Six Of The Best Sustainable Handbag Brands

Just over 50% of people polled by PwC in December 2021 said they think about sustainability before they make a purchase. The percentage was higher than it was in June 2021, and it's a number that seems likely to continue going up over time. What does sustainable shopping mean, though? 

For a product to be considered sustainable, a number of factors come into play. Making the item and getting it to where it's sold with minimal negative environmental impact are eco-friendly aspects. There's also a social aspect: To be sustainable, the item should be made by people who get paid fairly and whose physical, emotional, and social wellbeing are valued.

Thinking of buying sustainable items may bring to mind electric cars or installing solar panels on your house. But sustainable purchasing can also come into play in other areas of your life. There's cruelty free clothing, jewelry (check out these sustainable jewelry brands for examples), shoes, and, yes, handbags. 

It can definitely take some legwork to find out if a product you're interested in is sustainable. So, to make life a bit easier, here are six bag brands that help make the world a better place. Bonus — they're all also super chic.

Parker Clay helps provide education and training to women in Ethiopia

The luxury leather bags sold by Parker Clay are made by at-risk women in Ethiopia. Started by a husband and wife team, the company works to provide leadership training, education, and fair-wage job opportunities. Their goal is to help prevent women from having to resort to more dangerous careers such as prostitution to support themselves. Mandy Moore is a fan of the work the company is doing, and she told People that she collaborated with them to create a bag in 2021.

While some people might automatically assume that leather can't be sustainable, that isn't the case. The brand uses leather that's a byproduct from local ranches, a fair price is paid for the raw material, and water from the tanning process is recycled (via Parker Clay). The bags are all handmade and designed to last — no fast fashion here! A reviewer for The Adult Man raved about the quality of the leather and said their Parker Clay bag could be shared between generations.

The stylish line includes wallets, totes, and bucket bags. Parker Clay also makes it clear how many hours of employment were provided to create each piece. For example, the Topa Mini Bucket Bag provided 2 hours of work. 

Meghan Markle is a fan of Cuyana bags

This next sustainable bag brand is beloved by both the very fashionable Meghan Markle and Jessica Alba. The celebrities have been spotted carrying Cuyana bags (via People). Markle even included a bag from the brand in her 2019 baby shower thank you gifts. And for good reason; the line offers stylish bags and is open about a commitment to sustainability on its website

Cuyana was founded on the idea of "owning fewer, better things," and all the line's products are designed to last. The items are made in factories that are dedicated to protecting their workers and the environment, and the company is working towards the goal of using 100% sustainable materials by 2022. 

Along with clothing, shoes, accessories, and the iconic, celebrity-loved totes, Cuyana sells a new line of Recycled Sling Bags made from 100% recycled plastic that would otherwise end up in landfills. The bags are machine washable and come in three sizes with price tags ranging from $148 to $198.

Elvis & Kresse took decommissioned fire hoses and made them into fashion

What's more sustainable than taking something that would have ended up in the garbage and making it into a fashion statement? UK-based company Elvis & Kresse launched in 2005 when the brand's creators found out that decommissioned fire hoses from the London Fire Brigade were being thrown away, according to the brand's website

They stepped in to take that material and repurpose it into high-end, elegant bags. In the process, they've so far saved over 300 tons of material from ending up in landfills. Elvis & Kresse also partnered with Burberry Foundation to take leather offcuts from Burberry, which in the past would have been burned (via Ordre). They used the leftovers to create new items, and the smaller scraps of oddly sized leather add a unique texture and design to the finished products, according to Fashion Consort.

Other materials Elvis & Kresse repurposes to create their bags include parachute silks (which are used as lining), coffee sacks, and auction banners, according to the FAQ section on their website. Oh, it's also important to note the brand donates 50% of their profits to charity, and their headquarters is a permaculture farm. Pretty cool, huh?

Escama Studio makes bags out of aluminum can pull tops

Upcycling is the name of the game for this next brand, too. Escama Studio got its name from the Portuguese word for "fish scales." It's fitting since the main products their bags are made from are recycled pull tabs of aluminum cans that are put together by an adaptation of traditional Brazilian crochet work. The Brazilian employees who make the bags are paid well above the average monthly wage in Brazil, according to a FAQ section on the company's website

The tabs are purchased from aluminum recycling centers near Brasília, Brazil. They're cleaned, disinfected, and sharp edges are removed before they're put to use. Escama Studio got its start in 2004, and now their bags can be found around the world. Co-founder Andy Krumholz told Revolve that the business "is an ongoing experiment in sustainability."

The company also values the work of their employees, and you can actually reach out to thank the artisan who made your specific bag via their website. The brand has received love from celebrities. Escama Studio provided an upcycled outfit for Daryl Hannah to wear in 2007 for the "Blade Runner" release event at the Venice Film Festival (per Escama Studio). Another fan is Jennifer Coolidge (via Us Weekly).

LaFlore Paris uses cork bark in their vegan bags

LaFlore Paris got its start on Kickstarter and became a runaway success. The brand raised over $1 million in pledges for their Bobobark bag (per Kickstarter), which is versatile since it can be used as a handbag, crossbody bag, or even a backpack. After the initial success, LaFlore Paris launched another Kickstarter campaign for the smaller Bebebark; they once again topped $1 million in pledges. Each bag comes in three different colors, the Bebebark retails for $269, and the Bobobark costs $289.

According to LaFlore Paris' website, the vegan, handmade bags are made out of cork bark, which is biodegradable and renewable. You might be most familiar with cork from wine stops, but cork can also be used to create a leather-like fabric, according to Sustainable Jungle. And the reason cork bark is so sustainable is that cork trees absorb more carbon dioxide than they would if the bark wasn't harvested. Bark can be harvested roughly every ten years, and no trees are cut down in the process (per CO2 Negative). 

It's not just the exterior of the bags that check the sustainability box, either. The lining is made with 100% recycled cotton, and bags are shipped to customers with entirely recyclable packaging materials. LaFlore Paris' workers are reportedly paid a fair wage and work in a safe environment, and the brand partnered with the Red Cross to donate 10% of their profits to support communities threatened by climate change.

Pixie Mood is a carbon positive company

Another vegan handbag company is Pixie Mood. The Canadian brand makes it clear on their website that they are dedicated to creating ethical goods. For example, the lining for all their bags is made from 100% recycled plastic bottles, and they use a variety of sustainable materials like cork, recycled canvas, and solvent free vegan leather to create their fashionable products. 

And forget that they went carbon neutral via a partnership with TerraPass (per Newswire); on their site Pixie Mood identifies as carbon positive. The brand also partnered with 1% for the Planet to donate 1% of each year's revenue to environmental causes. They've carry a range of products including totes, crossbody bags, and clutches, and your order will be shipped to you in biodegradable packaging, according to Fashion Week Daily

As far as quality, a reviewer for Insider said her bag looked more expensive than it was and preferred it to a leather version. So there you go! Choose a bag from any of these six brands, and you'll have a long-lasting item that looks great and also helped people and the planet.