With leather fast losing it’s lustre due to associations with deforestation, animal cruelty and water pollution, Sophie Benson takes a look at the top five vegan handbags every conscious fashionista should covet this year
2017 was a groundbreaking year for veganism. A flurry of end-of-year reports from pizza chains, food manufacturers and even dating sites showed that being vegan is more popular than ever before and the trend is set to do nothing but grow this year.
Of course, veganism doesn’t stop at the dinner table and a plant-based diet goes hand in hand with a strictly animal-friendly wardrobe that includes accessories. Where leather was once the height of luxury and faux substitutes its less desirable cousin, the tide is starting to turn. The emergence of high end designs, sustainable leather alternatives such as Pinatex (made from pineapple leaf fibre) and a growing global awareness of animal welfare and environmental issues has elevated vegan ‘leather’ to an all new plane.
While some argue that leather is merely a by-product of the meat industry and, therefore, not the basis for cruelty, it’s not so black and white. Much of the leather industry is situated in regions where animal welfare is poorly regulated. Some experts estimate that as much as 75 per cent of all leather could come from illegal sources, where cattle are crammed into tiny trucks and treated viciously. Add in the fact that it’s a highly lucrative industry in its own right and it becomes less of a by-product and more of a profitable subsidy.
Some experts estimate that as much as 75 per cent of all leather could come from illegal sources, where cattle are crammed into tiny trucks and treated viciously
While the by-product debate might well be argued for decades to come, the environmental impact of leather is unequivocal. According to Greenpeace’s ‘Slaughtering the Amazon’ report, the cattle sector in the Brazilian Amazon (Brazil is one of the world’s biggest leather exporters) is responsible for approximately 80 per cent of all deforestation. As one of earth’s key carbon sinks – it takes in more carbon than it emits – the knock on effect of this deforestation could be devastating: if the Amazon is destroyed, it could release 50 times the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the USA.
And from dirty air to dirty water; the tanning process is equally as environmentally troubling. From fast fashion to the luxury market, chrome tanned leather is standard as it’s a significantly quicker method than cleaner, more traditional vegetable tanning. As the leather is processed, the waste water, contaminated with chromium, is washed into local rivers and tributaries, where unfortunate locals have no choice but to collect it for drinking, cooking and washing. The side effects range from headaches to liver damage.
So with leather losing its lustre, where are we to turn for our new handbag? Fret not because the rise of veganism also means the rise of vegan handbags and we’ve picked out five of the best to sate your stylish desires.
Vicki von Holzhausen, the founder and designer behind her eponymous brand, started her career in the automotive industry. An unexpected design diversion perhaps, but not surprising when you consider the immaculate blend of form and functionality which permeates every piece in her vegan handbags collection.
This shopper is crafted in the USA from her signature ‘Technik-Leather’ – an environmentally-friendly, lightweight alternative to the real thing. As if the eco considerations weren’t enough, Von Holzhausen sell at wholesale-level prices and give 10 per cent of their proceeds to female-centred non-profits. Wear this ultra modern shopper over one shoulder or tighten the straps and sling it across as a slouchy cross-body.
A contemporary brand with an eye for timeless design, Angela Roi doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of luxury in their quest to transform the fashion industry from a cruelty-free sweatshop.
Made from soft, faux calfskin and crafted with meticulous attention to detail, this cute cross-body is a modern essential. The sunny mustard hue will pop against black, navy and grey or clash perfectly with pinks and purples.
With a little nudge from the minimal meets utility trend, backpacks have crossed the line from purely practical to style essentials. Matt & Nat’s Kowloon backpack is a lesson in the art of understatement. Clean lines and a boxy structure are softened by a vintage-inspired top handle and custom curved silver buckles. Your laptop and every day necessities will fit in just fine, protected by the 100% recycled nylon lining.
Urbanism and escapism are the tenets which Lee Coren designs around and this sweet clutch, handcrafted from local, sustainable materials is the embodiment of the two. Urbanism emanates from the sturdy structure, easy versatility and effortless flavour. And escapism? That shines through in the supple, pink vegan suede and the glinting gold flecks. It’s a sure-fire hit for afterhours styling.
You can’t do a round-up of vegan handbags without including the woman who succeeded in boosting them to luxury status. The queen of cruelty-free luxe, Stella McCartney makes bags so covetable, they’re worth the lofty price tag.
This bright yellow statement-maker is made from Alter-Nappa, an eco-friendly leather alternative coated with a vegetable oil based solution. The acidic hue calls for a ‘matches nothing, goes with everything’ approach. It’s made to clash, so embrace it and go all out for colour blocks.