Sustainable fashion and travel for the conscious woman

Sustainable fashion and travel for the conscious woman


The Best Eco-Friendly Handbag Brands for 2021

If there is any sustainable fashion “investment” you should make, it would be a handbag. Sustainable purse and handbag brands often have a minimalist, modern approach to design and are well-crafted, meaning the bags are timeless items that you’ll keep for years, even decades, to come.

Whether you’re looking for a reliable, everyday crossbody bag, a statement clutch, or a colourful tote that can hold all your things, there’s an ethical alternative to suit every need. 

What to Look for in Sustainable, Ethical Handbags

Materials: The vegan leather industry is constantly innovating to create sustainable alternatives that replicate the texture of leather, minus the environmental impact. From Pinatex’s pineapple leather to solvent-free vegan leather—which uses 95% less water, 50% less energy, and zero chemicals—there are plenty of brands that are using eco-friendly, cruelty-free, vegan leathers. 

If you do want to buy genuine leather, look for brands that use recycled leather, vegetable-tanned leather, or deadstock/offcut leather (meaning the leather used is already in the system, preventing it from ending up in landfills). You’ll also find more brands upcycling waste textiles like old carpets, mountain climbing cords, and vintage clothing to create unique, covetable bags. And brands that use upcycled textiles usually have very small batch production, so you’re unlikely to see anyone else with your handbag.

Social Impact: There are plenty of great brands that work closely with artisan craftspeople around the world, creating handbags from locally-sourced materials such as jute, handwoven brocades, raffia, and other traditional fabrics. Not only do these make for vibrant, beautiful bags that celebrate unique traditions across the world, but the brands tapping into the expertise of artisans are also supporting local economies, creating job opportunities for women, and partnering with local charities to give back to the communities they work with. 

Transparency: Look for brands that prioritize paying fair wages, creating decent working conditions, and producing in a way that reduces their environmental footprint. Brands that work closely with artisan communities or local family-run manufacturers, or produce everything in-house are ensuring that attention to detail is paramount. This means they have greater transparency of production and manufacturing, so you can also rest assured that they know every link in their supply chain.

Many of the bag brands below produce small-batch, limited runs of their handbags, ensuring there is a limited risk of overproduction and waste. If it’s actively doing all of these things, you should be able to find information about it on the brand’s website. A good indicator of a transparent business is how much information is easily accessible to customers — if it’s sharing information about the people who make the items, the factories, and materials used, you know the team has done their research and values transparency.

Timelessness: When buying an ethically made handbag, consider the life cycle of that product. Look for styles and colors that you know will be timeless, multifunctional, and fit into your wardrobe, can be repaired by the brand, or are customizable to fit your exact needs. It’s worth looking into certain fabrics to make sure they are hardwearing and built to withstand years of use and consider the end of life of a product (is it recyclable or biodegradable?).

Here are our favorite brands for sustainable, ethically-made handbags:

Real Leather Brands

ABLE

The empowerment of women is a founding principle of ABLE, an accessories brand based in Nashville. It achieves this by employing and training women as a solution to eradicate poverty, both in the US and in countries like Ethiopia, Mexico, Brazil, and India, where manufacturing partners produce its handbags. ABLE is also committed to transparency, publishing information on its wages in order to promote radical accountability and honesty with the community. As for its bags, ABLE’s designs are simple and practical, with its generously-sized bags made from raw leather.

 

Nisolo

A certified B-Corp business, Nisolo is a footwear and accessories brand that has social impact and transparency at its core. Nisolo publishes annual impact reports, sharing in-depth information about every link of its supply chain—from the living wages paid to employees in its Peruvian factories, to the codes of conduct agreed upon by its partner manufacturers. The brand also has a partnership with Ecosphere+, protecting the Amazon Basin from deforestation and offsetting its carbon emissions with every product sold. To date, Nisolo has protected 138,180 trees and created hundreds of jobs in Indigenous Peruvian communities.

 

Walk With Me

Design, production, and retail happen under the same roof at Walk With Me, a Madrid-based brand that creates minimal and multifunctional handbags using recycled leather and organic cotton. Walk With Me’s bags are made to order to eliminate overproduction, and the brand offers a repair service to ensure bags are long-lasting. The team has also eliminated plastic from their production, so all orders arrive in recycled paper bags.

 

Lidia May

Founded in 2015 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Lidia May is a handbag brand with social impact at its core. Employing a network of women artisans, the brand works closely with the Lidia Hope Centre, a non-profit organization that supports over 400 families living in Dhaka slums, training women in embroidery and providing schooling for their children. For certain collections, 100% of the proceeds from the first 1500 bags sold goes towards funding the Lidia Hope Center School.

 

Behno

Behno, which means “sisters” in Hindi, is a New York brand that values community. Behno is a social enterprise with 6 core founding principles that make up the Behno Standard, ensuring that the company’s artisan employees in India have access to benefits, healthcare, family planning, and education. To achieve this, the brand set up its own factory and produces handbags using leather from tanneries in Italy. Behno makes four signature styles of handbags, as well as seasonal capsule collections, with 20% of profits from these going to charities like the National Down Syndrome Society. 

