Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Cuyana #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Cuyana
Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Carry Courage #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Carry Courage
Image by O My Bag

15 Ethical & Eco Friendly Handbags And Purses To Carry Your Load

*This post contains affilate links


Here at Sustainable Jungle, we’ve got sustainability in the bag… well, we’re doing our best anyway.

Even though we consider zero waste and sustainable living to BE our bag, we recently got to thinking about what our literal bag is. Are the bags we use every day ethically and sustainably made?

For many, the answer is no because the handbag industry has more problems than most in the overall fashion umbrella (thanks leather). So how can we make sure we’re buying something that doesn’t harm anyone or anything?  

Fair trade handbags and purses, eco friendly handbags and purses, ethical handbags and purses, sustainable…. the list of key phrases that pop up are overwhelming and it seems like there are so many factors to consider.

Truth is, there are, but don’t stress…we did all the work for you using our sustainability criteria which you can find at the bottom of the article. 

Now, please hold our bag while we dish out the dirt on where to buy the best eco friendly purses and handbags.

Under the vegan category, Elvis & Kresse impressed us with their recycled handbags (made of fire hose) and extremely generous charitable giving. And Malia Designs also makes use of recycled materials for creating their fair trade purses and handbags.

For non-vegan but still eco friendly handbags, we love Mariclaro’s innovative use of recycled materials which are also used in their ethical, fair trade purses, as well as Cuyana’s beautifully elegant and sustainably tanned leather handbags.

QUICKLINKS FOR ETHICAL, FAIR TRADE PURSES AND HANDBAGS


Vegan Ethical Handbags and Purses

1. ELVIS & KRESSE

Image by Elvis & Kresse
About Elvis & Kresse

Since 2005 Certified B Corp and Social Enterprise Business for Good Elvis & Kresse have been rescuing raw material and turning it into ultra classy laptop sleeves, tablet cases, wallets, backpacks, duffels, purses, briefcases, and belts for both men and women.  Big or small fair trade handbags, they’ve got it all.  

Guided by the three pillars: Rescue, Transform, and Donate, this brand was founded as a rescue mission for all the London Fire Brigade’s decommissioned fire-hoses headed to the landfill. Even though they’ve expanded to many other reclamation projects, this Fire and Hide Collection is still one of their most unique and bag-nificicent.

Psst…. They even do custom and personalized products! Just reach out.

Elvis & Kresse’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

Elvis & Kresse believe “story laden materials of incredible character” are “the future of luxury”. All their bags are made entirely of things like discarded fire hoses, auction banners, military parachute silk (for the linings), air traffic control flight strips, and used up printing blankets.  All cleaned until they look like new. 

In 2017, they started a 5-year exclusive partnership with the Burberry Foundation to help save the 800,000 tonnes of leather that end up being left over post-production by making a collection out of these small leather cut-offs. Each bag contains about 48 small scraps. Note that this collection is not vegan, though their Fire-hose Collection is.

Now they’re even beginning to use hardware (like buckles and D-rings) made from littered aluminum cans as part of their Solar Forge Aluminum Rescue Project.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

These bags are either made in-house at their Kent workshop (which is an open workshop meaning anyone can pop in for a tour anytime) or in their own factory in Istanbul, Turkey. 

Transparency throughout is of the utmost importance: “We are genuinely open, transparent, kind and run open-book accounting with all our stakeholders and associated charities. All our staff are paid very well. We don’t accept any sort of discrimination in the workplace and we do not believe in treating anyone unfairly.

Green business practices: 

Elvis & Kresse’s impact is really quite something!  For over a decade, NO London fire hose has gone to the landfill and they’ve helped reclaim over 200 tons of waste material.

Even their packaging is recycled from a hodge-podge of materials like jute or hessian coffee and tea sacks (which they use for a variety of things, like the string for their hang tags), tea bag paper, and shoe boxes.

They also offer lifetime repairs on any product, manufacture fully on renewable energy in a restored mill, and never hold sales (they feel strongly about this) so as to not promote impulsive purchasing of things one doesn’t need.

Community & charitable giving

This brand takes the cake for charitable initiatives; they donate 50% of their profits to organizations like Fire Fighters Charity (to which their most recent donation was over £50,000), Help for Heroes, Barefoot College (who train women in rural areas to become solar engineers), British Forces Foundation, The Costa Foundation, WWF, and two sustainable coffee plantations in Nicaragua and Guatemala.

Available: Elvis & Kresse


2. MALIA DESIGNS

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Malia Designs #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Malia Designs
About Malia Designs

Malia Designs represents harmony between western and eastern cultures, specifically that of Cambodia. Drawing inspiration from the Angkor temples and the colorful streets of Phnom Penh, their huge selection of fair trade vegan purses includes those of every shape and size imaginable. Whatever your exact style is, they’ve got something unique just for you to #CARRYACAUSE

Malia started small back in 2005, selling these conversation-starters at trunk shows, street festivals, and from founder Lia’s living room.  Now their affordable ethical purses are found in over 250 US retailers.

Malia Designs’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

All of Malia’s sustainable materials for handbags are recycled and thus these designs help reduce the world’s waste.  You’ll find bags made from recycled feed bags, cement bags, cotton canvas sourced from leftover rolls of fabric from Cambodia garment factories), and upcycled denim. 

