Many eco-conscious shoppers are choosing to avoid leather because of both animal welfare and environmental concerns. The livestock industry produces pollution and greenhouse gases, while leather production involves huge amounts of energy and chemicals, which is detrimental to the environment. As a result, more and more people are searching for the best vegan handbags in the market, to find a cruelty-free alternative.
Vegan leather and other vegan materials are a far more sustainable option when choosing your next handbag. The best vegan handbags can be made from lab-made leather, as well as plant-based vegan alternatives.
Best vegan handbag brands for the eco-conscious fashionista
If you’d like to reduce your environmental impact and build a cruelty-free wardrobe, swapping your leather purse for a sustainable, vegan alternative is a good place to start.
However, not all vegan handbags are created equal, so it’s important to choose wisely. Here are our favorite nine brands that create stunning, high-quality, and sustainable vegan handbags.
1. Angela Roi
This NYC-based brand is named after its co-founders, Angela and Roi. The Angela Roi brand is known for its luxury products and uses only premium materials, but their vegan leather purses are pretty affordable.
The company’s mantra is to reduce waste, and they seek to do this through creating sustainable products. Their wide range of designs includes saddlebags, bucket bags, and pouches, though their signature is undoubtedly their roomy vegan tote bags.
Along with being committed to cruelty-free products, the brand also ensures its bags are made according to fair labor standards.
An early trailblazer in the world of vegan handbags, Gunas has been making handbags and shoes made from recycled materials, nylon, and canvas for years. They make a range of purses, clutches, totes, shoulder bags, and watches from sustainable and vegan materials.
The brand is known for its practical and durable products in bold colors and modern designs, making them stand out from other faux leather brands, many of whom favor neutral tones.
3. Matt & Nat
Best known for their vegan crossbody bags, Matt & Nat use only ethical and cruelty-free practices to make all of their products. Their other elegant vegan bags include briefcases, yoga bags, tote bags, and cosmetic bags.
The brand also uses recycled nylon lining in their bags, making their bags even more environmentally friendly.
Stella McCartney is dedicated to creating sustainable and vegan fashion, which extends to the brand’s accessories. The designer produces stunning, high-end bags that look like leather or snakeskin but are 100% vegan.
The brand proves that vegan bags can be super stylish and uber fashionable with their innovative cruelty-free designs!
5. Pixie Mood
Pixie Mood’s bags are all vegan, made from vegan leather with cork and faux suede touches. Though this brand’s crossbodies, totes, shoulder bags, and backpacks are high-quality, their products are available for a relatively affordable price point.
The brand also supports animal rescue and mental health support services, and offers carbon offsetting for their shipping.
Moenn makes beautiful bags from polyurethane leather, including totes, shoulder bags, and mini crossbody and circle bags. Their handbags come in classic styles and muted tones, for understated elegance, with some bright and bold options.
They are committed to sustainable innovation, meaning they use no animal skin materials and prioritize ethical labor. Along with vegan materials on the outside, their handbags have linings made from recycled plastic models.
Moenn seeks to do all this while maintaining the highest quality standards with materials that feel natural.
Founded in Barcelona in 2016, Nukak makes cool bags and accessories from recycled and repurposed materials. The name comes from the Nukak Maku people, an indigenous tribe that lives in the Colombian jungle.
The brand gathers a range of discarded materials, converts them into raw materials, and finally uses them to create totes, messenger bags, and backpacks.
This brand uses only premium organic and upcycled materials to make its products. Hozen produces a range of Italian artificial leather bags, including crossbody bags, drawstring bucket bags, canteen round purses, and duffel bags.
Hozen also goes one step further to promote the ethical treatment of animals: they donate 10% of every purchase to the animal welfare nonprofit Mercy for Animals.
9. Simon Miller
Simon Miller is an innovative brand which oozes modern, edgy style. They produce a range of vegan products, including vegan leather clothing, shoes, and bags.
We particularly love their vegan scrunch bag, which has an edgy drawstring design and can be worn on the shoulder or over the wrist.
