Animal rights

Four beautiful vegan bags for sustainable winter chic

Winter 2019/20 is almost upon us, so we’re taking a look at some bags to take you through the most glamourous season in sustainable style.

Replacing leather with a vegan alternative is key to our concept of a sustainable luxury handbag. Aside from the obvious animal exploitation, leather is typically treated with polluting chemicals, including preservatives which make it no longer biodegradable. And animal husbandry is a leading contributor to climate change due to the heavy use of resources including land, water, food and fuel. Using recycled polyester instead of Brazilian calf leather, for example, creates 24 times less environmental impact, as calculated using the Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L).

That said, not all animal-free alternatives are equally sustainable. ‘Vegan leathers’ were once typically PVC (polyvinylchloride), which Greenpeace names as the most environmentally damaging of all plastics. The manufacturing process uses vinyl chloride, a highly toxic chemical which damages the health of workers as well as polluting the environment. Companies choosing vegan leather as part of a sustainability strategy now tend to favour PU (polyurethane), and more than 2 million metric tons of PU-based artificial leather was produced in 2016. The established process involves applying a paste containing high levels of the toxic solvent DMF (dimethyl formamide) to a textile fabric base. Progress is being made, however. A new ‘water-borne process’ uses foamed, water-based polyurethane dispersions to coat the fabric without DMF, which is more eco-friendly and safer to work with. All the bags listed here are made by companies committed to vegan principles and constantly working to improve their environmental impact.

JW Pei Fae top-handle bag, natural snake

This inspiring Los Angeles-based company’s Friday range of limited-edition bags offers elegant, fashion-forward products that don’t compromise on style, sustainability or ethics. This fabulous little number is typical of the label’s commitment to celebrating the beauty of nature rather than exploiting it. Aiming for affordability alongside style, J W Pei specialises in PU vegan leather and uses high-quality canvas and recycled plastics to complete its bags. 10% of the brand’s profits are donated to animal sanctuaries around the world, and the label is also dedicated to providing excellent working conditions for employees. This tactile modern classic is made from snakeskin-embossed ultra-microfibre PU leather. Capacious enough for smart days yet eye-catching with evening wear, it’s just what you need to see you through a wild weekend.

£32 from fridaybyjwpei.com

Kayu Anna handwoven straw clutch, natural

This beautiful chic, understated evening clutch was hand-woven from natural straw using traditional techniques. The natural stones are hand-cast in the brass clasp, making each bag subtly unique. The California brand Kayu is inspired by the traditional crafts that surrounded designer Jamie Lim as a child, and aims to preserve and promote this cultural heritage while ensuring each worker receives a living wage. Neatly sidestepping the ‘leather’ debate, Kayu focuses on other natural materials and works with women’s artisan cooperatives to create its beautiful bags in the Philippines, Indonesia or Malaysia, using indigenous loom and hand-weaving techniques. Each style is carefully made in limited quantities and entirely by hand, and one piece may take several days to complete. This one’s perfect for both a classy night out and festive daytime fun.

Around £200 from shop.kayudesign.com

Mashu Anais, black

This elegant, classic bucket bag was designed by London-based Ioanna Topouzoglou, who specialises in handbags with designs inspired by Art Deco and Greek architecture and created with an eye to materials-conservation and recyclability. Her company uses a water-based PU leather but is always experimenting with more natural fabrics. This practical yet gorgeous piece was handcrafted from Pinatex, a new synthetic leather made from cellulose extracted from pineapple leaves reclaimed from the food industry, and lined in recycled polyester. The lustrous wooden handles are made from real wood offcuts from a furniture factory near the company’s small family-run workshop in Athens. Although the whole thing is recyclable, its stunning styling means you’ll still love it in ten years’ time.

£315.00 from mashu.co.uk/shop/

Stella McCartney Logo Tote, blue

This lifelong vegetarian designer’s convincing faux-leather bags prove you don’t need to use animal products to create luxury. We particularly love this Italian-made stylish logo tote in a sophisticated, vibrant blue. What’s reassuring about any Stella McCartney product is the proven commitment to ethics that informs the entire brand. The company has never used leather, skin, fur, feathers or animal glues. Since 2010 all products have also been PVC-free, and all the PU is made using the cleanest available process. The brand is currently exploring the potential for lab-grown leather. This funky, practical bag is made from ‘alter-nappa’, the brands’s own innovative material made from water-borne PU and polyester with a recycled polyester backing and coated with more than 50% vegetable oil. Just right for those shopping trips where you know you’ll be seen.

£560 from www.stellamccartney.com/gb

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