Supply chain & labor practices: 

To create economic opportunity for Cambodians living in high risk areas for human trafficking, Malia works with three fair fashion cooperatives that are women-led and employ over 300 people of disadvantaged groups such as women, the deaf, and disabled individuals.  

One of these groups even offers a choice between home-based employment or living accommodations attached to the workshop.

Community & charitable giving: 

More than anything, Malia Designs wants to break the cycle of human trafficking in Cambodia and they’ve donated over $160,000 toward the cause through organizations like Stop Traffick and Damnok Toek, a 100% Cambodian-run NGO that assists vulnerable children and trafficking victims.

In fact, they’ve been partners with Damnok Toek for over a decade. Through their donations, they’ve helped provide bunk beds, education supplies, transportation, and vocational training for young women without as many employment opportunities.  

In addition to all that, they provide grants and loans to their artisan groups for workshop expansion, training, and new equipment.

Available: Malia Designs


3. MARAND (NUUWAÏ ETHICAL FAIR TRADE HANDBAGS)

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Marand #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Marand
About Marand

Marand is a retailer of sustainable and ethical goods that partners with smaller brands to sell their wares.  For bags, they currently have four artisan partnerships: Pelletteria Veneta, Roberta Gandolf, Diboni, and Nuuwaï. For this particular article, we’re most interested in Nuuwaï’s stylish ethical handbags.

Nuuwaï offers PETA-approved vegan handbags. They use only Apple Leather in their wallets, bucket bags, hip belt purses (aka fancy fanny packs), and backpacks that are both fashionable and functional, with a padded inner compartment for laptops and tablets. 

Nuuwaï only just got started in 2018, but they’ve already been voted  BEST vegan brand of 2019 by Eluxe magazine.

Marand’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

Marand’s Nuuwaï uses apple leather for the outer of their eco sustainable handbags. Apple leather is made from apple industry scraps.  How is it made?  First, they dry the apple scraps before milling it into a fine powder.  Then they mix in 50% PU, place it on a cotton sheet, and wash it until pliable.

The inner lining of these bags is recycled ocean plastic that’s leftover by the larger Spanish brand EcoAlf, whom regular readers will know is one of favorites sustainable fashion brands

Supply chain & labor practices: 

Apple leather made in Italy by Frumat, but the bags are manufactured in a Sedex SMETA 6.0 certified factory in India that uses zero waste manufacturing methods.

Marand only seeks out partners “who reject mass production methods and instead embrace slower, traditional methods of bag creation and fair pay for their employees”. So even if you buy a leather bag by one of the other Marand artisans, it’s still made ethically by hand in either Italy or Germany, where the leathers are also sourced. 

Green business practices: 

Marand has partnered with EcoEnclose for all their recycled shipping materials. All EcoEnclose boxes and fillers consist of 95% post-consumer waste and 5% post-industrial waste, are sealed with biodegradable tape, and are made in the USA.

Available: Marand


4. MADISON GRACE

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Madison Grace #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Madison Grace
About Madison Grace

Who is Madison Grace? From this brand’s mouth, “She’s the ‘it girl’ who gives a care. She’s that one friend who always seems to be effortlessly chic and ‘in the know’. She believes that eco + ethical can also be stylish + elevated.”  And judging by their modest selection of mini sustainable backpacks, round straw bags, and a straw clutch, and totes, who could help but agree? 

Madison Grace is also the name of the daughter that founder Claire Pettibone never got to have.  Claire is incredibly open and honest about her journey and founded this company to show other women that hope and grace are restorative, a lesson she sees as applicable to so many social and environmental plights in the world:

“Themes that are born from faith but also parallel this ethical lifestyle industry- restoring a broken system, redeeming communities and bringing hope to a dark place.”

Everything they do is guided by their patent-pending 5Gs: GIVE Ethical Work, GIVE Opportunity, GIVE Green, GIVE Back, all #forthosewhoGIVEacare

Madison Grace’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

Madison Grace’s bags are varied in style… and thus the materials vary, too.  All of them are what we would classify as sustainable fabrics including palm leaves, vegan leather deadstock, jute, and natural sisal cord (for the handles).

Note some are vegan options and others with deadstock leather are technically not.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

While all designed in Orange County, California, each different bag is manufactured in a different location, though all are chosen specifically to give opportunities to marginalized communities

The palm bags are handmade by Socco Designs in Morocco, the Quinn Mini Backpack in the Philippines by artisans in marginalized communities which provides them dignified work opportunities. The Not. Your. Ordinary. Bag. jute tote by India’s Freeset, a social enterprise that employs female victims of sex trafficking. 

MG itself doesn’t hold any ethical certifications, but some of its partners are. They write, “We only curate and create products that are ethically made. Our products are responsibly made by ensuring supply chains are treating their workers fairly and responsibly.”

Green business practices: 

Madison Grace hopes to be carbon neutral by 2022.  Until then, they reduce their impact by doing things such as using USA-made, FSC certified, and/or biodegradable shipping materials. 

Community & charitable giving: 

A member of 1% For The Planet, they maintain a long-term giving relationship with Charity Charge.  They also have a seasonally changing giving partner.  For summer 2020, that partner is Feeding America through which they provide seven meals to those in need for each sale. 

They’ve also been donating small tokens of gratitude (and asking their customers to help) to health care workers as thanks for their dedication during these difficult times.

