A deeper look at buying a vegan bag. We look at the best new materials being used as leather alternatives, the ethics, the vegan bag designers and brands, the PETA certification, we answer "what is a vegan bag", and why you should consider buying one, and whether to go with the top designers or try the small boutiques
A GUIDE TO BUYING A VEGAN BAG
If you already know that your next bag will be one that's kinder to the animals, then checking out our Vegan Bags Collection might be what you're looking for. However, if you're still deciding, then read on as we take a look at the topic in more detail...
UNDERSTANDING THE CHOICE
Every woman has probably considered at one stage whether to buy a bag that's vegan, either for themselves or for a gift. In fact, you probably already have and don't even think about it. And it's probably that cotton shopper that you carry in your handbag or your car for those unexpected trips to the supermarket!
Whether you are a long-time supporter of better animal rights or are just starting out in the vegan bag world, we guide you through the questions you might be asking before deciding whether to make your next bag purchase one that’s more ethical.
WHAT ARE VEGAN BAGS?
Let's start at the beginning! Simply put, vegan bags are bags that are made without the use of animal products. Vegan-friendly handbags are often any bag that is made from products that aren’t leather, calfskin, crocodile or snake, or any other type of animal. By strict definition, they are defined as bags that don’t include any type of product that is a by-product of an animal for example – sheep or goat wool, silk and any type of duck or goose down feathers. Brands like ASOS have recently removed mohair, silk, cashmere, and feathers from their catalogs.
WHY BUY A VEGAN BAG?
You might already be in tune with making Vegan choices or you may just be stepping into this world. There is no doubt that in mass-marketed large brand products, large brands rely on customers simply being naïve about where its products come from and the condition and lives of the animals that they use in their factory manufacture processes. It also ultimately comes down to economies of scale. Small producers may be able to source leather from farms and tanneries which are very clear on their ethics, however as brands become large, it simply becomes very expensive to maintain these standards.
A lot of people understand that more ethical fashion choices are becoming increasingly easier and more important. With the increase of exposure in the media into fast fashion and leather production becoming more prevalent in recent years, many are looking for alternatives to traditional mass manufactured leather products, where the prestige of having something beautiful on your arm is undermined by the unsettling knowing that there have been some unethical practices in getting this product to you.
WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF VEGAN BAGS?
There are many different types of vegan handbag in the world ranging from those made with traditional materials such as simple organic cotton, cut velvet, embroidered linen and many new forms of eco-friendly vegan leathers being produced to look and feel exactly like leather but from clever scientific developments and new technologically advanced materials.
WHAT MATERIALS ARE BEST FOR VEGAN BAGS?
Good question. We’ve already mentioned that there are the classic fabrics such as cotton and linen. Let's take a look at some of the more interesting types of materials that are out there. The best designers seek to source materials that are made from plants, such as cotton, help, pineapple fibers, or the jute plant which makes Hessian (/ˈhɛsiən/), also known as burlap.
Image - Burlap Tote from The Tote Factory - (Source)
A leader in the ethical and vegan bags market, Gunas New York, take their materials selection very seriously. They state "We use a variety of fabrics including coated canvases, nylons, eco-polyurethane, ultra-leather, ultra-suede and upcycled polyester for linings. We do not use any PVC. Whenever possible, we also incorporate up-cycled upholstery fabrics and vintage materials into our collection. We are continuously trying to improve our material quality and experimenting by incorporating new materials such as cork, rubber, and pinatex into our designs. All hardware is lead and nickel free."
Regardless of whether you choose something more traditional or something more cutting edge, you’ll feel great about being able to help take a stand for animal rights and make the world a better place and this will surely make you feel great about choosing to go vegan when purchasing your next handbag.
VEGAN BAGS MADE OF PAPER?
These two fascinating types of material are used in a collection by the Japanese ethical fashion brand SIWA. They have two main sources of vegan bags, the first made from water-resistant, soft and highly tear proof material called Naroon which is made from wood pulp and polyolefin (a type of plastic). There are two types of Polyolefin, biodegradable and non-biodegradable. It isn’t clear from their store description which type they use. The second of the materials used in their vegan bags is a recycled Polymer which uses recycled plastic bottles and recycled textiles mixed with wood pulp. Recycled PET Fiber Naoron also has the texture of paper but like its sibling is also water and tear resistant.