 

Ashya

Founded in 2017, Ashya creates unisex, utilitarian travel accessories made for “modern-day explorers.” Everything is designed and handmade in New York, where the focus is on producing premium quality, small-batch collections. Ashya’s belt bags, passport holders, and cross-body bags are made from Italian leather and lined with organic cotton canvas, and all the hardware is custom made by a boutique metalsmith in the garment district.

 

Natural Nuance

Natural Nuance is an Austrian/Swedish circular accessories brand that ensures its products can be reused and recycled. Handmade in Europe using naturally tanned leather, the brand designs its bags with minimal use of adhesives and clean, generously sized pieces of leather so that they can be easily deconstructed and given a new life. Natural Nuance has also signed the Global Fashion Agenda 2020 Commitment for Circularity. Read more about why we love Natural Nuance here!

 

Kintu

Since 2015, New York-based brand Kintu has been collaborating with artisans around the world to produce luxury handbags with an emphasis on generational conservation of artistry and craftsmanship. Made in Italy, Kintu bags are constructed using natural vegetable-tanned leather sourced around Europe, while the hardware comes from Kenya and handwoven brocade fabrics in India, making Kintu a truly global artisanal brand. The designs are minimalist, hardwearing, and practical.

 

MZ

MZ is a brand that aims to celebrate and keep alive the traditional handcrafting skills of Zapotec artisans in Oaxaca, Mexico. Designed and handmade by craftspeople and marginalized groups, MZ bags are dyed vivid colours using a variety of natural, locally found ingredients. MZ’s collection includes a large range of bags, from cross-body, shoulder, messenger and yoga bags, to clutches, laptop sleeves, and backpacks, all made with their distinctive Zapotec patterns.

 

Christina Fischer

Eponymous brand Christina Fischer creates minimalist bags that are designed and made to order in Denmark. Using only recycled leather and suede as well as GOTS certified organic cotton for the interior lining, Fischer sources her materials from charity stores around Europe. Her bags are predominantly black and practical, built with longevity in mind. 

 

Brother Vellies

Brother Vellies is a luxury accessories brand based in New York that works with artisans around the world, particularly in Africa, in order to keep traditional design practices alive. The brand has built a network of craftspeople in countries like South Africa, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Italy, and Haiti, who use vegetable tanned leather, upcycled vintage clothing, and hand-carved wooden hardware to make its bags. As a rule, Brother Vellies products never go on sale, and the price points are based on fair labour practices, ensuring the people who make each handbag are treated with respect.

 

Labienhecha

In a studio in Malaga, Spain, Labienhecha was founded in 2019. The designs are minimalist, with a small selection of styles that are entirely customizable, meaning the bag and strap color, strap length, and even monograms can be chosen to create a one-of-a-kind piece. 95% of the sustainable and recycled materials they use, like organic cotton and recycled eco-leather, are sourced in Spain, with detailed information on the origin of their fabrics available online. Labeinhechas also has an online store dedicated to selling its materials in order to encourage other brands to use these ethical alternatives. 

 

MYKILIM

MYKILIM is a French brand that works with Morrocan artisans to create handbags from upcycled materials, including leather offcuts and old carpets, known as Kilim (which is where the brand’s name originates). Collaboration is at the heart of the business: MYKILIM’s designer works alongside the artisans to create unique bags using available materials. Producing in small batch quantities allows MYKILIM to avoid overproduction and preserve its ethical ethos. The brand also prides itself on transparency, as cost breakdowns of raw materials and labour are readily available on their website.

 

Vegan Brands

Allégorie

Founded in 2019 by a team of women in New York, what sets Allégorie apart from others is the unique materials used to make their products: mango, cactus, and apple peels, discarded from farms or rejected from supermarkets. The Gala Tote, for instance, is made from the scraps of around 400 discarded apples, repurposed into a sleek, minimalist bag. Elsewhere, the brand uses plant-based materials and recycled products to create bag lining and packaging. All their products are handcrafted in the Big Apple, supporting local communities along the way.   

 

Svala

Based in LA, Svala is a vegan brand that sources its eco-friendly materials—including Pintatex pineapple leather, cork, vegan PU leather, recycled polyester, and organic cotton—from innovative European mills. Svala’s handbag range includes crossbody bags, clutches, totes, and backpacks in a range of versatile monochrome and metallic colours. Everything is handcrafted in a downtown Los Angeles factory to ensure full transparency and fair working conditions. Not only is Svala part of a carbon offset programme to reduce its carbon footprint, but it also strives to give back, donating 10% of profits to charities like WildAid, a group working to end the illegal wildlife trade.

 

JORD

There are plenty of cork bags out there, and a lot of them are… not so pretty. JORD’s new colored cork bags are uniquely designed in a way I haven’t seen cork before! Its Suberhide Premium Cork Leather is made from the most durable, natural Portuguese cork, and these bags come with a sleek velvet lining, luxury zippers, removable chains, and even a 5-year warranty. As a brand, JORD is committed to thoughtfulness and sustainability throughout its entire manufacturing process.