Available: Madison Grace


5. CARRY COURAGE

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Carry Courage #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Carry Courage
About Carry Courage

Carry Courage started via 9-to-5 burnout (we’ve all been there). After realizing her office job wasn’t inspiring her, Marisa took a courageous step to live her dream… and give other women the courage to do so as well! 

They invite you to carry courage in the form of their “organizing solutions for intentional women”, which includes essential oil bags, tablet clutches, and cosmetics bags that can double for an earthy and stylish clutch any day.

Carry Courage’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

These sustainable vegan handbags are made of a buttery soft yet durable cork exterior with linen lining, making them PETA-approved vegan.

Not only is cork a renewable and sustainable material (made from a tree that absorbs 5x the CO2 as regular trees because they grow so quickly), it also makes for environmentally friendly handbags that are easily washable with some mild dish soap (like any of these natural zero waste dish soaps)

Supply chain & labor practices: 

Carry Courage’s cork is sourced from the world’s cork mecca: Portugal,  where it is grown sustainably and sourced under strict harvesting regulations.  Their linen is organically grown at a family-owned farm in the US and the metal hardware also comes from a US woman-owned company.

As for manufacturing, that all takes place in their fair labor studio in Portland, Oregon.

Green business practices: 

Each Carry Courage piece is hand sewn in small mostly made-to-order batches, which eliminates lots of machine emissions and wasted overstock.  It also guarantees customers with “heirloom quality” pieces that will last for generations.

Available: Carry Courage  |  EcoVibe


6. HFS COLLECTIVE

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by HFS Collective #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by HFS Collective
About HFS Collective

HFS Collective was founded in 2012 by mother-daughter power duo Debra and Rachel Denniston. These thoughtfully made belt bags, crossbodies, bottle bags (for literal wine bottles, because you never know when you’ll need one by the end of the day), and wallets are stunningly simple with a minimalist vibe because: 

“We celebrate the joy of less and the freedom inherent in living life hands-free. Our belt bags, designed to fit just the essentials, are a reminder of the ease of living a life of simplicity–a life filled with more experience, happiness, wholeness and joy in exchange for less stuff.”

HFS Collective’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

HFS’s materials include recycled and deadstock materials, Pinatex, deadstock raffia, hemp, cork, organic cotton, and vintage denim.  Their eco suedes are entirely vegan and sustainable, made from post-industrial recycled polyester and post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.

Even the recycled plastic items meet OEKO-Tex 100 standards for being free from VOCs, formaldehyde, pesticides, chlorine, heavy metals, carcinogens, and allergen dyes.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

By manufacturing fully in their home city of Los Angeles, these are truly ethical made in the USA purses. 

In fact, most are made in a small, family-run factory that’s a “safe, happy and healthy workplace” just a few miles from their office. They personally know every person that helps make their bags.

Community & charitable giving: 

The HFS charitable community is vast, and they’ve worked in some capacity with numerous organizations to fight back against things like domestic violence and sexism.  These include LA’s TreePeople, the anti-sweatshop organization Garment Worker Center, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Rainforest Trust, The National All Girls, Farm Sanctuary, Haven Hills, Mercy For Animals (MFA). 

Most recently, they’ve been using Direct Relief to provide financial aid for out of work garment workers during COVID-19.

Available: HFS Collective


7. GUNAS

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Gunas #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Gunas
About GUNAS

Any fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix?  Maybe a particular handbag of mysterious Madam Lulu caught your eye. That’s GUNAS for you!  With big bow accents and vibrant colors, these fun ethical fashion handbags named after and inspired by great female figures like Dr. Jane Goodall will leave you feeling ready to conquer the world.

GUNAS is a female-owned ethical vegan handbag brand started by Sugandh G. Agrawal under the core belief that “[a]nimals are NOT meant to be a part of fashion. We can look and feel good without harming other living beings.”

From small clutches and wristlets to everything-but-the-kitchen-sink holding bucket bags and satchels, their award-winning products have snagged titles like Instyle’s Best Green Handbag Designer (2015), PETA’s Vegan Fashion Awards winner,  and The Common Objective’s Best Ethical Fashion Accessories Brand (2012).

GUNAS’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

GUNAS’ main material for their bags is a PVC-free premium “Eco Polyurethane” that makes for some high-quality PETA-approved vegan leather.

Why vegan leather?  Because “[l]eather not only causes suffering for the animals but also causes harm to our environment, the people that produce it and also those who choose to wear it”. And while they know plastic vegan leather alternatives are not perfect, they still “account for only a fraction of petroleum used in contrast to leather”.

In 2018, they started using a plastic-free vegan leather made from MULBTEXTM, made of a cotton base coated with waterproof mulberry plant leaf pulp. Check it out in several of their women’s bags, and their men’s Moby bag, the world’s first plant-based men’s bag.

Their bags also feature a lining made of recycled plastic bottles (rPET) and recycled metal hardware with 18K Gold plating.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

When launched in 2009, GUNAS was originally an all MADE IN NYC label, but they’ve since searched for ethical manufacturers in countries like India, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Hong Kong, and China.  

Now, all their bags are made by a group of small artisan studios in Seoul, South Korea, where the makers are paid above average wages.  They personally visit these studios annually to maintain their ethical standards.

Their brand manifesto states, “We make “victim-free” fashion full of love for all. We will not participate in any kind of exploitation, be it towards our planet, people or animals.”

