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The vegan handbag brands making ethical and enviable accessories

From clutches to crossbody bags, these are the chic leather alternatives and Peta-approved totes to know

Lois Borny
Friday 25 March 2022 11:09
<p>We’ve tried models from manufacturers based all over the world </p>

We’ve tried models from manufacturers based all over the world

Fur for fashion is seen, quite rightly, as antiquated and cruel – but leather? That’s big business. Picture a handbag and it’s probably made of cowhide, crocodile skin or suede, but the fact 1 billion animals are killed for leather each year is still pretty shocking.

Subjected to the horrors of factory farming, cows used for leather may endure inhumane living conditions and practices such as branding, tail-docking and castration without pain killers. Of course, the environmental impact of deforestation and methane emissions from cattle ranching is also a huge cause for concern.

Thankfully, forward-thinking vegan brands are changing the narrative with beautiful, guilt-free bags, many of which are Peta-approved to ensure no animal products are used or animals are tested on.

But aren’t synthetic leather alternatives terrible for the environment? Well yes –  PVC was actually once dubbed the poison plastic for being so polluting. But, many labels are plumping for polyurethane (PU) which, although still synthetic, causes three times less damage to the environment than animal leather, and can be made from recycled materials.

Better still, recycled materials or all-natural options such as cork or plant-based leathers, made from pineapple fibres, cactus leaves, or the pulp of fruits like apple and mango, are carving a more sustainable path down the runway too.

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From Chanel to Gucci, vegan bags are now easy to find, but we’ve stuck to the brands creating exclusively vegan pieces, so that you can browse without needing to double-check their animal-friendly credentials and, if you’re vegan, support those that align with your values, through and through.

Whether you’re after a mid-range tote or a designer clutch, we’ve found the top vegan brands to browse.

Themoiré

This Milan-born brand boasts high fashion appeal, but respect for the planet is at its core. Using recycled plastic bottles and nylon made partially of reclaimed fishing nets for its linings, labels and stitching, the label also looks to plant-based leathers made from apple and cactus, as well as cork, cotton and “eco-fur” which is made from recycled polyester.

Fashion-forward and fun, its designs range from moc croc to pillowy clutches, but our favourite is this slender PU leather baguette bag (£220, The-moire.com), which we tried in a punchy, letterbox red – smooth and plush, it hangs so perfectly you’d forget it was there. Still not tempted? The label also plants a tree for every bag sold.

It costs €50 (£42) to ship to the UK, and duties are not included, but you can also find Themoire over at UK-based retailer Farfetch.

Visit The-moire.com now

Stella McCartney

Think vegan fashion and you’ll probably picture Stella McCartney’s eponymous label. Since its inception over a decade ago, its cruelty-free offerings have been worn by the likes of Kate Moss, Rhianna and Kim K – perhaps most notably, that falabella tote (£830, Stellamccartney.com). Circularity and sustainability have long been key pillars of the brand too, whether that’s pushing for innovative materials (think mushroom leather and vegan silk), or becoming a zero-deforestation label way back in 2016.

Big on recycled materials, all the bags are lined with recycled polyester, and whether you’re after something for a night out or a large raffia tote to take to the beach (here’s hoping), the choices are myriad, spanning metallics, mock croc, denim and crochet. We love the chic simplicity of the Stella hobo shoulder bag (£570, Stellamccartney.com) with its super structured shape that fits snugly beneath the shoulder. Made with a combination of PU and recycled polyester it feels built to last, while the soft interior is lush.

Visit Stellamccartney.com now

Thamon

An ode to nature, Thamon’s bags are one of a kind. From bucket to shoulder to clutch bags, each piece from the London-born, now Bangkok-based brand looks like it’s fallen from the trees because, well, it has. Handcrafted using fallen teak leaves that have been handpicked, treated and dyed, they each have their own unique, organic pattern and colourway, from green to black, beige and blue.

Tracing our fingers along the slightly raised leaf pattern on the box vegan crossbody (£52, Thamon.co) was a truly unique experience, while the piece itself is lightweight and of high quality. There’s a little inner pocket too, which would be perfect for stashing cards and train tickets if you’re without a purse for the evening.

Beauty isn’t their only schtick though, as the teak leaf is naturally durable and lighter than real leather, and collecting leaves from the ground means there are less to potentially cause forest fires once the dry season arrives. It’s an unusual, eye-catching collection that’s definitely worth a browse.

