Wanna know a fun fact about Joanna? She loves handbags. Early in our friendship, we bonded over her incredible emerald Gucci Dionysus bag. When she approached me to write about handbags, we immediately agreed that the focus should be on ethics and sustainability.
Ever since I watched The True Cost documentary about fast fashion, I’ve been obsessed about knowing whether the people that make our clothes and accessories have fair wages and environmentally safe working conditions. When I’m researching a new bag to buy, I want to make sure the brand thinks about their products and how they are created: ideally, I’d like a bag that’s stylish, and ethically made with as little waste as possible. I also think about cost-per-wear; I’m a big fan of investing in high-quality, ethically made pieces that I can keep forever instead of fast fashion.
The ethical fashion brands on this list make it easier to fill your closet with things that will make you look and feel good.
Image source: Everlane Day Market Tote.
What makes a brand sustainable or ethical?
Conscious, intentional, and responsible manufacturing matters. When I’m shopping, I look for brands that have values that align with mine: passionate about the environment, human rights, cruelty-free, and sustainably sourced.
I consider what products are made from. If they use leather, do they use ethical practices in raising animals to use for hides and environmentally-friendly leather tanning tactics? Do they use sustainably sourced materials—like organic cotton or recycled fabrics? How are the products made and who makes them? When workers across the supply chain are humanely treated with fair trade wages and healthy working conditions, everyone wins. Do they think about their environmental footprint? Do they work to reduce post-consumer waste, energy use, and carbon emissions? Finally, I look for a brand that shows they care by giving back to people, animals, and the planet through charitable giving.
Ethical fashion shopping tips
Shopping for ethical fashion can be overwhelming. There’s an overwhelming amount of jargon and misinformation floating around (greenwashing). Here are a few tips:
- Do your research! Good On You reports on the ethics of brands.
- Look for transparency in the supply chain.
- Look for labels that indicate organic, cruelty-free, fair trade.
- When shopping for leather items, look for information about how the leather is sourced and treated.
- Buy secondhand instead of new when possible.
Best Ethical and Sustainable Bag Brands
- Stella McCartney
- JW Pei
- Matt & Nat
- Angela Roi
Ethics | Recycled materials, fair trade, and sustainably sourced leather
Price Range | $115–$375
Cuyana is known as the “antithesis of fast fashion,” so I’m on board. Cuyana lives by a simple mantra: “Fewer, better.” Cuyana, which translates “to love” in Quechua (in honor of the first craftsman they worked with), creates clothes and leather goods for the modern woman. I’ve been carrying a Classic tote for years and it’s one of my favorites for how well it’s made.
Ethics | Sustainable luxury fashion (read more on goodonyou)
Price Range | $395 – $1295
Stella McCartney has been creating “sustainable luxury fashion” for almost two decades using eco-friendly materials including recycled polyester, organic cotton, and regenerated cashmere. I’ve been admiring Stella McCartney bags for years because they really do look and feel luxurious AND without the use of any animal products. The prices may look high, but I assure you, it’s worth it for the quality and care that each product is made with.
Ethics | Sustainably and ethically-made, transparent supply/labor chain
Price Range | $35–$330
Everlane believes you should know the factories and the true cost of the item you’re buying—so they provide 100% transparency with all of their products, including how much the product cost to make and exactly where they’re made. I’ve been eyeing their Day Tote in the Mini size, which is made from premium Italian leather in their Tuscany workshop.
Ethics | Fairtrade, artisan-made, transparent supply and labor chain
Price Range | $78–$268
Nisolo’s philosophy about fashion is refreshing; according to their founder, Patrick Woodyard, Nisolo aims to create products responsibly so that customers know how their products are made, and who makes them. Nisolo’s handmade leather goods are made in Peru or Mexico by artisans who have salaries and benefits like 15 days of paid time off a year and access to company-paid healthcare. Their leather goods are truly high quality, especially for the price.
Ethics | Recycled materials, transparent supply chain
Price Range | $10-$198
Baggu designs to minimize waste, use sustainable materials, and manufactures in China with a factory that uses ethical and environmentally responsible practices like wastewater reduction. Baggu uses recycled materials or materials that minimize waste whenever possible. For example, their best-selling reusable Baggu (made of recycled nylon) is assembled from one continuous piece of recycled nylon material, with the neck of the bag used to construct a carrying pouch. It’s also the very best reusable shopping bag I’ve ever used–it literally carries everything. Baggu recently launched their line of minimal leather goods that are made using sustainable practices for under $200.
JW Pei and Friday by JW Pei
Ethics | Vegan leather, cruelty-free, recycled plastic
Price Range | $115–$375
JW Pei, known for their vegan leather, uses Patina fabric for their bags, a material made from high-grade polyurethane resin and ultra-fine microfibers that mimic the microscopic structure of real leather. Their bags are all lined in fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. They ensure their supply chain is fully ethical and fair trade, and participate in a Giving Back program where 10% of their sales go to animal sanctuaries. Friday by JW Pei is a collection of more affordable accessories in limited edition collections that drop on Fridays at 5pm.
Matt & Nat
Ethics | Vegan leather, cruelty-free, recycled plastic, transparent
Price Range | $115–$375
Matt & Nat is a vegan brand that creates accessories using their signature vegan leather and different eco-friendly materials such as recycled nylon, rubber, cork, plastic bottles, and bike tires. I don’t know how they do it, but their line of bags look and feel like real leather while also taking form and function into account. I’m thinking about investing in their durable Brave backpack for our rainy Seattle weather.
Ethics | Vegan and fairtrade business practices
Price Range | $55-$245
Angela Roi prides themselves on being a PETA-approved premium vegan brand that creates high quality, minimal, luxury bags with a classic touch and a more accessible price point. Their website proudly boasts “Great fashion handbags don’t have to come at animals’ expense,” which feels like a rallying cry to the fashion industry to stop using animal skins. Angela Roi was created out of the frustration that most vegan handbag brands were of low quality and looked cheap, and boring. I’d say they succeeded.
More places to shop for sustainable, eco-friendly, or ethical bags and accessories
There are retailers that focus on only carrying sustainable brands or shop resale!
- Amour Vert (sustainable fashion)
- Reformation (sustainable fashion)
- Yoogi’s Closet (luxury resale)
- Rebag (luxury resale)
- Poshmark (resale marketplace)
Do you consider a brand’s ethics when you shop? Let me know in the comments.