Community & charitable giving: 

Aside from not promoting the exploitation and harm of animals, they support animal welfare groups and sanctuaries such as the K9 Youth Alliance, Save-A-Pet, Vegan Outreach, Wild Tomorrow Fund, and so many more.

Available: GUNAS


Ethical, Fair Trade Purses and Handbags

8. O My Bag

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by O My Bag #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by O My Bag
About O My Bag

In the words of our next brand, “The bag you carry tells a story, let it be a good one.”  

Based in Amsterdam (but shipping globally!), O My Bag knows the value of doing things the green way, and hence all their sustainable leather handbags for men and women are carefully crafted using an “eco-tanning” process.  They won the 2015 Sustainable Leather Awards for their products. 

Clean manufacturing for a super clean and minimalist look that will pair well with any capsule wardrobe.

O My Bag’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

Some of the best ethical purses in the non-vegan category, these bags are made of uncoated (so no synthetic finish) vegetable “wet white” tanned leather. Read more about their specific leathers and the vegetable tanning process.

Essentially, they tan without any VOCs or harmful chemicals like chromium, heavy metals, and formaldehyde (verified by independent SGS laboratory testing). They claim it’s so clean that leftover leather can be used as fertilizer. This method means 35700mg of harmful chemicals are avoided per Dirty Harry handbag.

They also have a line of ethical canvas purses that only feature leather handles and accents. This canvas is made from the same non-GMO GOTS organic cotton as their bag liners and dust bags.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

O My Bag’s fair trade purses begin with their two tanneries: Sheong Shi Tannery in Kolkata, India, and Conceria Nuova Grenoble in Tuscany, Italy.  Both source cowhides locally as meat by-products or from cows that died a natural death.

Sheong Shi sourced hides less than 100km away, uses rainwater collected on-site in their production, has a U-shape design so daylight can come in everywhere thus saving energy, and has a primary effluent treatment plant to treat water before it goes to the district treatment plant. Boots, gloves, and other protective gear are mandatory to protect the workers.

Conceria Nuova Grenoble is a member of the eco-tannery group, the Genuine Italian Vegetable Tanned Leather Consortium.  They’re family-run, purify their production water, and have waste management systems in place to recycle production substances.

Next comes manufacturing. Each product page tells you which of their four factories it was produced in, all located around Kolkata, India. Each one must abide by the Code of Conduct, is SA8000 certified, and one of them (EMA) is also a member of the World Fair Trade Organization. 

They promise, “Every O My Bag is created with love in a safe and positive atmosphere: fair wages are paid, benefits are provided for, education and training are offered, and women and minorities are given equal-work opportunities.”

Green business practices: 

OMG, O My Bag’s sustainability movements are so numerous. Best is their new Second Hand Program, which has so far rehomed 291 unwanted bags. Shop the Pre-loved Library here. Similarly in the name of slow fashion, they also provide Care & Repair guides to help you extend the life of your product. 

Packaging includes a choice between either FSC-certified recycled cardboard boxes or RePack reusable bags.  If you return your RePack, you get 10% off an order from ANY brand that’s a RePack partner.

They also use 100% renewable energy to power their office and stores and offer carbon-neutral global shipping by funding the Envira Amazonia project and initiatives to provide Indian households with cleaner cook stoves. Read more about in their downloadable Sustainability Report.

Community & charitable giving: 

Each Black Friday, O My Bag donates their profits to a different charity. In 2018, they gave over €9,000 to ‘The Cup’ in Kolkata, a Freeset Global café that provides employment for women working in Kolkata’s largest red light district.

They also organize other giving campaigns, like their Bags for Bags in 2017, where they donated 3000 school bags to Brickfield School children in 2018.

Available: O My Bag


9. CUYANA

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Cuyana #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Cuyana
About Cuyana

San Francisco brand Cuyana (meaning “love” in Quechua) is guided by just two words:  “Fewer, better.”  They know that the secret to sustainable fashion lies not in abundance of “green” but in a few, long lasting pieces.  That’s why they vow to 1) produce responsibly, 2) maximize life, and 3) extend wear. 

These ethical luxury handbags and purses may come at quite the cost to your existing coin purse, but their quality guarantees the investment will last you for years and years.  Plus, with a huge array of styles, big and small, in so many soft pastels and nature-inspired neutrals, you’ll never feel the need to buy another handbag again.

Cuyana’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

Cuyana’s bags are made of Italian Leather that bears a Leather Working Group (LWG) Gold certification. This certification means it’s fully traceable and tanned using minimal chemicals, energy, and water consumption, and with maximum waste management and effluent treatment.

As per company research, 95% of their leather products are sustainably made with a goal of 100% by 2022.

They also make an FSC certified raffia tote, though the raffia is turned into viscose via an unknown method which we will confirm with them.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

With a supply chain of global craftsmen and traditional fabric mills across Italy, U.S., Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Turkey, China, and Portugal one might think they have a big shipping impact.  Not so. While they work with many countries, most goods are made in (or near) the same country as raw material sourcing.

In the case of their bags, they source leather mostly from Italy and manufacture the bags nearby in Turkey. Only a small amount of leather comes from Argentina.

Most entities are small family-run businesses that prioritize manual “heritage production techniques that have largely been left behind by modern mass manufacturing”. And all of them are independently audited, have agreed to the vendor code of conduct, and are regularly visited by the Cuyana admin team.

