Nothing completes a look like a leather handbag—whatever the season. The accessory is a timeless investment, guaranteed to go with a number of different outfits. But the material comes with a few major downsides. It’s cruel to animals and its impact on the environment is significant. So how do you achieve the same look, but without the negative consequences? One solution is to opt for vegan leather handbags.
What Is Leather?
Leather is one of the oldest materials known to humankind. It’s made from tanning animal hide. Cows are most commonly associated with leather, but it can also be taken from sheep, goats, pigs, and even camels and horses. Exotic animals can also be used for leather, like crocodiles and alligators, snakes, and lizards.
Due to its reliance on animals, traditional leather is an inherently cruel industry. Many believe it is a byproduct of the meat industry, but animal protection organization Animals Australia says this is not the case. It notes, “It’s true that usually an animals’ meat can also be sold (such as in the case of cattle and sheep), their skin can still represent a significant portion of the income made on the sale of their body parts.“
The organization continues, “Leather is rather a ‘co-product’ of the meat industry and may contribute to driving demand for more animals to be raised and killed.” It adds that every single animal used for leather must endure the pain and suffering of slaughter. Prior to this, some are subject to castration, de-horning, and branding without any pain relief.
The Environmental Impact of Leather
The leather industry is also taking a toll on the environment. In 2016, the Brazilian cattle industry—which also produces beef—was responsible for 14 percent of the world’s annual deforestation. In 2019, reports of fires in the Amazon rainforest dominated the headlines. These fires had links to cattle ranchers.
Ane Alencar, scientific director of Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental Research in Amazonia), said at the time: “These are not wildfires, but rather fires set by people seeking to create cattle ranches, intentionally ignited during the dry season each year. They cut the trees, leave the wood to dry and later put fire to it so that the ashes can fertilize the soil.“
Types of Vegan Leather
If you want to avoid the cruelty and environmental impact of traditional leather, there are a number of vegan leathers available. Here are five different types of up-and-coming cruelty-free leathers.
1. Fruit-Based Leather
Yes. You can make vegan leather out of fruit.
The most common fruit-based leather is pineapple-based Piñatex. A number of brands have created accessories from Piñatex, including H&M, Mercer Amsterdam, Nature Footwear, and Urban Outfitters. Piñatex uses pineapple leaves to create a durable, functional, and sustainable alternative to traditional animal-based leather.
Apples can also be used to make leather. Volkswagen’s new electric car, for example, uses AppleSkin for its seats. The band produces its vegan leather from apple juice waste. Italian footwear brand Womsh offers sneakers made from apple leather. It uses the cores and skins of apples discarded from industrial processes.
Grape leather is also a thing. The new electric Bentley concept car features vegan leather seats made from grape skins.
2. Mushroom Leather
It’s not all about fruit. Mushrooms can also form the basis of vegan leather. German company Zvnder specializes in mushroom leather accessories. Zvnder makes the material from Fomes fomentarius, a fungus shaped like a horse’s hoof. It grows on weak or dying birch and beech trees. Earlier this year, German shoe company nat-2 teamed up with Zvnder to launch mushroom leather sneakers.
3. Corn Leather
At the beginning of the year, fashion label Veja launched a new vegan sneaker range made with CAMPO. The material—which took five years to develop—is made out of leftover corn from the food industry.corn. The shoes have the texture and look of traditional leather.
4. Coffee Leather
As well as mushroom leather, Nat-2 has also released a range of vegan sneakers made from coffee leather. Nat-2 repurposes coffee grounds to produce its leather. According to the brand, the coffee used depends on which is the most sustainable to harvest at the time. The coffee sneakers are available in high top and low top designs and contain up to 50 percent coffee. They even smell like coffee.
5. Lab-Grown Leather
Modern Meadow uses cellular agriculture to make cruelty-free leather. The startup makes the vegan material—which isn’t yet available—with a bioengineered form of yeast. It’s a multi-step process and one part is similar to brewing beer. According to the biotech startup, it has a similar smell and texture to animal-based leather. It’s more efficient than traditional leather, as it only takes two weeks to make, and doesn’t require raising or slaughtering any animals.