OK IM IN, SO WHERE CAN I BUY ONE?
If you’re asking yourself ‘Where can I buy Vegan Bags?’ you’ve come to the right place! There are loads of designers making vegan bags, from the grandmother of vegan bags herself Stella McCartney to small brand ethical designers who you have probably never heard of. The first question is to think about whether you are looking for that brand name or whether you want to go boutique.
SHOULD I BUY A VEGAN BAG FROM A TOP DESIGNER?
You will undoubtedly get instant recognition on the street or from your friends or fashion circle if you were to buy a vegan bag from Stella McCartney. This instant recognition comes from the brand name and there is ultimately a peace of mind knowing that big brands like Stella’s. But smaller boutique designers offer a wonderful choice also.
So the question really is ... do I go with a big brand name designer, often at an equally big price tag, or do I look for something more unique, support up-and-coming small boutique designers, and choose something handmade and ultimately something far more unique.
Whilst some like the kudos factor of having a top brand name, others like the mystique of having a bag which isn’t instantly recognized. This can be a great conversation starter at a party or wedding. Others love the exclusivity of buying something that is limited edition or made from a small boutique, often due to the reduced likelihood of turning up to an event and someone having the same bag as them.
Some fashionistas love the principle of supporting small business. With an ever-growing globalized world, many understand the importance of supporting new brands, supporting the competition and choice that they provide in a world which is increasingly being run by mega-corporations.
Luxottica is an example of where this can head if we aren’t careful. They now control almost every major pair of designer glasses that are made in the world. Check out any of your favorite brands and you’ll most likely find that they are owned by them. As David Balto, an antitrust attorney based in Washington D.C, writes in an article in theHill.com last year , this kind of monopoly is dangerous for the consumer as it creates a false market, and ultimately without competition, no one can drive the price down effectively for the consumer.
WHICH SMALL DESIGNERS MAKE VEGAN BAGS?
Let’s have a look at some of the favorites from all ranges in Zoonibo’s Vegan Bag collection and look at some of the materials being used and the eco-friendly manufacturer behind the designer’s products.
One of our favorite designers is Mechaly who uses the more modern scientific approach to developing new vegan eco-friendly leather materials for that beautiful Chic range of bags mentally have developed and what they could because genuine leather this is a moment development of leather using and they sell in a range of beautiful colors and modern Chic simplistic design.
Their Sydney Vegan Tote shines bright and simple in its range of beautiful colors – Our Favourite from their range is the Aqua Sydney tote shown below.
Image Source - Zoonibo Fashion - Mechaly Collection
Stunning clean design and vibrant colors are made all the better with the fact that all Mechaly bags are certified vegan by Vegan.org and a PETA approved cruelty-free & vegan brand.
WHAT IS PETA VEGAN?
PETA stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and provides certification for vegan designers and manufactures. They check that animals are being treated and killed in the most humane way possible. They stand against the drowning of animals and mistreatment and misfeeding of animals. You can learn more about their mission on their website, included in the footnotes or via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_for_the_Ethical_Treatment_of_Animals
Another of our favorite vegan and PETA certified brands is Gunas New York. Starting as a made in New York label they have now expanded and make their beautiful vegan handbags in small artisan workshops around the world. They believe strongly in the principle that no animal should be harmed for fashion and discuss the detrimental effects of most leather tanning practices used around the globe, stating that most of the chemicals used can infect the water supply of the areas surrounding the tanneries and workers or other locals can suffer disease as a result. Their ethics drive the brand and they also produce some beautiful bags.
One of our favorites from their line of vegan totes is the Naomi Tote which is made from 100% Vegan Textured Eco Polyurethane made from Recycled Plastic Bottles and the Lining is produced from Recycled metal hardware.
Image Source - The Zoonibo Gunas New York Collection
CONCERNS OVER VEGAN LEATHER?
It's important to understand that the ethical fashion landscape is not black and white. As consumers and manufacturers move towards a more ethical fashion world it's important to recognize that everyone's ethics are different. Everyone is on a different stage of the journey and ultimately we all have to decide what's right for us.
