Yep, vegan leather can be nasty. Luckily, some eco friendly vegan handbag brands DO exist!
By Noa Ben Moche
It’s a sad reality that most vegan handbags are not all that kind to the planet. Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing at all eco-friendly about leather itself, and of course, it’s a cruel material to make fashion from! But sometimes, I get a bit frustrated at the lack of eco-friendly vegan handbags out there.
Most are made from PU ‘leather’, which is comprised of polyurethane, a.k.a. one type of a large family of elastic polymers with a rubbery texture. But unlike conventional rubber, polyurethanes start out as liquids which can then be cast in low-pressure molds to form anything you like, from insulation to shoes to a flat leather-like material.
It sounds chemical and nasty, and you may be tempted to think that animal leather is better for the environment, but consider this: even animal leather is sometimes split and combined with polyurethane for extra durability, to add a smoother effect or to simply save money for the brand making it.
And as any sustainable fashionista worth her salt knows, leather is no better than PU leather – in fact, if you factor in the environmental impact of raising animals, it’s worse.
So, what’s an eco-conscious vegan to do when it comes to making accessories choices?
The answer is easy: stick with one of the newly emerging totally eco friendly vegan handbag brands!
I’ve found a few below – do you know of any others?
10 Eco Friendly Vegan Handbag Brands
What do banana trees, lotus flowers, rain trees, and bamboo all have in common? Their leaves, sap and bark are all used by Thailand based brand Bark and Leaf to make gorgeous vegan bags! In fact, together with with a collective of 40 Thai women, Avani have created a material called Leaftex® that has a very small ecological footprint indeed, but has all the strength and durability of animal leather.
All Avani bags contain only 100% recyclable or natural materials that are dyed with plant based colours. Each accessory is crafted by skilled indigenous Thai artisans using techniques handed down over generations, and the brand prides itself on donating part of their profits back into their workers’ communities to help improve their standard of living.
Made from: Actual leaves and flowers! Prices from: Around $69
From pineapples to handbags! Maniwala uses Piñatex – a durable vegan leather alternative made from pineapple bush leaves – to create their luxurious, timeless and practical bags. And the best part? Unlike most other brands that use Pinatex, they make their accessories without any added plasticisers whatsoever! The result is a more organic fabric that resembles ‘rawhide’ a bit.
The brand is also extremely transparent regarding their entire production chain, which ensures the people and planet are treated with the utmost respect.
Made from: Pure, unplasticised Piñatex Prices from: Around $380
Selected by Net a Porter to be part of their Net Sustain edit, Kayu is a well known accessories brand that uses mainly raffia and straw to create adorable clutches, totes and purses.
The label was founded by California based Jamie Lim, but the bags are made entirely by hand in limited quantities by artisans in the Philippines and Malaysia, as one of Lim’s goals was to help support the preservation of local craftsmanship in these communities.
Kayu uses traditional loom and hand weaving techniques to create most of their range, but we love the newest collection, which features a sustainable batik printing technique on organic cotton and hexagonal handles made from recycled wood.
Made from: Straw, raffia, recycled wood Prices: From around $80
Natural cork and innovative, raw Piñatex® are just two of the sustainable fabrics this eco friendly vegan handbag brand uses to make its chic totes, wallets and backpacks. The linings are all made from recycled plastic bottles and/or organic cotton. Our favourite style has to be the Gemma Backpack (below), which does double duty as a shoulder bag – just change the straps!
Made from: Cork, Pinatex, recycled plastic and organic cotton Prices: From $145
Bobobark and Bebebark by LaFlore is a bit like Svala in that their bags are crafted from organic cork. The other similarity is the design – both brands have designed accessories that serve as three bags in one! The Bobobark is the larger style, big enough for a laptop. The bebebark is the purse-sized version of the bag, and fits a tablet. Both styles can be a hand-held bag, crossbody, or backpack – just change the straps!
These gorgeous, Parisian-designed bags are also waterproof, soften with age, and are as durable as leather – but three times lighter. What’s not to love?
Made from: Pure cork and recycled cotton Prices: from $149
Don’t you love innovation? This brand launched as a wood watches company – which is cool enough! Their vegan timepieces were a hit, but they wanted to do more….so they created a line of eco friendly vegan bags, too. But that’s not all! They decided to create an all new material, called Suberhide.
Based on cork, it has the discernable feel and subtle textures of rich leather, but without any of the cruelty, of course!
We also love the lush, red velvet interiors of these bags, and their substantial, solid-feeling brass hardware.
Made from: Cork based Suberhide Prices: From $149
8. 1 People
Before they launched their eco friendly vegan handbag collection, 1 People wondered which material would be the most sustainable.
Eventually, they decided on Piñatex, for several reasons.
One: it was local to Indonesia, where these Danish-designed bags are produced. Two: although it does contain some plastic, it makes it more durable and long-lasting than other vegan bag materials, like straw or bamboo.
1 People wants you to use their bags forever, so the decision was made.
Today, their Memorable Treasures line is one of their best sellers. Learn more about it in the video below!
Made from: Piñatex Prices: From $149
9. Cult Gaia
Alright, I’m not gonna lie – this brand started out as being super eco-friendly, but lately, it has disappointed.
Initially, all their bags were vegan-and-eco friendly. But more recently, Cult Gaia has started making more of their accessories from acrylic, and get this: leather. Why, why??
Nonetheless, I’ve included them here because the vast majority of their gorgeous purses, totes and clutches are still made from the materials that made this brand famous: wood, raffia and bamboo. Cult Gaia also says they are ‘dedicated to sustainability,’ though there’s not much information on their website about how.
That being said, they do give back, by donating to three charities that support the advancement of Black women and children.
Made from: Straw, bamboo, raffia and wood Prices: From around $250
10. The Jacksons
I love this Notting Hill, London based brand!
Their handcrafted accessories are ethically made by women in Bangladesh. Thanks to their partnership with The Jacksons, these women now have access to free medical care and schools. They are paid directly, which gives them independence and status, empowering them to make decisions within their families.
But the brand isn’t just ethical in terms of empowering women: they also care deeply about the environment and animals. All their fun, cheeky bags are made from 100% cruelty free, eco-friendly materials, such as jute, wood, and even recycled potato chip bags!
Made from: Straw, wood, jute recycled chip bags Prices: From around $50