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.
Why most vegan bags aren’t eco friendly
Most vegan bags 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 it is. 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. That could be 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?
What makes a vegan bag sustainable?
If you want a cruelty-free bag that’s not going to harm the planet, there are few materials you need to look for.
Of course, pure plant based fabrics are best. I’m talking about:
- Coconut fibre
- Organic cotton
These materials are 100% free of plastics, are fast growing, and make for wonderful vegan bags. Especially summer styles!
You’ve probably heard of a lot of other plant based textiles lately, like:
- Cactus leather
- Apple leather
- Corn leather
Those are great, too. And they have a way, way lower ecological footprint than leather or plastic. However, you should know that most such plant-based leathers also involve some degree of plastic in their mix to ensure they stay solid.
That being said, a few innovative companies are using these kinds of textiles without any plastics whatsoever. And other brands are recycling and upcycling existing nylon, polyesters, acrylics, and plastic bottles to create sturdy vegan accessories.
Read on to see which!
10 Eco Friendly Vegan Handbag Brands
1. 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 luxurious handbags 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 as one of the best eco friendly vegan handbag brands. Why? Well, because the vast majority of their gorgeous purses, totes and clutches are still made from the materials that made this brand famous. These include 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, we know they do give back. They do so by donating to three charities that support the advancement of Black women and children.
Made from: Straw, bamboo, raffia, coconut fibre and wood
Prices: From around $250
2. Lo & Sons
Specialising in bags for work and travel, Lo & Sons uses mainly nylon in their creations. But of course, this is sourced from upcycled fabrics. Plus, the lining of many of their designs is derived from organic cotton.
To improve their use of fabrics, this Asian-family owned business partnered with The Renewal Workshop. This company is the leading provider of circular solutions for apparel and textile brands. With their help, Lo & Sons stopped over 2,500 pounds of textile waste from reaching landfills so far. They’ve also ensured all their packaging is recyclable.
This eco friendly vegan handbag brand is definitely a part of the growing circular economy. Which is a great thing!
Made from: Recycled nylon, deadstock, and organic cotton
Prices: From around $250
Bags should be practical. Washable. Big enough to hold everything you need, from a laptop to a lipstick. And that’s exactly the criteria Rothy’s keeps in mind when it comes to designing their bags.
But practicality isn’t their only priority – sustainability is, too. And that’s why the brand uses plastic rescued from the oceans to spin the yarn that makes their bags. That’s not all – they also use 3D knitting techniques to ensure each item is made with zero waste.
Made from: Rescued ocean plastic
Prices from: Around $245
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®. This has a very small ecological footprint indeed – yet 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. The brand also prides itself on donating part of their profits back into their workers’ communities to help improve their standard of living. Definitely one of the most eco friendly vegan handbag brands in the world!
Made from: Actual leaves and flowers, and plant based dyes.
Prices from: Around $69
From pineapples to handbags! Maniwala is another of the most eco friendly vegan handbag brands on Earth. They use 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. None whatsoever! The result is a more organic fabric that resembles ‘rawhide’ a bit.
The brand is also extremely transparent regarding their entire production chain. When you check it out, you can see that people and planet are treated with the utmost respect.
Made from: Pure, unplasticised Piñatex
Prices from: Around $380
Natural cork and raw Piñatex are just two of the plant based 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, too.
Our favourite style? It has to be the Gemma Backpack (on the left, below). It 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 are crafted from organic cork. Plus, these gorgeously designed accessories 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 highly covetable, Parisian-designed bags are also waterproof, soften with age, and are as durable as leather – but three times lighter. As for sustainability, these eco friendly vegan handbags are actually biodegradable. 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. One of the best vegan bag brands around, for sure!
Made from: Cork based Suberhide
Prices: From $149
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