Let's Talk about Handbags: The Sustainable Shopper's Guide to Sustainable Leather and Leather Alternatives.

Let's Talk about Handbags: The Sustainable Shopper's Guide to Sustainable Leather and Leather Alternatives.

Posted by Aria Crane on

Let's Talk about Handbags: The Sustainable Shopper's Guide to Sustainable Leather and Leather Alternatives.


  • Ethical leather helps combat fast fashion.
  • There are ethical leather options for both vegans and non-vegans.
  • An ethical leather bag will last a lifetime and looks great, no matter the occasion.

    There’s just something about a leather purse that completes a person’s style. Whether it’s that go-to clutch for special events, the Mary Poppins-esque leather tote bag that seems to carry anything and everything, or a laptop bag that creates confidence in any boardroom, a bag can completely transform one’s appearance.

    There’s a reason why so many people dream of designer bags; they can elevate even the most basic outfits to the realms of luxury. A well-made leather backpack does wonders for our aesthetic and day-to-day lives. We want an ethically made bag that works for us while helping us look fantastic.

    We also want luxury vegan handbags that work for the planet. We want to know precisely where our bags come from and how they were made to ensure that their production results in minimal environmental impact. We want good vibes only! 

    When it comes to fashion, it can sometimes feel as though we must choose between luxury and sustainability. The fashion world has some problematic aspects, primarily linked to fast fashion. It may seem as though, to avoid contributing to the problem, things like genuine leather handbags must be avoided. 

    The good news is that we can be both sustainable and fashionable! Sustainability is about using resources to ensure our planet's longevity while allowing us to thrive. So, rather than foregoing the things that make life wonderful, we just have to do our due diligence to ensure that the products we love are good for the planet, too. 

    The same goes for our favorite crossbody bag or small backpack. We don’t have to omit them from our style. We just have to know where they come from and how they are made! To make it easy, here’s a complete guide to eco-leather, vegan leather, and how to know that our bags come from ethical and sustainable sources. 

    Or, if you don’t have time for all that, just shop with Clear Givings Market! We’ve done all the vettings, so you don’t have to! Simply fill your cart with sustainable products from companies committed to eco-conscious practices.

    Table of contents

    All about slow fashion

    Sustainable leather bags; is it even possible?

    Avoid animal products entirely with vegan leather

    Day-to-day care for your leather

    Eco-leather bag care

    Vegan leather bag care

    Lifetime eco-leather bag maintenance

    Need gift ideas? Here are our favorite leather bags based on lifestyle

    The serial traveler

    The one who does it all

    The worker bee

    The socialite

    The friend of the earth

    All about slow fashion

    In order to understand how to shop for sustainable bags, a quick discussion about slow fashion is needed.

    Slow fashion, otherwise known as sustainable fashion, is the opposite to fast fashion. It uses organic fibers and high-quality recycled and upcycled materials while operating with the overall goal of minimal environmental impact. 

    On average, Americans buy a new piece of clothing every five days.[1] This has resulted in rapid consumption of resources and low-wage labor in order to keep up with consumer demands. On a more personal level, it means that we’re spending lots of time and money in the name of fashion. Why wouldn’t we want to slow down a little bit to save our wallets, our planet and our sanity?

    Slow fashion allows us to do that by offering products that are of the highest quality. Although the initial investment might be a little more than products of fast fashion, slow fashion products won’t need to be replaced for years to come, which means more money saved and less waste for the environment.

    When researching a sustainable product or company, it’s essential to take a deep look rather than taking it at face value; many companies claim sustainability as part of their marketing strategy without the proof. Here’s how to know something is a product of slow fashion:

    • It’s handmade (no mass production).
    • It’s made from upcycled or recycled materials.
    • It uses organic materials, including dyes.
    • It has third-party material certification.
    • It offers transparency; they are clear about where the materials come from and how the product is made.[2]

    While a company or product does not need to have all of these aspects in order to be sustainable, these are good clues that sustainability is their focus. 

    What is ethical leather?

    Ethical leather is leather that comes from sustainable sources. These sources commit to the least environmental impact possible and fair trade practices for the workers involved. Ethical leather can either be eco-leather or plant-based vegan leather. The key is not what type of leather it is but that it comes from sustainable sources.

    Sustainable leather bags; is it even possible?

    Leather-loving folks who are sustainability-minded will rejoice to learn that there are plenty of ways to enjoy leather while ensuring minimal environmental impact. Like most things, there are a few ways to shop for sustainable leather bags. While some retailers forgo animal products entirely in favor of vegan products, others diligently source their leather in a green way.  

    For those who love the feel and look of genuine leather, look for leather that’s a by-product of the meat industry. The leather sourced in this way comes from animals already used for their meat, so it’s only using materials already there. Further more, it avoids using toxic chemicals in the tanning process, opting for plant-based oils and other supplies.[3] 

    Ethical leather also keeps the workers in mind. During every process, workers should be given good wages and fair treatment. 