Green business practices: 

Remember, two of Cuyana’s main values are to maximize life and extend wear.  That’s why they offer a comprehensive 2-year warranty on all bags, repair services beyond the warranty, and an in-store leather refresh service. 

While they do not have a recycling option at the moment, they’re committed “to further expanding your second life options over time so that every Cuyana product – no matter the condition – can live a second life.”

They also have zero waste online store events from time to time, where you can buy overstock and excellent condition returned pieces at big markdowns. They tell you exactly why the item is marked lower, too, so no unpleasant surprises when it arrives.

Community & charitable giving: 

As part of their Lean Closet movement, Cuyana has recently partnered with thredUP (one of the best online thrift stores) to encourage people to get rid of clothes they don’t wear.

Send unwanted garments to thredUP and you’ll receive payment in the form of Cuyana store credits.  Once you spend these credits, Cuyana will donate 5% of the profits to H.E.A.R.T. (Helping Ease Abuse Related Trauma).

Also be sure to check out the Cuyana Women Series for stories and conversations with innovators, entrepreneurs, and cultural leaders.

Available: Cuyana


10. NISOLO

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Nisolo #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Nisolo
About Nisolo 

Nashville’s Nisolo (another brand that makes some ethical leather sandals), makes ethical leather handbags of all sorts, big and small.  Each one is lined with artisanal hand woven Peruvian fabrics.

Aside from making ethical shoes, sandals, and accessories of their own, this certified B Corp aims “to push the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction – where success is based on more than just offering the cheapest price – a direction that not only values exceptional design, but the producer and the planet just as much as the end consumer.”

Nisolo’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices 

Materials: 

Nisolo bags are mainly made of nubuck and suede leathers, sourced only as a by-product of the meat industry. To gain full traceability for these leathers, they’ve personally visited and vetted all leather tanneries, many of which are certified by the Leather Working Group.

They also have some bags made with a cotton canvas body, vegetable tanned leather straps, and copper rivets. These are our favorites as they’re definitely the most sustainable.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

Nisolo manufactures between three factories: one which they own in Trujillo, Peru, and two partner factories in Leon, Mexico and Nairobi, Kenya. Their website includes detailed wage and condition information about each, and each product description states where it was made.

All factories must adhere to their strict Code of Conduct, which includes things like only hiring those over 18, and they help enforce these rules with the help of the supply chain consulting group ACCOUNTABLE, which provides them social impact assessments.

Nisolo is committed to providing a living wage to all their employees. Joining the Lowest Wage Challenge and published their lowest wage employee, who earned $276 a month (a 47% increase in the average earnings for residents of Trujillo and still above Nisolo’s calculations for the area’s living wage). 

They also provide in-house yoga and fitness classes, and training on topics like finances, health, nutrition, and English.

Green business practices: 

Nisolo offset their emissions with Ecosphere+ , specifically protecting trees from deforestation in the Cordillera Azul of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest.

Number loving folks can read more in their latest Impact Report.

Community & charitable giving: 

Nisolo is cultivating a community of sustainable brands with their Ethical Marketplace, where they also sell products of other sustainably-minded brands to encourage sustainable living outside the closet.

They’ve also recently launched the Shoe Reclamation Program as part of their Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) Commitment to Circular Fashion to collect at least 5,000 pairs of shoes for reuse by the end of 2020. Every shoe they collect, they’re donating to needy people through Soles4Souls. Charity AND reducing waste!

Available:  Nisolo


11. MARICLARO

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Mariclaro #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Mariclaro
About Mariclaro

Mariclaro is a Canadian upcycle fashion brand inspired during the election season in Mexico in 2008.  When founder Sven Schlegel (who was in Mexico pursuing his PhD) looked around and saw all the election banners, he got an idea, and the first Mariclaro bag was born. 

Now, they curate a huge stock of bespoke unisex ethical handbags made out of unique and unusual recycled materials – innovation which earned them the Globe Award for Environmental Excellence for best green Canadian product in 2011. They write:

“We steadfastly believe that repurposed materials are far more interesting – rich with stories and character – worked in, not worn out – they set the design apart.”

These sustainable purses from Canada include wallets, shoulder bags, messenger bags, briefcases, and weekender duffels made from things like reused leather airplane seat covers.  Not only do they make bags from these materials, but they’ve now partnered with brands like Mercedes Benz, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines to make merchandise for them.

Mariclaro’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

The most sustainable materials for handbags are those that already exist, and since Mariclaro uses entirely upcycled materials, they’ve got sustainability in the bag.

This includes upcycled leather upholstery from furniture, aviation seats, and vintage cars.  Even the straps and closures are crafted from repurposed seatbelt straps and buckles. For some really interesting pieces, be sure to check out their ZEIT.WORKS collection, which is specifically made from rare luxury vintage cars.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

Aside from their airline materials (which are sent to them from various airline headquarters), Mariclaro’s supply chain is kept close to their Ontario headquarters. 

The leather and upholstery offcuts come from factories in Toronto, while the auto interiors come from wrecking yards in Ontario and New York, a reclamation process of which they write, “You can not imagine how much fun it is.” They keep track of where every piece comes from down to the model and year of car so buyers fully know the origin of their bag.

