We are all aware of the cruelty that occurs within the fur industry – I feel like a week doesn’t go by without me watching something shared on Facebook, seeing another celebrity go naked for PETA or reading posts by people denouncing Canada Goose for continuing to use coyote fur. Their official line? “We do not use fake or faux fur because it simply does not protect as well as real fur. Faux fur is only a fashion statement.” You can’t see me right now but let’s just say my eyes are rolling. Hard.
Leather has become such a normal part of our marketplace that people will happily denounce fur as unnecessarily cruel, yet sling a handbag over their shoulder which is essentially fur without the hair. It’s become so synonymous with ‘luxury’ that we don’t stop to think about how it was made, what it once was, and what or who was sacrificed to produce it. Turning a blind eye to something because it’s just ‘the done thing’ is nothing new, I have been gifted leather bags myself even when I was a vegetarian, but over the past few years and especially since I went vegan, I have searched hard to find beautiful, high quality bags that mean I don’t have to put my essentials inside dead flesh. That might sound dramatic, but hey, its true, leather is pretty nasty.
So why is leather such a problem? Many people believe leather is a by-product of the meat industry but this is often false, animals are killed for meat and leather, so millions of animals are being slaughtered specifically for all the ‘luxury’ goods we are buying. It was discovered recently in China that many dogs were slaughtered and passed off as sheepskin in products shipped around the world, so you could well be wearing dog skin whilst walking your very own canine friend. Animal cruelty aside, the leather industry is also incredibly damaging to the environment and dumps tonnes of toxic chemicals which often end up in water supplies. It also harms workers – 90% of Bangladeshi leather tanners (many of whom are children trying to earn enough money to support their families) die before the age of 50 and work miserable and dangerous jobs to process the leather that ends up in our hands. Is the allure of a leather bag really worth it?
It’s true that nowadays it’s hard to know what you can really do to have much of an impact on the world, it sometimes feels like everything comes at a cost, but at a time when there are so many amazing high end vegan fashion lines thriving and producing excellent quality items, it’s no longer necessary to support such a cruel and damaging trade. Non-leather items have never been more accessible, you can walk into any high street store and find low cost synthetic products (Zara, Forever 21, H&M are just a few) but I also wanted to highlight some designer vegan brands producing sustainable, responsible designs with a slightly higher price tag. Vegan fashion doesn’t have to mean cheap, ugly, poor quality or old fashioned, so I’ve rounded up some amazing brands making beautiful, luxurious pieces…
Matt & Nat were the first vegan handbag brand (Stella McCartney aside, my budget doesn’t quite stretch that far!) on my radar, and I now own two bags from their line, both of which I’ve used on a near-daily basis for over a year. They are incredibly well made, with classic, clean lines and I always adore their colour scheme. The Montreal-based label are dedicated to finding sustainable and eco-friendly ways to make their products, and use different recycled materials such as recycled nylons, cardboard, rubber and cork. The lining of their bags is made from recycled plastic bottles and they sell their beautiful bags on their own site and also on ASOS.
Rotterdam based Denise Roobol studied for four years at the Willem de Koonig Design Academy, and left wanting to produce high fashion, functional pieces that were minimalist and vegan friendly. Using durable high tech vegan leather from Hong Kong, Denise makes beautiful pieces, my favourite of which is the Cruise bag, featured in baby blue above. She also sells key holders and wallets in her online store, and I am definitely adding some of her pieces to my wishlist!
LaBante London (whose motto is Fashion with Respect) are new on my vegan radar, and I actually found them accidentally whilst searching for non leather bags on the Debenhams website, where they retail. Their bags are so pretty, and I think they would especially suit fans of brands like Kate Spade, with their chic, clean lines that have a touch of grown up girly interest to them. Their price point is the most accessible of all these brands and I love that they are stocked in such a mainstream British retail store. I find it hard to pick my favourite design – I could find place for all of these in my wardrobe.
Wilby Clutch have a real heritage brand feel. Founded in Chelsea, London, their designs are luxurious, chic and all made in the UK. They use eco friendly materials such as recyclable cloth, organic cotton and cork leather, showing that you can have beautiful designs without sacrificing the planet or the animals. I’m a huge fan of their chain tote and clutch bags, and I can’t wait to see more from them in the future.
It’s time we stopped looking at leather as a sign of luxury and prestige, and ask ourselves why we are so horrified by fur yet covet designer goods that openly label their items ‘calfskin’ or ‘lambskin’ – are we so entranced by the branding that we forget what we are paying through the nose for? So many of us (my past self included) lust over designer goods with thousand pound price tags, we buy into the prestige and feelings of elitism but there is nothing sexy or luxurious about dead skin, environmental damage and exploitation. I truly hope this post shows that you can love fashion and also put your money behind ethical brands, and that vegan leather can be durable, covetable, high quality and on trend. All I ask is that upon reading this you consider your stance and know where the bags and shoes you buy really come from, knowledge is power after all.
If you know any other awesome vegan bag brands do let me know, hell knows I’m always adding more to my mental wishlist! If you’d like to see a similar post on where to find beautiful vegan shoes, let me know.
The images in this post are from the LaBante London AW15/16 Lookbook.
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