As discussed in our articles on sustainable clothing brands and vegan clothing brands, traditional leather is a destructive material to both animals and the natural environment. In addition to harming animals for the sake of the fashion industry, leather requires vast amounts of physical land, water consumption, and fossil fuels.
Processing animal leather also requires petroleum based fossil-fuels and dangerous chemicals, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and cyanide-derived oils and dyes. People who work in or live near leather processing facilities often develop cancer caused by exposure to toxic chemicals used to process the leather.
Vegan leather has emerged over the past decades as a cruelty-free, sustainable and environmentally conscious response to animal-based leather. The worldwide faux leather market is eventually forecast to reach $45 billion by 2025.
The best vegan leather bags of 2020
We’ve scoured the internets to bring you a diverse selection of vegan leather backpacks, bags, handbags, totes, duffels, and other accessories. In our recommendations we also focus on biodegradable, non-toxic materials and aim to avoid synthetic chemicals like polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, was the first widely-used leather alternative. However, Greenpeace describes PVC as the “single most environmentally damaging of all plastics”. Through its entire lifespan, PVC releases toxic fumes including phthalates, dioxins (linked by the WHO to reproductive and developmental problems and cancer) and BPA.
Australia-based Urban Originals strives to make environmentally and ethically responsible vegan leather bags and accessories. In addition to being 100% cruelty-free, the company uses recycled components wherever possible, and avoids the use of toxic chemicals.
Your purchase also helps vulnerable people, as Urban Originals donate 10% of profits to organizations that advocate for human rights.
Based in Spain, Maravillas creates vegan handbags from Pinatex and walnut veneer. Their style is sheik, sleek, and artistically cutting-edge.
They offer an array of faux leather bags, clutches, purses, backpacks, crossbody, hobo and shoulder bags.
Australia-based Velvety makes vegan leather bags using fair trade labor practices and sustainable production. Their bags and accessories are made from recycled and organic materials such as cork, leaves, and Pinatex faux-leather.
Based in Seoul, Korea, Gunas vegan bags and shoes include a wide array of styles, from handbags, totes, satchels, cross-body bags, wallets to backpacks.
Gunas upholds fair trade labor practices in their production facility, focusing on small batch, “slow fashion” creation process. They also made the conscious decision to locate their warehouse in Korea after witnessing the terrible conditions for workers in China.
Their bags are made from materials like microfiber upholstery fabrics, recycled plastic bottles and cardboard. Even though the company recycles discarded plastics to create their products, they are working to move completely away from plastic. They have developed a material called MULBTEX, made from the Mulberry plant leaf pulp.
Luckynelly’s luxurious, bespoke vegan handbags are like snowflakes – no two bag styles are alike. Their products are made from cork fabrics, sewable wood, Piñatex and apple skin.
The “Vegan and Sustain” handbag is made entirely of sewable wood – it is truly a marvel to behold.
Montreal-based Jeane & Jax specializes in luxury vegan leather handbags. Their products are sustainably produced and do not contain any any toxic metals or chemicals.
The company is also 100% women-owned. Jeane & Jax vegan leather bags are made from polyurethane microfiber pores to ensure the material is flexible, pliant and resembles real leather as much as possible. The bags are also water resistant which gives them durability and longevity.
HFS makes a range of vegan bags and wallets using eco-friendly, sustainable materials like recycled polyester and plastic bottles. Their products are Oeko Tex Standard 100 certified, meaning HFS fabrics are free from toxic chemicals, dyes, and metals.
New York based Freya epitomes the age old adage “less is more”. The company designs custom, made-to-order vegan leather bags in a small batch manufacturing facility.
Freja bags are made at extremely low volume to ensure there is no excess materials or waste. The bags are made from Ultrafiber, which is a fabric created by layering resin over microfiber. Ultrafiber is biodegradable and lasts significantly longer than PVC and PU-based materials. It’s designed to have a lifespan of ten years (five times longer than PVC and PU products).
Freja’s focus on timeless design keeps them at the forefront of sustainable, eco-friendly vegan fashion.
Based in Poland, Alexandra K specializes in vegan and environmentally-friendly handbags and accessories. Their vegan leather bags are made some a variety of sustainable, organic materials like apple, pineapple, and corn leather.
The company is PETA-Approved and won the coveted Vegan Fashion Award for the Best Women’s handbag in Germany and the UK in 2012 and 2018.
You’ll need to know a touch of German to navigate the Eve and Adis brand website, but it’s well worth the Duolingo download.