Shipping to the UK is £8.99, and deliveries over £100 are free, but it’s worth noting that duties aren’t included.

Visit Thamon.co now

Frida Rome

Manchester-based Frida Rome is the brainchild of two friends turned business partners who wanted to bring personality, luxury and fun to the market. After two years searching for the most realistic leather and suede alternatives, the pair plumped for faux leather made from cactus and apple, as well as recycled cotton and eco-suede containing partially recycled PET plastic. And we can vouch for them – the look and feel of the cactus leather is uncanny.

Though the range is small, with just a boxy crossbody bag, slouchy tote and shoulder bag backpack, each style is sophisticated, slick and just a little bit punk. All the bags are made in the UK, are PVC- and cruelty-free and, tapping into the “bad girls who do good things” tagline, have an (optional) erotic story laced into the lining, a USP that raised a few eyebrows during a Dragon’s Den pitch late last year (spoiler: they got the gig).

We tried the brand’s debut bag, the week/end crossbody (£275, Fridarome.com), which is a punky, gold-studded work of art, and you can swap the shoulder strap for the handle if you’re headed to a swankier affair. Pretty cool too is that the whole bag can be completely deconstructed – handy if you’re packing it away. They all come in recyclable packaging, which is also a nice touch.

Visit Fridarome.com now

Wilby

Chelsea-born and bred brand Wilby – which was founded in 2013 – was originally focused on the clutch, but its collection now spans sophisticated totes, classic handbags and country bags, all of which are Peta-approved and designed and made in the UK. Sophisticated, practical and, with clutches starting at around £30, relatively accessible price-wise, expect PU, cork crocskin, organic cotton and recycled cloth. Having tried this charming PU black chess handbag (£120, Wilbyclutch.com) – loving the subtle nod to the chess piece aesthetic  – it feels well made and built to last. There’s an adjustable, detachable shoulder strap for more casual affairs and, if you’re into highly textured leather grains, the resemblance is striking.

Visit Wilbyclutch.com now

Jw Pei

Worn by the likes of Gigi Hadid and Emma Ratajkowski, LA-based JW PEI taps into current trends and, rejoice, many of its bags sit comfortably below the £100 mark. Made from canvas, PU, recycled nylon and fabric made with recycled plastic bottles, its styles are minimalist but playful, with both zingy and muted colour palettes. From crossbodys to shoulder bags, satchels and totes, expect pillowy styles, ruched straps, chunky chains and sleek mock croc patterns.

We’re beyond obsessed with this dreamily daring custard yellow gabbi bag (£79, Fenwick.co.uk) with its ruched handle and satisfying snap-to-close – it’s sturdy but supple and buttery smooth. This is an endlessly versatile piece that could be both the focal point and finishing flourish of any outfit. Unsurprisingly, it is currently out of stock online, but is still available to shop at some Fenwick stores.

Shop Jw Pei at Fenwick.co.uk now

Melie Bianco

Far more luxurious than their prices suggest, each bag from LA-based Melie Biano is Peta-approved and free from PVC. Founded in 2003, the label creates trendy collections using PU – from gloriously garish to muted, whether you’re looking for a night-out bag, a crochet style for the beach or a smart, simple tote for work, there’s a style to suit. We loved the tactile, unusual pattern on this moss toned, ruched shoulder bag (£125, Meliebianco.com), which also features a removable shoulder strap. Or, up the sustainability credentials with the label’s line made from recycled PU – our favourite colourway has to be the soft mint (£110, Meliebianco.com).

Shipping to the UK costs £38, and we should add that duties are not included.

Visit Meliebianco.com now

Murmali

This is something a little different: by using only natural materials, Murmali is all about bringing us closer to nature. Based in London, it’s Peta-approved bags are made with cork hailing from Southern Spain and Portugal, and each bag is completely unique, biodegradable and sustainable, as cork trees live for around 180 years and regenerate after the cork has been harvested. Giving back to nature too, using cork ensures the cork trees’ survival, which is great news for the planet, as the trees suck up 14 million tons of CO2 a year.

You can trust cork to weather some wear and tear too, while each bag is water resistant, should you be caught in any unexpected drizzle. We love the handy outside pockets on the beta style (£155, Murmali.com), which also comes with a handy shoulder strap. Looks wise, we wouldn’t be surprised if the naturally beautiful cork pattern turns a few heads.