7 Vegan Leather Handbags
If you want to buy a vegan leather handbag, there are a number of brands to choose from, each offering a variety of styles. Here are seven different brands offering vegan leather handbags.
Founded in 2013, sustainable boutique fashion brand JORD is known for its innovative use of natural and reclaimed materials. Since its launch, it has specialized in unique wooden watches, but last year the brand decided to branch out into vegan leather handbags.
Available in a variety of styles and designs to suit every occasion, JORD’s collection of luxury wallets and handbags use Suberhide—its very own vegan leather.
To ensure a strong and flexible structure, JORD fuses thin layers of Portuguese cork tree bark together over a natural, woven fabric. This durable luxury material is tear, abrasion, and stain resistant.
JORD’s material choices are made with sustainability at the heart. According to the brand, the cork oak tree is one of only three trees in the world that continues to thrive after being harvested for bark, helping to absorb carbon dioxide from the air.
Salman Shah, JORD’s co-founder and designer, says the brand wants to “empower individuals to purchase with purpose.”
He said in a statement: “We should not be forced to make a choice between high quality or environmentally conscious. JORD exists because the world needs it. You need it. If our pieces can start a conversation about style, they can certainly spark discussion on how designers and consumers can be more aware of the impact they have on this planet.”
All of JORD’s handbags and wallets feature embossed hardware, with smooth YKK zippers, and its shoulder bag straps are expandable for your convenience.
Need a new evening bag? Check out the Haifa design. Available in three colors, the crossbody purse is stylish, elegant, and practical too, thanks to its interlocking, removable chain strap. Heading out on a day trip? The sleek Binca backpack has enough space for all the essentials, yet still feels compact and lightweight.
Check Jord out here.
2. Cher Tote By Angela Roi
Ethical clothing brand Angela Roi offers a wide range of handbag styles, all of which are leather-free. The Light Gray Cher Tote—made with EPOL vegan leather—is the ideal work bag. EPOL is Exquisite Polyurethane Leather, which takes fewer resources to make than traditional leather. It also doesn’t harm any animals.
Buy the bag here.
3. Black Shopper By Alexandra K
PETA-approved Alexandra K uses vegan, environmentally-friendly Freedom Leather to make its accessories. According to the brand, the plastic-free material consists of silicone, a material “admired for its sustainability qualities.” Alexandra K notes on its website, “not only is it less intrusive on the environment, but the production of it is less taxing on natural resources.“
Buy the bag here.
4. Backpack By Matt & Nat
Matt & Nat’s name comes from the words “material” and “nature.” The brand is committed to staying away from animal-based materials, including leather. Instead, it uses different recycled materials, including nylon, cardboard, rubber, cork, and even bicycle tires. It offers a range of handbag styles, including the Brave Backpack in Chalet, ideal for days out with friends or family.
Buy the bag here.
5. Crossbody By Eve Cork
As the name suggests, Eve Cork uses cork to make its products. According to the brand, harvesting the bark from cork trees helps them to live longer and produce more oxygen. Its products—which include handbags and wallets—are ethically-made in Portugal. Its Eiffel Crossbody Purse is the ideal accessory to invest in, it goes with everything, from an evening dress to a jeans and jumper combo.
Buy the bag here.
6. Clutch By Ahimsa Collective
The Ahimsa Collective uses pineapple-based piñatex to make its Clutch Courage bag. To make the lining, the brand uses Ecoprene fabric, which consists of recycled polyester, as well as old clothing and carpets. The black Clutch Courage is the ideal night-out-on-the-town accessory.
Buy the bag here.
7. Bucket Bag By Corkor
Corkor produces bags in Portugal with sustainably-sourced cork. The PETA-approved Bucket Bag is roomy enough for use as an everyday handbag or sports or overnight bag.
Buy the bag here.
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