     Sustainability is about the planet and people

    The United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[4]  

    Per this definition, we must take humankind equally into consideration while making our sustainable purchases. When shopping for sustainable leather bags, support businesses that offer fair trade to workers. We know that this can be a big task. That’s why we created Clear Givings Market: to give folks who care a one-stop shopping location for ethical brands. Now you can focus on finding your new favorite leather bag while we take care of the screening for sustainability.

    Avoid animal products entirely with eco-friendly vegan leather bags

    Some of us prefer to leave animals out of our leather. Vegans, vegetarians, and those who minimize their use of animal products prefer faux leather styles over genuine leather. 

    Faux leather looks and feels remarkably like genuine leather. Although faux leather has traditionally been made of plastic, plant-based vegan leather has gained traction as an eco-friendly alternative.

     It’s pretty astounding how far science has brought us; a wide variety of plants can be transformed into leather, including pineapple leaves, mushrooms, apples, and more. The result? Gorgeous vegan leather bags and backpacks that boast the durability and look of leather without coming from an animal.

    The differences between eco-friendly vegan leather bags and eco-leather bags

    Besides the clear difference between eco-leather and eco-friendly vegan leather—one is made from an animal, and one isn’t—there are other differences, too. As with all things, they each have their pros and cons, and those who can’t decide between the two can consider these:


    Vegan leather

    Develops a patina over time

    While durable, it will eventually crack and peel

    Inconsistent texture (adds to its natural look)

    Looks nearly the same as genuine leather, but the texture will be consistent

    It absorbs liquids, so it can stain

    Doesn’t absorb liquids, so it’s easier to keep clean

    Has that quintessential leather smell

    Either smells synthetic or has no smell[5]


    Day-to-day care for your leather 

    Ethical leather bags—whether they’re made from eco-leather or plant-based vegan leather—are beautiful, durable, timeless, and transform any outfit into a memorable fashion statement. This also means that they’re more expensive than bags made of other materials. But, the investment is worth it; leather bags will last a very long time, especially with proper care.

    It comes down to two things: daily care and storage.

    Eco-leather bag care

    Daily care: Overfilling the leather bag must be avoided. Leather stretches, and an overfilled bag can cause the leather to stretch and look worn. Avoid scratches by keeping the bag away from sharp objects. This may include things like jewelry or table corners. 

    Storage: Bags must be stored in an area that doesn’t get too hot or cold and outside of direct sunlight, since this will fade the bag. To avoid scratching the leather, keep the bag in a breathable sack (not plastic).[5] 

    Vegan leather bag maintenance

    Daily care: Vegan leather should be kept out of the sun to avoid drying out. If the leather gets dirty, it can be cleaned with a washcloth, room temperature water, and a little soap. Light-colored vegan leather can get stained from dark fabrics, like jeans; ideally, they are stored separately from each other. 

    Storage: Bags must be stored in an area that doesn’t get too hot or cold and outside of direct sunlight, since this will fade the bag. To avoid scratching the leather, keep the bag in a breathable sack (not plastic).[5] 

    Storage: Keep vegan leather bags in a dry area away from direct sunlight. If it’s not used too often, consider taking it out every once in a while and treating it with baby oil; vegan leather has a tendency to dry out, and this will help keep it looking like new.[6] 

    Invest in yourself and the planet! 

    We all know the nervous excitement surrounding a big purchase. The feeling of butterflies rumbles in the belly as the mind wonders, “Is this purchase worth it?” Here’s something to consider: you can buy one high-quality, beautiful leather bag that lasts the rest of your life, or you can buy many low-quality but cheaper bags in your lifetime.

    While low-quality bags have a smaller initial cost, over the years, you’ll probably spend way more than you would have on one gorgeous leather bag. The lifetime of use you’ll get from the high-quality bag saves the planet from the waste many low-quality bags would amass. It seems like a no-brainer when we think about it this way: the price tag is more than worth it.

    Lifetime eco-leather bag maintenance

    Genuine leather requires care. Wear-and-tear is natural, especially with something like a tote bag, and since leather can last a lifetime, it means some maintenance is necessary.

    If the above day-to-day care is adhered to, then maintenance won’t have to happen very often. Signs of required maintenance include leather that appears worn and dried out, faded color, and diminished polish. 

    Treat it with a leather conditioner or cream when the leather seems to have dried out. To do so, simply rub it in like a lotion. Folks who prefer a more rugged look can do this task yearly, but those who want to keep their leather looking fresh should condition it about every three months.

     Waterproof your bag if it sees a lot of rain. The leather goods might not need to be waterproofed very often, especially because the bag will likely arrive already waterproofed. However, people who live in rainier areas may find it beneficial to waterproof their leather bags every year or so. They can do so using wax or a spray.