Visit Murmali.com now

Luxtra

Born in 2018, the idea for a conscious, luxury brand grew slowly for Luxtra’s founder, inspired in part by her mother’s decision to volunteer at an animal sanctuary for animals rescued from factory farming.

Based in London, the Peta-approved label now produces minimalist styles in Florence, side-stepping synthetic materials for natural, innovative alternatives – think corn, which is used to make a more eco-friendly version of synthetic leather, and plant-based leathers made from pineapple, apple, cactus and mango. The results are beautiful – we love the cactus leather tote for its supple, smooth grain (£195, Luxtralondon.com), and there’s a bag within a bag situation going on too, with a small pouch for valuables.

Certified as a B-corp in 2020 – the sustainability accreditation that leaves no stone unturned – its supply chains are short and care is taken to support minority-owned suppliers, while its track record for supporting charities, such as Dress For Success is fantastic.

Visit Luxtralondon.com now

LaBante London

Slow fashion brand LaBante plumps for cruelty-free, sustainable styles that are not only Peta-approved, but totally PVC-free. All its timeless designs are made with vegetable-based PU faux leather and suede, while their linings use recycled plastic bottles, thus diverting plastics from landfill and using far less water, relieving a small amount of pressure from our planet’s resources.

Our favourite was this forest green zip up tote (£200, Labante.co.uk) – with its minimal, gold-coloured detailing, it feels really robust and perfect for morning commutes. From totes to crossbody bags, if you’re after sturdy sophistication, then you’re in the right place.

Visit Labante.co.uk now

Sinbono

Bang on trend – minus the wild price tags – New York-based Sinbono is Peta-approved and uses reclaimed apple skins to make its bags, lining them with responsibly sourced recycled plastic bottles. Style wise, from bucket and shoulder bags to clutches and satchels, expect zingy jewel tones – very en vogue for spring/summer 2022 – mock croc patterns, ruched drawstring handles and chunky chain straps.

If you’re looking for a matching purse, or indeed a gold-coloured chain to accessories with, this brand has got it. We were drawn to this elegant ivory shoulder bag (£82.82, Sinbono.com), which boasts a handy adjustable strap and inline pocket – and doesn’t totally blow the bank – but we’re equally tempted by the unusual pattern on this canvas zebra tote (£67.62, Sinbono.com).

Shipping is free on orders over $85 (£64.56), and duties are included in the price shown at the checkout, but you can also find Sinbono’s bags over at Wolf & Badger.

Visit Sinbono.com now

Alkeme Atelier

Hailing from across the pond, Alkeme Atelier delivers striking and sophisticated style – think geometric designs, matte gold and rich colour palettes. Its bags, which are all Peta-approved, are crafted from pineapple leaf fibres, cactus leaves, grape leather (made from wine industry waste) and, exclusive to the brand, “Alkeme vegan fibre” which, while synthetic, is largely made of recycled materials. It’s another brand funnelling single-use plastic into something useful, and around 10 recycled plastic bottles going into each lining.

We love this fun, off-piste half moon design (£230, Shopalkemeatelier.com), made from buttery-smooth PU, and the wide detachable strap saves it from being too OTT for everyday wear. We like that the label has thought of reducing waste too, as each bag comes with a 100 per cent natural and biodegradable dust bag made of bamboo fibre.

Shipping to the UK is free but duties are not included, however you can still shop the brand via Wolf and Badger.

Visit Shopalkemeatelier.com now

Collection and Co

Kicking off in 2016, Collection and Co – a Peta-approved label based in the UK – started with shoes. More specifically, vegan shoes that were designed to closely emulate real leather. But the label also produces affordable bags too, using pineapple fibres, canvas, velvet, raffia, faux fur and discarded fishing nets. Circularity plays a large role, which we love, with efforts being made to funnel waste from past collections into new pieces.

We were drawn to this sweet raffia bag (£65, Collectionandco.co.uk) that would be perfect for balmy summer days at the park, and it has an inside pocket to stop your valuables swimming around at the bottom.

If you fancy, there are other vegan accessories to peruse, from boots and belts to hair clips, as well as products from a few sustainable, ethical and vegan independent brands – think soaps and bamboo toothbrushes.

Visit Collectionandco.co.uk now

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