Everything you need to know about vegan leather handbags
There are a number of considerations when it comes to buying a vegan handbag – from the environmental impact of the material it is made from, to how easy it is to care for. Here are the basics you should know before buying a vegan leather handbag.
What exactly is vegan leather?
Vegan handbags are entirely made from materials that do not contain animal products and do not involve animal exploitation or cruelty at any stage of production.
Along with vegan leathers, there are a range of such materials that can be used to make handbags, including:
- Polyurethane leather – commonly referred to as vegan leather, this plastic-based leather is made of thermoplastic polymer.
- Vinyl or PVC – sometimes also known as “pleather” is a plastic-based leather with a range of environmental and health concerns.
- Cork leather – which is made from the bark of cork trees.
- Recycled rubber – can be repurposed to look just like fine-grain leather, it’s durable, easy to care for, and waterproof.
- Leaf leather – made from large leaves and features the leaves’ natural form and texture.
- Coconut leather – made from by-products of the coconut industry, this material has a lovely shiny patina.
- Agave leather – derived from agave or cacti plants, this sustainable and plant-based material requires very little water to produce.
- Microfiber and Ultrasuede – a soft, suede-like fabric made from plant-based raw materials.
- Canvas – a durable fabric which is typically made from linen or cotton.
- Organic cotton – a soft and malleable fabric can be used to make lighter bags.
Are vegan handbags durable?
The durability of vegan handbags depends on the materials the bags are made from.
Some vegan materials can be less durable than animal leather, which is extremely hardy. Good quality animal leather can last for decades when looked after well. On the other hand, many vegan leathers are softer and thinner than animal leather – making them malleable and comfortable, but not as durable.
However, other vegan materials used to make handbags are very sturdy and durable, such as recycled rubber. Other materials like polyurethane may not be as durable as leather, but good-quality examples are still sturdy and reasonably long-lasting.
Why is vegan leather a responsible choice?
Unfortunately, animal cruelty is all too common in the leather industry.
Most of the fashion industry’s leather comes from India and China. Because of Hindu traditions, only a few Indian states allow cows to be slaughtered. In practice, this means that cows are forced to walk hundreds of miles to slaughter.
According to PETA, many of these cows die of exhaustion along the way, and workers torture the cows by breaking their tails or rubbing chilli peppers in their eyes to force exhausted cows to keep going.
Leather production is also devastating to the environment
Tanning and processing leather uses many chemicals, including arsenic, formaldehyde, and cyanide-based dyes and finishes, all of which cause immense water, land, and air pollution. Waste run off from the leather industry can also choke water systems, killing aquatic plants and animals.
The process is also very energy-intensive – livestock production and leather processing use large amounts of fossil fuels. Raising cows on a large scale, whether for beef or for leather, produces incredible amounts of CO2, a harmful greenhouse gas.
A study from the University of Oxford in the UK found that adopting a vegan lifestyle is the single biggest thing you can do to help the environment, and can reduce your carbon footprint by 73%.
When we talk about vegan handbags, it usually means replacing leather with plant or plastic-based alternatives. However, there can also be vegan alternatives to other handbag materials, such as suede or wool.
For example, there are also animal cruelty and sustainability concerns with wool, and it is not vegan by definition. Alternatives include organic cotton and canvas handbags, as well as vegan leather bags.
Of course, leather is by far the most prominent, so that’s why we’re focusing on it here.
How to care for vegan leather
Once you have your stunning vegan leather handbag, you’ll want to be sure to keep it in great condition! In many ways, vegan leather is lower maintenance than animal leather – you usually don’t need to worry about it getting wet, for example.
However, vegan leathers are generally less durable than animal leather, so you need to handle them differently.
Here are some general tips for caring for vegan leather:
- Avoid exposing your bag to strong sunlight, heat, grease, or perfume.
- Don’t overfill your bag, as this could permanently distort the shape.
- Clean stains of spills asap by gently rubbing with warm soapy water.