Post-salvaging, all pieces are cleaned and handmade at their studio in Ontario, Canada, to which they invite any and all to come take a tour.

Green business practices: 

Think about all the waste they’ve helped divert!  Plus, because the materials vary so much and are often very limited, every single bag is completely unique which means they couldn’t mass produce the pieces even if they wanted to.

Available:  Etsy  |  Mariclaro


12. DARZAH

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Darzah #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Darzah
About Darzah

Darzah is all about empowering women… which is fitting for this topic because a good handbag that can hold all her essentials is certain to make a woman feel powerful. And with their selection of large totes, clutches, crossbody bags, and cotton fabric market bags, you can feel powerful whether you’re hitting the farmer’s market or hitting the clubs. 

Unlike many other fashion brands we’ve featured, Darzah is a not-for-profit creation of the Zababdeh women’s economic empowerment initiative Childs Cup Full.  They don’t just make bags, but also a variety of other fashion and home accessories (like these lovely sandals we’ve featured previously).

Darzah’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices 

Materials: 

Darzah specializes in Fair Trade leather purses made of their goat or cow leather sourced locally from a family-run leather manufacturer in Palestine’s Khalil/Hebron region. Each bag also features a locally grown cotton lining.

We’ll check in with Darzah on how their leather is tanned and processed.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

Fair Trade Federation certified, Darzah is committed to  “paying fair wages to [their] employees, implementing sustainable manufacturing practices, and supporting marginalized communities.”  They employ refugees and low-income women, offering pay well above local minimums and flexible work-from-home opportunities.

All their raw materials and products are 100% ethically sourced and made in Palestine using the centuries-old hand-embroidering technique called “tatreez”.  Traditionally passed down from mother to daughter, though slowly fading away, Darzah hopes to  celebrate and keep this artistic tradition alive.

Community & charitable giving: 

Here’s what’s really interesting about Darzah: they’re a not for profit brand.  As such, any company profit goes toward providing training and employment programs on the West Bank of Palestine, where many live in poverty and unemployment rates for young women linger around 63%. 

Available: Darzah


13. KLÈS

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Klès #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Klès
About Klès

Klès (pronounced “k-less”) is a “Slow Fashion Adventure” undertaken in 2015 by French UK-based designer-maker Jessica Gomez. For sustainable handbags in the UK (along with some other gorgeous women’s leather accessories), these timeless and versatile wardrobe staples are simply divine. 

Whether a clean, minimalist handbag is your style or something a little more outspoken with hand-painted designs, Jessica will personalize bags with a debossed word up to 9 characters on the interior. No wonder her wallets, clutches, and shoulder bags earned her shop a spot as a finalist in the Etsy Design Awards 2019.

Klès’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

To quote Klès, “We believe vegetable tanned leather is a more eco-friendly option than synthetic leather (also called vegan leather) made of PVC and polyurethane (plastic) from the petrochemical industry.” And their ethical leather handbags are about as sustainable as leather handbags can be.

They use only unlined, full-grain aniline Italian and Belgian vegetable tanned cow leather that’s sourced as a byproduct of the meat and dairy industry.  They promise, “No animals are killed solely for their skin.”

Vegetable tanned leather in and of itself embodies the slow fashion Klès stands for.  Whereas chrome-tanned leather is processed in just a day, vegetable tanned leather takes about six weeks. It also doesn’t produce any toxic wastewater.

They also start with only the highest quality skins so that the leather can be either left undyed or dyed with a transparent dye (called aniline) so that the beauty of the natural grain can shine through.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

All Klès environmentally friendly purses are created  by designer and owner Jessica Gomez herself using hand cutting, hand stitching or riveting, and hand finished the edges. Her studio is in the In Bristol Studio in Bristol’s Barton Hill where she shares a space with Rosa Pietsch, a sustainable jewelry designer. 

All other raw materials are sourced locally from within the UK from independent suppliers.

Green business practices: 

Klès “products are 100% slow fashion” referring to the fact that they’re all hand stitched which makes the bags easier to repair and more durable.  Combined with the fact that vegetable-tanned leather is more durable than chrome leather, these bags are designed to last.

Available:  Etsy  |  Klès


14. ASHA:ELEVEN

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Asha Eleven #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Asha Eleven
About Asha:Eleven

We’ve been in love with Kenya’s Asha:Eleven ever since we got to interview its founder, Olivia Kennaway, on our podcast.  Olivia is truly a gem of a person and a really inspiring figure for those of us who love fashion but feel conflicted by its often harmful nature. Their ethos is as follows:

“We believe in timeless, trans-seasonal fashion which is made to last. We believe that less is more and with a few simple basics partnered with contrast statement pieces you can transform and recreate your wardrobe whilst reducing over-consumption and wastefulness.”

Asha:Eleven (Asha meaning “life” or “truth”, and Eleven signifying intuition, insight and enlightenment in numerology) make a small collection of beautiful bags each season, often with wonderful stories of how they were made and who made them. 

They make a lot of other clothing, like sustainable sandals.

Asha:Eleven’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

In their most recent collection, their woven fair trade handbags were created using dried palm leaves using that traditional art of suka (or “weaving” in Swahili).  They also feature brass accents made from recycled materials like melted down padlocks, straps made of discarded leather offcuts, and ties made from Asha’s garment offcuts.

In previous collections, they upcycled landfill bound plastic to make the most beautiful backpacks with a weave design. 

