When most people think of leather, they tend to think of luxury, value, and couture. But for those of us who know how leather is made, we see a leather bag on display in the store as more than just an alluring accessory.
Our consumer culture is not set up in a way that allows for contemplation of matters such as supply chains and how the products that we see in stores got to be there. Paul McCartney said that “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarian.” I believe that the same is true for our clothes which come from animals. If everyone saw exactly how animals are exploited and abused for our fashion whims, then they would be more likely refrain from buying products that involve animal suffering.
For many people, embracing a plant-based diet often opens the door for them to a whole new world of delicious foods. Similarly, becoming vegan in our fashion choices also introduces us to a different realm of possibilities that we hadn’t even realized was there. I talked about the some of companies I go to for vegan shoes and jackets in my posts Vegan Shoes and Vegan Outerwear. Here are the online stores I check out when buying bags:
Founded in L.A. in 2005 by two conscious entrepreneurs who “wanted to revolutionize the industry with chic animal-friendly handbags that meet the needs of the everyday woman,” Urban Expressions has a gorgeous line of luxury vegan bags.
Based in Montreal, jean & jaxe is a collection of stunning vegan bags and wallets from designer Silvia Gallo.
Offers beautiful bags made in Portugal out of cork!
An ethical boutique that sells fair trade and vegan clothing, shoes, and accessories.
Makes sleek, lightweight, and practical bags that are great for travel and the gym.
Is known mostly for shoes, but they also have some wonderful vegan bags.
Has a sophisticated collection of bags and wallets, with linings made from recycled water bottles.
A high fashion vegan brand based in New York with a mission statement that I love: “Animals are NOT meant to be a part of fashion. We can look and feel good without harming other living beings.”
A luxury vegan handbag company that features AAA quality vegan leather and recycled material linings.
Luxury vegan bags, with 10% proceeds going to charity.
Owned by a mother and daughter team, Deux Lux uses animal friendly synthetics in their edgy and glamorous bags.
Online stores selling a variety of bags include:
Vegan Chic – One of the best online resources for vegan shoes and accessories.
MooShoes – Have really awesome vegan bags in addition to their collection of vegan shoes. If you’re ever in NYC, check out their store in the East Village.
Alternative Outfitters – Another excellent place to find vegan shoes, bags, and accessories.
While it’s always great to support businesses selling exclusively vegan products, it’s also worth noting that some mainstream companies sell vegan bags as well, including:
Free People – In recent years, Free People has been incorporating more faux-leather items into their collections, including bags. On their site they have a whole separate category for “vegan leather” bags and they’re only a fraction of the price of the leather ones.
Big Buddha – Big Buddha has a wide selection of fashionable vegan bags, at very reasonable prices.
American Eagle Outfitters – AEO has some great vegan bags, but make sure you check the product description to make sure that it’s made from faux-leather, polyurethane (PU), or cotton, as some of their bags are made from leather.
Swell – The surf outlet Swell sells a variety of veg-friendly bags, many of which are made out of canvas, that are perfect for the beach.
What’s the problem with leather?
To wrap up, here is a brief overview of how leather gets to stores and to our closets and why we should care:
- Most leather comes from India and China, where there are no laws regulating the treatment of animals
- Animals confined in overcrowded, unsanitary factory farms where they are reduced to economic units
- They are mutilated – dehorned and castrated – without anesthetization, and otherwise roughly manhandled by workers
- On the trip to the slaughterhouse, they are crowded into trucks where they go without food or water, and are often subjected to extremely hot or cold weather. Many die of either heat exhaustion or being frozen to death in transit
- At the slaughterhouse, they are strung upside down and have their throats slit. Due to the inefficiency of stunning practices, many of them will be skinned and dismembered alive
- When animals are killed, their corpses immediately begin to decompose and rot
- To arrest the decomposition of flesh, 225 chemicals – many of which are highly toxic – are used in a process known as tanning
- Some of these noxious chemicals include formaldehyde, chromium, lead, cyanid, arsenic, aniline, and chlorophenols
- The tanning process creates a massive amount of industrial waste run-off that find their way into the air, land, and water
- Exposure to chemicals causes many workers to develop cancer, jaundice, musculosketal disorders, and leukemia
As if the toxicity resulting from tanning process wasn’t bad enough, it takes 20x more energy to produce a fashion item made from leather than one made from synthetic materials. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of reasons to choose vegan materials over leather!