveaway is open internationally.  All entrants under the age of 18 must have parental permission to enter.  TWO winners will receive one of the Orla Kiely for Target 3-Piece Set Pouches pictured below:


You can enter by following the directions in the Rafflecopter widget posted below (check out this blog post for more information on entering Rafflecopter giveaways).  I’ll announce the winners on THIS blog post and contact them directly through email, as always.  Good luck!


Congrats to the winners of the Orla Kiely Pouch Giveaway!

The Poll Results for *How many pouches do you have in your everyday bag?* out of 3626 entries:

5+ (1547) 43%
1-2 (1255) 35%
3-5 (715) 20%
0 (109) 3%

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sometimes Rafflecopter experiences technical difficulties.  If you can’t enter for some reason, try again later and it will probably work.

I hope you enjoyed this look at my new tote.  I’d love to know what some of your top picks to pack in your conference/work bag are, if you care to share.


 * Post contains affiliate links.  This is not a sponsored post.  All opinions are genuinely my own. *


57 thoughts on “The Bag Buzz: Cuyana Tote & Conference Bag Contents”

  1. Do you watch GlamMandie on Youtube? I am pretty sure she just got one of these bags for Christmas and uses it as her purse/diaper bags – I am lusting over it!! I love it! It’s kind of fun because I recently saw how she uses it for her everyday/diaper bag and now I see how you use it for a work bag.

    I use a Vera Bradley tote for work and I am always “collecting” new ones! I love almost all the accessories and bags from the company. I don’t use a Vera Bradley bag as my everyday purse but all of my accessories and totes and travel bags are Vera Bradley. I really like the Get Carried Away Tote – it has tons of outside pockets and a zipper. The Vera is also a good size. There was also one that came out last summer – a large color block tote that I really liked for summer!

    I’m a huge fan of your blog, vlogs and videos! Keep up the amazing work!

    1. I haven’t watched GlamMandie, but I’ll definitely check out her Cuyana tote video! A good tote is such a versatile bag. I love Vera Bradley, too. They generally design great built-in organization features, too (like lots of pockets).

  2. Ooooh a Downton Abbey party! I haven’t caught up on the ALT summit vlogs/updates yet. I cant wait to hear more about that.

  3. Thanks for sharing, it’s a beautiful bag, as all of the others that you showed us. A must for outings like this, I alway’s end up with “everyones” things to carry. Special monogram is awesome. Love it..

  4. Something I do with business cards is write on the actual card something about them or something you discussed so you’ll remember who is was. ie: Curly Hair, Tacos, From Florida etc – to help jog your memory. Eliminates the need for the sticky notes.

    1. TFS your system! I personally don’t like writing on people’s cards which is why I came up with the note system. It’s interesting to learn what other people do.

  5. I have the J. Crew Downing Tote that I use for my everyday purse (it’s in a fun nautical stripe). I use lots of little pouches to keep it organized too. Orla Kiely makes the best ones for organization. I also use the little make up bags that come with my Ipsy subscription for pens and loyalty cards.
    Love the idea of adding a base to my bag-I’m going to try that this weekend! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Thank you for this post! I just purchased the lovely Cuyana tote in caramel as well and it’s helpful to see how others use it to suit their needs. I purchased mine with the intent of using it primarily as my daily work bag, but I can see myself carrying it on weekends and for travel as well. I love how simple and versatile the style is! For the last year I carried a Vera Bradley Tablet Tote (in their gorgeous black microfiber) as my daily work bag, so the lack of built-in organization in the Cuyana tote has been an adjustment… but one I’m willing to make for such a gorgeous bag. 🙂 So far I’ve wrangled the items I used to store in the Tablet Tote’s built-in pockets into my own stash of Orla Kiely pouches but I think that editing what I bring with me on a daily basis will probably work best. (Note to self: you do not need five different lip products. Or do you???)

    I was actually tipped off to the Cuyana brand by your Instagram photo a few weeks ago and at that point I was already considering the other three totes you mentioned in your post. (I felt like the Goldilocks of handbags for a bit there, hah!) In the end the Cuyana won for its polished style and price point but the Madewell tote was running a close second until I happened upon a number of recent negative reviews reporting scratched leather, split seams, and busted handles. Yikes! My only regret is that I skipped the monogram since I was buying the bag without seeing it in person first and worried that it might not be quite what I was looking for. Now I wish I had taken the risk!