 

HFS Collective

Based in Los Angeles, HFS Collective uses only recycled, upcycled, deadstock, or low-impact materials to make its hands-free belt and cross-body bags. Founded in 2012, the brand donates 2% of the price of every bag to a rotation of organisations that support the empowerment of women, such as the Geena Davis Institute of Gender and Media and the Rainforest Trust. HFS Collective manufactures its bags a few miles from its LA headquarters to ensure fair wages and decent working conditions. 

 

Mashu

Inspired by art deco interiors and contemporary architecture, Mashu handbags are designed in London and handmade in Greece using sustainable, vegan materials like Pinatex pineapple leather, hemp, jute, and wooden offcuts from furniture manufacturers to make handles (all of which are recyclable). Each one is handmade by artisans in Athens to support the local economy. Plus, every part of Mashu’s packaging is carefully considered to be plastic-free, recycled, and biodegradable, with carbon-neutral shipping as standard. 

 

Alienina

Founded in 2008, Alienina bags are made from 90% waste textiles like sailing and mountain climbing cords, cotton wicks for oil lamps, and materials used for blinds, which are given a new life as knotted handbags. Each piece is handmade using traditional crafting techniques in Italy, so no two Alienina bags are the same. Since its inception, the brand has collaborated with Comme des Garçons on a limited-edition capsule collection, and now has stockists all over the world. 

 

Ulsto

Based in Dresden, Germany, Ulsto is an ethical brand that designs minimalist bags using cork leather and felt made from recycled plastic bottles. The cork is harvested sustainably from cork forests in southern Portugal, where it is bonded with natural adhesives and cut into thin sheets to create a leather alternative material. Since launching in 2016, Ulsto has used 105,000 recycled plastic bottles in their bags. 

 

AAKS

Based in Ghana, AAKS handbags are made from vibrantly coloured raffia, handcrafted by artisans who spend a week making each bag. AAKS aims to keep these traditional weaving crafts alive by creating sustainable jobs, not only for the artisans but for the local family farms where the ecologically harvested raffia is sourced. A testament to the quality and uniqueness of AAKS handbags, each piece comes with a tag to prove its authenticity. 

 

Pixie Mood

Pixie Mood is a Canadian brand that launched in 2010 and creates vegan and cruelty-free bags. The brand’s minimalist styles come in a variety of colours, all made with solvent-free vegan PU leather, which means that unlike regular vegan leather, it uses 95% less water, 50% less energy and zero chemicals in the production process. This year, the brand has started offsetting all the carbon emissions they’ve produced since the brand started, including offering carbon offset shipping to customers. 

 

The Jacksons

Designed in London and handmade by women in South Bangladesh, The Jacksons creates playful ‘word-bags’ made from Jute, a strong, flexible plant-based fibre that is harvested locally. Since launching the partnership in 2012, the brand now employs 5000 women who use macrame handcraft techniques to create each bag. The Jacksons is working to improve the lives of women in Bangladesh by paying them directly for their work, giving them greater independence, financial empowerment, and the ability to support their families. The brand also supports its network of artisans by supplying medical and eye care when needed. 

 

Stella McCartney

It’s impossible to talk about sustainable brands without mentioning Stella McCartney, a brand that has been using vegan leathers in luxury handbags since it launched in 2001. Stella McCartney uses a leather alternative called alter-Nappa for its handbags, which is made from recycled polyester and solvent-free polyurethane. As the vegan leather industry evolves, the brand is exploring innovations in vegan leather, including lab-grown leather.  

 

Kairi London

Kairi London is a brand based and manufacturing in London which creates luxury handbags from vegan plant-based leathers like cactus and apple leather. Kairi’s signature style is a shell-shaped bag—a style made possible through intense material development that allows the leather to be moulded into any shape—something that is uncommon for most plant leathers. Made from 50% upcycled and 50% organic materials, Kairi’s bags are unique in their leather-like feel and premium finish.

 

Kayu

Kayu is a Californian brand that works with women cooperatives in the Philippines to produce their bags. They’re woven from seagrass straw, a natural weed that is harvested and dried by hand, meaning that eventually, the bags will biodegrade. Kayu also works with immigrant women in San Francisco who hand embroider the monograms onto each Kayu bag, which provides them with practical training and a fair income. With the goal to become a zero-waste brand within the next five years, Kayu focuses on both social impact and sustainability across the design and manufacturing process. 

 

Mama Tierra

Mama Tierra, meaning Mother Earth in Spanish, is a brand and NGO based in Switzerland. Working with Wayuu indigenous women in La Guajira, an area between Colombia and Venezuela, the brand’s signature style is brightly patterned crochet bags that are made using traditional artisan weaving techniques. The brand offers pre-payment and working materials to the women they employ, strengthening their financial independence. 

 

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