We think that buying a leather bag that is handmade can still be a great ethical choice.
For example, if the company has good manufacturing conditions for its employees, uses leather that isn't treated with toxic chemicals, and has good ethical practices for sourcing and sustainability, then is a good step forward for everyone involved if you were previously purchasing mass-produced fast fashion items.
Those buying a vegan bag can rest easy knowing that no animals have been hurt or abused to get your fashion item might not be the only consideration. And some eco-friendly fashionistas have raised objections to the products being manufactured to look and feel like real leather.
Some argue that vegan leather, which can be a range of synthetic materials, is ultimately manufactured from plastic polymers which have their own stigma being produced from oil, which is one of the most environmentally unfriendly industries. Interestingly enough Eco Watch recently reported that the Fast Fashion industry is the second most damaging industry to the planet, after the oil industry.
The recycled materials being used by some bag designers go a long way to arguing against this case but there is also the concern amongst some consumers about what happens to these bags at the end of life. Currently, it's not easy in many parts of the world to recycle plastic based fabrics. India, who has no plastic recycling infrastructure has recently introduced a ban across nearly all its states to make the sale of "single-use" plastic illegal.
Other research, such as that from earthisland.org who looks at the recycled new G-Star Raw "for the Oceans" line backed by Pharrell Williams and how it might not be that great for mother nature after all, due to the plastic microfibers that are being found back in the ocean.
ECO-FRIENDLY AND VEGAN BAGS?
We've already looked at some of the companies making interesting new recycled paper fabric bags in Japan, but some of the smaller designers in the U.S are producing handmade vegan bags that are made from natural fabrics and fibers. One of the most common types of totes being carried by everyone these days due to bans on free plastic bags from supermarkets is the cotton tote. Lightweight and cheap, these little workhorses are a must have for everyone.
The new Tim Eads range from Zoonibo features some beautiful handcrafted examples made from hand-printed fabrics.
Image - Tim Eads - Circle Vegan Tote
They are committed to the ethical fashion movement and make all their products in the USA with their small and passionate team, creating their own hand-printed fabrics and hand sew all the seams and features on the bags themselves.
SO IS COTTON ECO-FRIENDLY?
So cotton clearly meets the vegan standard, but is it really eco-friendly?
CottonCanvas.Org states, "Absolutely. Cotton is sustainable, renewable, and biodegradable, making it an excellent choice as an environmentally friendly fiber throughout its entire product life cycle" 
However, one of the top fashion institutes in Europe, Poland's MSKPU argues that it's not that clear-cut and large cotton manufacture that fuels modern fabrics production is in fact known to use a large number of harmful chemicals, use huge amounts of water that can leave a huge carbon footprint, and often uses harmful pesticides that can even remain in the fabric and irritate children's skin. 
Quartz Media also reported in May 2017 that Organic Cotton might be worse for the environment than regular cotton, as they discuss the low yields of organic cotton and therefore more plants are needed and hence more land used to create the same amount of cotton. They argue that carbon footprint is greater due to the extra water needed to tend to more plants, but also that the demand for organic cotton can create for tough choices for countries faced with finding the correct balance between dealing with water scarcity for its population with the need to provide jobs in the cotton industry.
CONCLUSION - BUYING VEGAN OR NOT?
There are as many different sets of ethics on the planet as there are people and not everyone is prepared to step away from the designers they love just because of questionable ethics, but if you've ever been in question about whether vegan designers can produce items as great as their mainstream counterparts, hopefully, we've taken a step towards changing that idea. Even if one or two of the items in your wardrobe are vegan then you've made a difference, and it's important to know that you've made a decision which is right for you and for the planet.
It's important to remember that shopping ethically means different things to different people, and there are many different types of ethical fashion. It's always important to think about whether something is sustainable, recyclable, recyclable or is just going to last for decades. After all, which is better for the environment, a leather bag which is made to last for many years, or a paper bag that might only last a few. This is, of course, assuming the leather has been treated in an eco-friendly fashion and the animal has been well looked after.
In the end, it comes down to personal ethics about the choices we make when we spend our money.