Ethical bags

Green Lifestyle magazine

What’s a person to do when they want something long-lasting, vegan, ethical and not made of synthetics to carry their personal goods in each day? Kelly Elkin goes on a personal crusade to find out.


Main image: ECOALF London Organiser in blue and sand, $200, www.ecoalf.com (jackets and sneakers also made from recycled materials). Top to bottom, left to right: Lalesso Kamaria bag - yellow fruits, $295, www.indigobazaar.com.au; Matt and Nat Velo cork handbag, $115, www.mattandnat.com; Lalesso Jaali purse - black feathers, $140, www.indigobazaar.com.au; Toppy leather sling bag in teal, $231, www.temono.com.au; Upcyclette Helveticus day bag, $320, www.upcyclette.com.au; te.eska leather bucket shoulder bag, $792, www.temono.com.au.

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Until recently, the search for the perfect bag left me listless, jaded and irritable. And before you roll your eyes and picture me as some Kardashian tragic crying over the next ‘it’ bag, read on. For the last decade I have been on an endless quest to find a decent bag. A bag with compartments to make me feel organised, sleek so as to dress up any outfit but casual enough to match my inner slob, and to make matters even more complex, most importantly, a bag that has been produced ethically!

This checklist ends up with a hefty amount of dilemmas, the first being leather, one of the most predominant materials used for bags. If you are a vegetarian like me, you may have a similar debate about shoes. If you were able to set aside the fact that it comes from a dead animal, that is then usually drenched in chemicals, leather is durable and if mindfully sourced and treated through vegetable tanning, it is relatively biodegradable. After visiting a tannery in Morocco and seeing the wrath of tanning on the Ganges river in India (two of the largest leather suppliers of the world) vege-tanning is no doubt the lesser of two evils. Brands such as Collina Strada (www.collinastrada.com) and Temono (www.temono.com.au) who use hand-crafted vege-tan leather are definitely a tempting option, though obviously not for vegetarians and vegans.

The immediate alternative is the very popular vegan leather, pleather. However it begs the question: do we squander the earth but save the animals? Is this another chicken before the egg question? Matt and Nat (www.mattandnat.com) are answering that question best they can, with a range of great-looking vegan bags made from recycled and upcycled materials as much as possible, as well as using cork in its newest form as fabric. They do still use some PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinylchloride), however all bags are lined with material made of recycled plastic bottles.

With some creative online searching and extensive old-fashioned foot to pavement shopping, I can happily say there are some other exciting new options coming into the world.

My first port of call is organic canvas, this strong fabric can be hard to find but brands like United By Blue (www.unitedbyblue.com) offer all carriers, from bicycle bags to tailored handbags. They also remove 500 g worth of rubbish from oceans and waterways for every product sold. Fleabags (www.fleabg.com), also from America, offer beautiful handbags made from organic cotton and vintage fabrics, all with those handy compartments I’ve been after.

Re-thinking the way paper is processed, Italian brand Uashamama (www.objettrouve.com.au) says ‘arrivederci‘ to any paper bag clichés. You can now embrace a waterproof, tough tote made completely out of paper using a similar stretching technique to tanning. Its characteristics lends itself to leather and luckily it’s sold all around Australia. Another incredible innovation is by Spanish company EcoAlf (www.ecoalf.com), upcycling discarded nylon fishing nets and transforming them into lustrous but sturdy fabric. EcoAlf has a full range of quilted backpacks, shoulder bags and wallets. These well-designed beauties not only carry your heavy books with ease, the clever bags are the perfect conversation starter for those awkward silences.

Going back to a more traditional approach, Lalesso of Kenya (www.lalesso.com) also has an incredible story to tell. Not only are its bags made from the stunning ‘Kanga’ fabrics from local tribes, they support some of the world’s poorest people. Offering such stable employment and fair workplace conditions in a country notorious for financial crisis, these bags are helping rebuild communities and empower people. You can find an amazing array of the exceptionally colourful bags online at Indigo Bazaar (www.indigobazaar.com.au).

In my search I’ve discovered that this is just the tip of the iceberg. With a little research you can truly have a different kind of ‘it’ bag. A practical, beautiful and long-lasting bag may not be that impossible after all.