- Store your bag in a cool, dry, and ventilated place.
- Store it inside a dust cover, if it comes with one. Never store a vegan handbag in a plastic bag!
Best practices for care, cleaning and maintenance vary depending on the type of vegan leather.
Remove dust or dirt from your polyurethane bag by wiping with a soft cloth and warm water. If your bag has a textured surface, use a damp toothbrush to clean between the grooves – but be gentle!
If the marks or dirt won’t shift, add a little dish detergent to the warm water. Don’t use abrasive sponges or chemical cleaning products as they may damage the material.
For very stubborn marks, try a small amount of eucalyptus oil on a clean cloth.
Plastic-based faux leather
These types of faux leather have a plastic coating, making them low-maintenance and waterproof. This means to clean them, you can simply wipe them with a damp cloth and a mild detergent.
On the other hand, conditioning products can’t penetrate the plastic coating, so faux leather is prone to drying out and cracking, especially poorer-quality fake leather. To avoid this, try to minimize sun exposure and try a faux leather protection product.
These kinds of faux leather can be difficult to repair with a standard sewing equipment, so if you need to make repairs to your faux leather handbag, use a faux leather repair kit.
You’ll need to take extra care of cactus leather, because this organic material can be sensitive. Clean cactus leather by rubbing it gently with a damp cotton cloth and mild soapy water.
If your cactus leather bag gets stained, clean it immediately with liquid soap or shampoo. Never use detergent cleaners, acetone, bleach, paint thinner, vinegar, or waxes as these can permanently damage cactus leather!
Pineapple leather a.k.a. Piñatex
Piñatex is strong and water-resistant, but you need to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Treat it regularly with natural wax to keep the material moist.
Rub the wax into the pineapple leather and let it dry for a day in a warm place, then use a soft cloth to gently rub the material. If your bag accumulates any marks, clean them with a soft, damp cloth.
What’s the difference between vegan leather and faux leather?
As there is no clear definition of faux leather, this could mean any type of artificial leather, so it may not necessarily be vegan. On the other hand, vegan leather is always faux leather.
However, when people talk about faux leather, they generally refer to PVC or other artificial leathers made from plastics.
Many brands that promote “vegan leather” products use cruelty-free and sustainable materials, such as polyurethane, cork, agave, and organic cotton.
Of course, it’s always important to research the brand, the materials they use, and their manufacturing processes to make sure you make a sustainable purchase.
Is vegan leather always a better alternative?
It’s important to remember that not all vegan materials are environmentally friendly. In particular, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is best avoided by eco-conscious shoppers.
If all this wasn’t enough to convince you, a by-product of PVC production is dioxin, a highly-toxic chemical that can accumulate in the human body and damage the immune system, the liver, and the nervous system, cause skin irritation, and increases your risk of cancer, according to the EPA.
Good-quality polyurethane is non-toxic and more environmentally friendly. However, if the PU is made in a country without strict regulations (or by a manufacturer who doesn’t follow the regulations), its production could be damaging to the environment, and potentially to human health.
Polyurethane is also made from fossil fuels, so it’s not a sustainable material.
Another concern with both PVC and polyurethane is that products made from these materials have a shorter lifespan than super-durable animal leather. This means people are more likely to dispose of them faster, and so more items end up in landfill over the long term.
The most sustainable choice is to go for plant-based vegan leather alternatives such as cork leather, leaf leather, and agave leather.
Time to ditch animal leather!
That leather handbag may look great, but making it often involves animal cruelty, produces toxic chemicals, and emits large amounts of greenhouse gases.
Luckily, you can still have a fabulous purse without harming the environment or hurting animals. The best vegan handbags are cruelty-free, sustainable, durable, and look fabulous.
Furthermore, with top brands like Stella McCartney and Angela Roi committed to vegan products, there are plenty of luxurious and fashionable options available!
If you found this round-up of the best vegan handbags useful, be sure to share it with other eco-conscious fashionistas!