    1. I have a Canon T4i which I use to film my sit down style videos and a SonyRX1003 for vlogs and secondary shots. I usually donate/sell cameras I have replaced.

  7. I loved how ou made a great bag even better. I sometimes will pass up a great bag because it’s not exactly like I want it. But you have shown me, that I should think “outside the bag” ( sorry just had to! Lol) and look at ways to customize it for my own needs. Thanks!

  8. I have been keeping my eye out for different bags for about 6 months now. The Targets around me never have many to choose from. I have been using Betsy Johnson bags. Target bags are flat and I think they would work better. Great post.

  9. Lovely post Jen! I love organization! I use the same Orla Kiely case for my walking pharmacy and am probably more than semi-addicted to that line of pouches. Sometimes I feel like my life motto should be “when in doubt, put it in a pouch” 😉 All of the totes you researched look beautiful. I do like that the Cuyana one is so travel-friendly though, and I LOVE the DIY reenforced bottom! So clever. ALT looked amazing and I’m so glad you took the opportunity to be refreshed and energized! Blessings!

  10. I like Bach Flower Remedies. Used to use their Walnut a lot (transitions) but also love those Pastilles but moreso the fun tin they are in. I tend to eat them like candy so it might have defeated the purpose. Thank you so much for these videos. This is the bag I have had on my mind. I loved each tote more as I clicked on them. Thankfully the Whipping Post Vintage bag – Toast sounds better – is too expensive and unavailable. But, that was the fav and the Stone Blue J Crew which is on sale. You sold me with Cuyana on a number of points but when you folded it up in the end, I was like yup this one. Thank you for this and your humour and very Jen high level of attn to detail. You come up with the most clever ideas and for someone who attended her first conference (right?) of this kind, I was amazed with what you brought with you. Everyone always leaves with a jumble of cards and is like, ahhh…now who was this again? Brilliant. I have placed this Cuyana and the Breville Tea Maker on my list for special items. But, I like sales so….will wait. Right now, I need to get new linens and that search is not going well. Cuyana has some spring shades coming out this month (?) with their totes. Very very pale pastels for those who like lighter bags.

  11. Hey Jen – I’m a big fan! 🙂
    Does your tote stand up on it’s own with the reinforced base? I just can’t decide which one to get! Thanks for the post and video!

  12. I used a similar bag for conferences. The only difference is mine is black leather. Access to the contents is the most important thing in a conference bag. This one fits the bill perfectly. I use the same type of organizational components. Notebooks fit well. You hit the nail on the head with this purchase. It will last forever and looks stylish. It also looks like it will “age well”.

  13. Thank you for the how-to on making an insert for your tote. I really liked your DYI post-it holder too. I wonder if I could make one that looks so nice — I tend to be one of those Pinterest Fail type people, except for card making and scrapbooks. As for pouches, I’m really keen on some Etsy sellers who do beautiful work with novelty fabrics. It’s fun to find pouches that are perfect for you, plus I love buying them as gifts and filling them with fun stuff for that particular person (like when I got Dr. Who pouches with Dr. Who pencils for my son and his cousin who’s the same age. When they were little people thought they were twins since they’re so close in age. Twousins?

  14. Thank you so much for your video! Love watching them. You always hand out lots of tips. I love getting organized, but I already made a couple of chances after watching your videos. Also a big thank you for the great give away! Its rare to have an international give away with such lovely prices! Thanks for sharing!

  15. Another great post. Day by day with your help and posts I’m becoming more organized. Thanks jen! this weekend I am organizing all my files.I checked out your post on how you file. So inspiring! Thanks Jen! -danielle

  16. I love Vera bradley and have alot of them plus i use one of the big tote for my weekend short trips. you can pack so much into them. I’m such a tote person. I need to check out the Orla bags from walmart I never saw hem before except on your past videos. I have a walmart up the highway from me so hopefully will take a trip there soon. After watching your video I think I have a open type smaller tote that I had to have at the time never used it because it’s open on the top and I’m scared of losing stuff. I think I might give it a try and use smaller bags in it to keep my stuff in order. I carry way too much of that just in case stuff and find my everyday purse has gotten way to heavy so have to try and cut down. need to check out the cuyana.