Supply chain & labor practices: 

Asha:Eleven is based in Cape Town and being founded by a Kenyan, Olivia works hard to keep the supply chain local within Africa to support small-time artisans through “trade not aid”.  Fair pay and working conditions are prioritized throughout.

Their ethical handmade handbags for their most recent collection are actually the handiwork of just TWO people in Kenya. How’s that for a traceable supply chain? First their woven (or suka-d) by a man named Ali Bakari before being passed to recycling guru Jennifer in Thika, Kenya for all brass and leather finishes. 

Green business practices: 

Asha:Eleven obviously uses hand weaving for their bags, but they also use traditional handcrafting methods for ALL of their products. Combine that minimal machinery with the fact that they offset all company operations and they’ve got a pretty darn small footprint.

They also have a company no-plastic policy, so items are packed in bio-plastic bags and/or recycled cardboard.

Community & charitable giving: 

Asha:Eleven founded the The Jennifer Product, an ever growing recycling collecting initiative.  Jennifer is their go-to girl when it comes to recycling.  She’s the person behind the upcycled brass and leather straps of the bags, as well as heading up the collection and co-op of the Jennnifer Project (hence the name).

This collection and co-op not only reduce landfill-bound materials, but also provides stable employment for African communities.

Available: Asha:Eleven


15. MS. BAY

Ethical and Eco Friendly Handbags and Purses Image by Ms Bay #ecofriendlyhandbags #ecofriendlypurses #ethicalhandbags #ethicalpurses #sustainablejungle
Image by Ms Bay
About Ms. Bay

Did you know more people eat fish globally than beef? And while, yes, the cattle industry is environmentally devastating, the fish industry isn’t doing so hot either, since only 43% of fish materials are used for human consumption and 28 million tons are wasted.  Even though fish skins are able to be made into leather (more easily than furred animals), only 1% are recycled.

Saskia Aelen and Lawrence Dedroog founded Ms. Bay in 2018 precisely to solve this issue by making minimalist purses, crossbodies, clutches, and wallets out of recycled fish leather. Upcycled fashion is the future and Ms. Bay believes:

“Together we shape the world of tomorrow. Our world is changing constantly. These waves of change flood our daily lives. What was good yesterday might have to be rethought today. Ms. Bay wants to embrace these waves and create positive products for positive people.”

Asha:Eleven’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices

Materials: 

Ms. Bay’s bags are made of a 100% recycled salmon leather body, which they call the “ultimate future-proof material.” 

It’s not only an abundant by-product of the food industry, but easier to turn into leather than mammal skins.  With no hair to remove, it requires no lye or acid; fish scales can be removed without any chemicals. Since it has very little color, it dyes easily meaning less is needed. 

These fair trade ethical purses also feature cotton lining and Italian vegetable-tanned leather trimmings.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

First, the fish leather comes from sustainable fisheries in northern Europe. Next, the bags are made in factories in Kolkata, India that are either World Fair Trade Organization or SA 8000 certified and audited regularly.

Ms. Bay writes, “Our factories aren’t anonymous labour hands but our allies in our mission to create beautiful products that are sustainable and fair. To achieve this, we regularly visit the factories in India.”  They even invite you to Meet the Makers on their website.

Green business practices: 

If you couldn’t tell, Ms. Bay is a staunch believer that “waste isn’t waste, until you waste it”. Hence they not only reuse fish skins but any remnant leather from production.  It either gets recycled into smaller items or shredded into leatherboard bag liners. 

Even their materials for printing, wrapping, and packing are recycled, either bought as such or obtained from partnered companies.

One other cool note here: Ms. Bay’s leather tannery uses geothermal heated water and hydro powered electricity for all their operations.

Community & charitable giving: 

5% of all profits are donated to The Ocean Cleanup.

Available: Ms. Bay


WHY BUY ETHICAL, FAIR TRADE HANDBAGS AND PURSES?

Finding a truly sustainable handbag is a bit like trying to find that ONE thing you need in your purse and pulling every item but before finding it.  This is largely because leather is a go-to handbag material for its chic look and durable nature. 

But the leather industry is rife with problems on both ethical and environmental fronts.  

Ethically, leather is obviously made from the skin of animals.  While some of these skins are sourced as a wasted byproduct of the meat industry, the leather industry for its own sake is very alive and well, meaning about 1 billion animals die per year just for leather.

Environmentally, while leather is technically a natural animal-based fabric, it doesn’t break down quickly and easily like wool.  It can take well over a hundred years and even then biodegrades harmfully because of all the chemical additives. 

While this brings us to the next issue with leather: the tanning process. Requiring somewhere around 250 chemicals (including chromium, arsenic, and cyanide), leather tanneries cause so much chemical leaching.  Tannery workers also suffer here from daily exposure to all these toxins.

So in general, leather isn’t the most sustainable fabric (putting it lightly).  However, it can be used more sustainably by using either upcycled leather that would otherwise be wasted or vegetable tanned leather, in order of preference.


HOW WE CHOSE THESE ECO FRIENDLY FAIR TRADE PURSES

As you’ve probably guessed by now, bags are tricky when it comes to sustainability. We want something durable that can withstand being thrown around day after day (which leather does do) but we also want something that comes without all the chemicals and cruelty that traditional leather does.  