Based in Germany, Eve and Adis has a wide selection of vegan leather backpacks and bags. Several of their bag styles incorporate the use the marvelous faux leather Pinatex, derived from processing pineapple leaf into a durable, long lasting material. They also make a line of based using cork.
I love their everyday bag styles, like the foldover backpack. The design is causal and functional, while still being stylish. Their vegan products are hand-crafted and elevate sustainable materials, plastic-free shipping packaging, resource conservation and reduction of CO2 emissions.
Cork Element utilizes one of the most innovative alternatives to leather, locally-sourced, 100% cruelty-free, environmentally-friendly cork. The company bases its supply chain in sustainable products in order to reduce CO2 emissions.
California-based Doshi specializes in vegan leather bags, belts, handbags, and wallets.
Doshi states on its website:“We hope that when you buy our products, you’ll use them often so that what we take from the environment is used to its fullest. When you’re done with our products, please donate them so that others may put them to good use…”
California-based Urban Expressions creates high-fashion, vegan leather backpacks, clutches, handbags, and crossbody. 100% cruelty-free, their products are vegan.org and peta.org approved.
Von Holzhausen creates unique vegan handbags, purses and totes that emphasize a synthesis of design and sustainability.
Their products are made using Tecknik vegan leather, an anti-microbial, cruelty-free, and waterproof leather substitute. Tecknik is water, scratch and stain resistant. The material is also eco-friendly and requires a low-carbon footprint to produce.
Von Holzhausen operates their supply chain using fair trade labor practices, and pay their employees a living wage. Their products often sell-out, but customers can pre-order any bag that is currently out-of-stock.
Svala features stylish, vegan pieces that are animal-friendly and produced sustainably. Their unique approach to vegan fashion includes products like tote bags made of biodegradable, cork materials.
California based Hozen‘s vegan leather bags are created from a variety of recycled and organic materials, including rubber, rope, paper and plant-based faux leather. They offer a wide array of products, including backpacks, buckets, belt bags, canteens, cinch bags, duffles, ruffles, totes.
Their products are PETA approved and produced at a fair wage factory in Los Angeles.
Save My Bag products are made from their patented Poly-fabric with Lycra® material. The material is lightweight, durable and supple, emulating the best qualities of leather while still being vegan and cruelty-free.
Based in Nepal, Bag Maya creates sustainable, eco-friendly vegan bags from hemp and natural cotton. Their bags are non-toxic, and naturally dyed using flowers. Each bag is handmade in a Fair Trade work environment. Bag Maya allows following the United Nation Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
Bag Maya uses plastic-free packaging for shipping and also creates custom vegan backpacks and yoga mats.
A_C describes their core ethos as “Cause No Harm” and creates vegan leather bags, crossbody bags, clutches, and more. They use eco-friendly vegan leather materials like cactus leather, pineapple-based Pinatex, paper, deadstock and recycled polyester.
A_C works to create a circular economy, so that they produce vegan bags made from recycled materials whenever possible, and then create programs so that these recycled materials can be recycled again at the end of their life. The company has an “Afterlife” program which includes used a product buy-back program, vegan bag repairs, and a “preloved” shop where customers can buy used vegan bags.
Angela Roi bags are constructed by hand with only the finest non-animal materials.
The company’s website states “Our bags are constructed exclusively of non-animal materials. Our artisans earn fair wages in clean, comfortable factories. As we grow, we continue to explore new ethical and environmental initiatives to improve our practice.”
Stella McCartney, daughter of Paul and Linda, Stella McCartney has been a pioneer in vegan fashion since the early 2000s.
As stated on the company website, “Our leather alternatives do not just look good, they are also better to the environment. Using recycled polyester instead of Brazilian calf leather … creates 24 times less of an environmental impact, as calculated through the Environmental Profit and Loss …”
What are the best materials to create vegan leather?
- Pinatex is manufactured from pineapple leaf wastes. Pinatex is an environmentally sustainable vegan leather alternative made from processed pineapple skin. It’s soft, supple, durable and, in my humble opinion, replicates real leather better than any vegan substitute that I’ve seen.
- Mirun, plant-based leather sourced from waste cork, hemp, coconut and vegetable oil.
- Apple leather, which is a product of an Italian start-up company that is using waste generated after processing apples. (https://www.ecomasteryproject.com/what-is-eco-leather/)
- Cactus leather
- Wood, made from walnut veneer with trees sourced from FSC certified forests.
- MULBTEX, derived from the Mulberry plant pulp. This material has a cotton foundation coated with silky mulberry leaf pulp which is water proof and as durable as silk.