    Leather crossbody bags that beg for a shine can be polished as needed—whenever they have lost their luster. Leather bags should be polished using a product made for leather. This is purely up to the discretion of the bag owner; polishing is nothing more than an aesthetic choice, and it has no impact on the longevity of the bag.[7] 

    Wear and tear are inevitable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your ethical leather bag looking new! Need some leather refurbishing? Contact us at contact@cleargivingsmarket.com, and we will pair you with a leather refurbishing specialist.

    Bonus: Here are our favorite ethical leather bags based on lifestyle for gift-givers

    Now that we’ve talked extensively about ethical leather, let’s get to the fun part: which ethical leather bag to choose.

    The right bag is all about personal style and practicality. A bag is equal parts a bold fashion statement and a useful tool, and the perfect bag will attain both aspects flawlessly. Of course, the perfect bag depends upon several factors. Here are some of our favorite types of leather bags according to your lifestyle, especially if you want to buy a leather bag as a gift.

    The Serial Traveler

    The serial traveler always has the next trip planned. Whether it’s a weekend staycation or an adventure across the world, they’re constantly on an escapade. These types of people need a bag as active as they are; it needs to survive on the floor of a bus, in the sands of the Sahara, or at the top of the Eiffel Tower. 

    Leather weekender bags are a fantastic choice for those of this ilk. It offers both style and functionality, perfect for that quick trip. Choose cowhide for a leather bag that will only look better as it ages; the leather will tell the story of its journeys.

    Combine that with a large eco-leather or vegan leather crossbody bag, perfect for city explorations. The crossbody strap allows the wearer to keep a close eye on their belongings, even in a cramped train. 

    The One Who Does It All

    This is the person who has it all under control. Whatever they put their mind to, they excel. And, they put their minds to a lot; The One Who Does It All will lead a business meeting one day, participate in a tennis tournament the next, and get ready for a birthday bash over the weekend. This person needs a bag that will keep up with them.

    A large leather tote is perfect for keeping everything in one place. With plenty of space, it can handle everything, from workout clothes to laptops to baby bottles. Bonus points for internal pockets to help keep things organized.

    The Worker Bee

    Friends of The Worker Bee always tell them to slow down and smell the roses. But why would they when there’s so much work to be done? These people find relaxation in their work. Nothing brings them more fulfillment than knowing that they’re using their passion to help make the world a better place. 

    The Worker Bee needs a bag to keep their laptop, important papers, and daily needs in a safe, organized, professional-looking vegan leather laptop bag. They love a bag that works as hard as they do, made of durable leather with padded pockets for their important work materials. But, these bags don’t need to be boring; colorful plant-based vegan leather tones will let The Worker Bee show off the personality behind their drive.

    The Socialite

    The Socialites puts all their energy into networking, making friends, and having an amazing time. You’ll see them constantly socializing, from the coffee shop to the club. When a party needs to be planned, they’re the ones to turn to; they seem to know everyone and certainly know how to throw a bash.

     The socialite needs a bag that will carry their essentials without burdening them. A small leather clutch with a hand strap (or, better yet, a removable crossbody strap) allows them to carry what they need without worry. They are free to move about, hobnobbing with different social circles without skipping a beat while securely handling all of their precious items in one place.

    The Friend Of The Earth

    This is the person who would rather be in nature than anywhere else. Perpetually donning hiking sandals, dirty nails, and general comfort in a four-wheel vehicle for their outdoor adventures. The Friends of the Earth find their preferred company among trees, rivers, and oceans. If they had it their way, they’d never step foot inside a building again, choosing instead to live among the treasures that Mother Earth has provided.

    A sturdy leather tote can keep up with the needs of The Friends of the Earth. They need a leather bag that can showcase the adventures that they’ve shared. Polished leather won’t do; they need a robust leather bag that wears scratches with pride.

    We don’t have to give up our style to save our planet. We need to be diligent about our products and where they come from. Shopping for ethical leather handbags doesn’t have to be complicated. With Clear Givings Market, it couldn’t be easier! Check out our collection of bags for both men and women with ease of mind knowing that they all come from sustainable, ethical sources.

    Bonus! Check out our giveaway here!



    1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christophermarquis/2021/05/14/what-does-slow-fashion-actually-mean/?sh=6ae42bb73b4d

    2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340273377_Fast_Fashion_vs_Slow_Fashion#:~:text=Sustainable%20fashion%20is%20concerned%20with,in%20the%20last%2020%20years

    3. https://www.smitzoon.com/en/sustainable-leather/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw7KqZBhCBARIsAI-fTKJLyCxg1NCzJhGl34yVPdfyDCVhvv_N7X6-oLxwWf8Wukbn4WStUFcaAqbvEALw_wcB

    4. https://www.un.org/en/academic-impact/sustainability

    5. https://www.aspinaloflondon.com/landing/the-ultimate-guide-to-leather-care

    6. https://treetribe.com/blogs/tree-tribe-vibe/what-is-vegan-leather#:~:text=Avoid%20drying%20vegan%20leather%20out,if%20your%20 leather%20 looks%20dry.

    7. https://www.artofmanliness.com/skills/manly-know-how/how-to-care-for-leather/

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