While there are plenty of vegan leather alternatives, they tend to be made of plastics or have plastic coatings (PVC being the worst of the vegan alternatives). Even the “sustainable” handbag brands should be looked at with some scrutiny as some use PVC and have limited transparency around their supply chain.

So with great care, we broke down these bag brands, point by point using our sustainable and ethical fashion criteria. If you haven’t already, read more on this system of ours by following the previous link.  For those that have, here’s a quick refresher in context.

  • Materials: There are lots of options out there for sustainable materials for handbags… but unfortunately there are a lot of unsustainable ones, too (often used by companies that otherwise have ethical manufacturing practices).  Because this is certainly the most convoluted and consequential criteria, we discuss it in length below.
  • Supply chain & labor practices: This refers to all the entities involved in production, like material sourcing and manufacturing.  We look for proof that all employees in each of these entities are paid living wages, subject to safe and healthy working conditions,  and generally treated with care and respect. That’s what “fair trade” means.
    • Obviously, the best fair trade purses are those by brands that are actually Fair Trade certified (that helps protect us from greenwashing).  But not all brands that abide by fair trade practices are necessarily certified as such, so we look for other things, too, like a published Code of Conduct, transparent factory info, lowest wage info, mention of frequent factory visits, and other third party certifications like B-Corp and SA8000.
  • Green business practices: This deals with the “sustainable” side of sustainable and ethical fashion, related to a brand’s eco footprint.  Here we look for things like use of green energy, purchasing carbon offsets, minimizing production waste through closed-loop manufacturing, recycling and repair services, low waste and plastic-free packaging, and sustainable shipping initiatives.

  • Charitable endeavors: Most sustainable handbag brands aren’t out to be Mr. Moneybags.  In other words, they put their profit toward more than their own bank accounts by giving back to charitable organizations that benefit the environment, social programs, or both! 

Sustainable Fabrics for Handbags

First of all, what’s better: leather or vegan leather?  They both have their points of contention.

In general, we prefer vegan products and fabrics from a general philosophical standpoint.  But it’s worth noting that vegan leather alternatives can be worse than leather that’s done right.  For instance, vegan leather is often code word for plastic, specifically PVC, which is the WORST kind of plastic (there’s literally no way to responsibly dispose of it).

So if you opt for a vegan leather option, make sure it’s PVC-free and look for either:

  • Pinatex/Apple leather: Plant based vegan leather alternatives that are made from wasted byproducts of the food industry (pineapple leaves and apple scraps, respectively).

  • Recycled PET/Nylon: Made from upcycled plastic bottles, discarded fishing nets, and other ocean plastic, this form of vegan leather is still plastic, but it’s plastic that already exists at least.

  • Polyurethane (PU): Also plastic, but much more readily recyclable and sustainable to manufacture. 

Now, what does sustainable leather look like?

First, it looks like a clear and defined sourcing policy. We absolutely do not consider any brand (no matter their other policies) to be ethical if they support the killing of animals explicitly for their skins.  Ethical leather must be sourced either as a byproduct of the meat industry or from small indigenous or rural communities that raise small numbers of animals to feed themselves (aka “wild caught leather”).  

Then we can look at the type of leather.  In order of sustainability:

  • Upcycled/deadstock leather: As with recycled plastic fabrics, these leathers already exist and would otherwise sit for hundreds of years in a landfill.  Better in your bag than there, no matter how it was originally processed.
  • Vegetable-dyed leather: Leather than is tanned using plant-based agents that still protect it and seal it for long-lasting durability, but does so in a toxic-free process. This means safer tanneries, no leaching, and more production water that can be recycled.

  • Chrome-free leather: You’ll see this a lot and we generally try to avoid it.  Vegetable tanned leather is also chrome free and it’s much better in many other ways. Just chrome-free leather means only some of the heavy metals and harmful chemicals are avoided in the tanning process.  Definitely a step in a right direction, but a far cry from enough.

Again, we look to ethical leather certifications to help us pass judgments.  These include: Leather Working Group (Gold level being the best), Ecolife™ by Green HidesOeko-Tex 100, and Bluesign.

Other good plant-based materials we found in natural sustainable handbags include:

  • Canvas: As long as it’s made from organic cotton.

  • Cork: An all-natural material we love because it can be harvested without killing the cork tree and ultimately, composted

  • Jute/palm/raffia leaves: A plant-based fiber woven from the tough, straw-like leaves.

As we do for all of our sustainable fashion brand guides, we will be reaching out to these brands to confirm all facts and policies and updating this article if needed.


FINAL THOUGHTS ON SUSTAINABLE HANDBAGS & PURSES

So there you have it: a whole bag-load of eco friendly purses and handbags from brands that are giving you the tools (or rather a means to hold them) to live more sustainably.

Just bear in mind that the best ethical purses are those already in the back of your closet. Dig out the ones you already have to see if you really need to replace them. If the answer is yes, make sure you recycle the old ones.

Maybe even do a little online thrifting first to see if you can score a killer deal on a pre-loved ethical designer handbag. 

So now we pass the pouch to you: what are your favorite ethical handbag brands?  Any that got lost for us like keys in the bottom of a purse?  Drop a note in the comments below and consider sharing this article with your friends and accessory-loving loved ones.

Conscious consumerism can be a heavy bag to carry, but the more we spread the message and encourage more brands to go-green, the lighter the load will become!


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