  17. Thanks for the information. This tote seems to be perfect for going to conferences and other big events. I love the Orla Kiely line of products too, and use them frequently when packing and keeping my larger purses organized.

    I also have rescue remedy products. Something I never expected to enjoy, but I got them in a Bulu Box once and have loved them ever since.

  18. You have no idea how much you have inspired me and many many more of us who are just not the “commenter” type. I am not only talking about this post, which is perfect as it motivated me to sort out a bag I have been carrying around that is is mess, but in general, you are authentic, genuine and appreciate all of the tips.
    As I said in my youtube comment, whatever you decided to do with the channels will be great, because it will be the honest, authentic Jennifer Ross (There’s a name 🙂 anyway thanks for all you do !!!

  19. Hello Jen,

    these are the kind off video’s why a started following you on YouTube, pleas Carry on like you do. I really enjoy them en watching them allways makers me feel more happy and in place. I don’t know why or how but they simpel do that to me, love u, Don and little bunny

  20. thank you so much Jen, I have been struggling to find a good phone charger! love your recommendations and have just ordered this one! Love your work, videos, and most especially your recommendations! Sue

    1. and the charger works great! I carry an Android and an Apple phone, so this is perfect. Really appreciate your sharing this.

  21. Pick me Pick me 🙂
    I hope I win, I just LOVE your blog and I have been admiring Orla Kiely bags from a far.
    We no longer have Target in Canada so finding Orla Kiely bags is very difficult.

    Can’t tell you how happy I am that your not leaving us!
    Miss your vlogs, Hugs 🙂

  22. What a lovely bag! I love the way you organized your handbags with small cases.Hope you consider posting a updated walking pharmacy blog post

  23. So glad you shared the business cards in the video 🙂 They are awesome! I love the simplified look, and also you can tell that the cards are high quality and seem to have some texture even through the video. I loved your suggestion about having extra pens on hand. So thoughtful & cute – it reminds me of being in school and asking the person next to you if you can borrow a pencil 🙂 Yes, I would love a more in depth description of your business card design decisions. I really struggle with design decisions because there are so many choices, so it helps to see someone else’s thought process. Thanks for sharing!

  24. The LV Neverfull has also been my daily tote for years and nothing else ever caught my fancy–until I saw your video. Decided to give it a shot and was not disappointed. First of all, their customer service is TOP NOTCH. Great communication (I had trouble with a free shipping code and they took care of it in less than 30 minutes after I messaged their customer service), and the shipping was super fast. The quality of the bag is amazing–buttery soft and the monogram stamp came out clear, heavy, and even. I am really looking forward to using it for years to come. Thank you!

  25. I’d love to see an update on your walking pharmacy! I have the same pouch you used to carry and I am thinking about downsizing mine, just for something a little smaller!

  26. Do you keep the tote folded with base shaper in it as in pic when you are not using? Or do you stuff the bag and keep it? I love this bag and I only want to use during trip outside city so what is the best way to store this without ruining bag. I like to keep it folded but not sure two fold may leave crease on the bag. Please, share your experiences and expertise too 🙂

  27. Hi Jen!

    Love your videos and this review! I have had an eye out for this bag for a while but have been on the fence. I have found that you have the BEST review out there. I am primarily planning on using this bag as a work tote, but also see myself using it on weekends as well. I work in an office where the attire is business professional/business casual. Most of the work bags I have seen are just too structured for me as I have kind of a small build (and it looks like I’m a bag lady with a tote bag and a purse … haha). From your opinion, do you think this bag is “dressy/classic” enough to carry with more professional looking outfits? I would love your feedback…. also totally crushing on this caramel color, LOVE!

  28. I’m about to purchase this bag…but my only hestitation is that I have a laptop I carry too (just a little heavier than a macbook), as well as waterbottle, laptop battery, etc. etc.. Do you feel that the straps are sturdy enough for a little bit more of heavy load? thanks!

    1. It seems really well made, in my opinion. I’ve carried it with my laptop and lots of other bulky things without issue.

  29. Hey Jen, I received this bag for Christmas and love it. I looked up your blog for reinforcing the bottom. I just finished making them. Thanks for the DIY instructions.
    Stay warm ☃️❄️

  30. I have been considering this bag but am struggling deciding between the zipper and no zipper version. I like the look of the no zipper, but wonder if I would like the practicality of the zipper. Do you wish you ever wish you had the zipper version?

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