Vegan Leather Handbags: Everything You Need To Know!


Are you still tied to the belief that vegan leather is a poor alternative to real leather?

Unfortunately, this belief is so widespread even vegans have fell for it. We grew up in a world that told us that real leather is the best thing for creating accessories. They told us it’s natural, it’s sustainable and it’s the most durable option for shoes, belts, and handbags. Of course, this might have been true until 10 years ago, but it’s not the case anymore.

I strive to use only cruelty-free products in everything I do, use and wear, but I also happen to be a fashion enthusiast. Have you ever felt discriminated by the fashion industry? How many times did you see those enticing designer handbags and wished they were cruelty-free vegan leather? I felt all this was very unfair and discriminating for vegan fashion lovers (of course it is mostly unfair for the animals, but that’s a whole other post!). I felt discriminated until I started doing my research and found some amazing vegan leather handbag brands.

Vegan Leather and Sustainability

I want you to know that it’s absolutely possible to wear high-end accessories as a vegan today: you can totally keep the style and ditch the cruelty, regardless of what luxury designers are trying to persuade you of.
Research and studies have made it possible to come up with materials that last just as long (if not longer) than leather, and that are far more sustainable and ethical.

One of the main issues with vegan leather until not so long ago was the sustainability of the materials involved. The vast majority of vegan leather handbags you find in high street shops are just cheap looking, poor quality PVC (i.e. plastic) products. These cheap materials make the act of not using real leather less sustainable for many reasons:

  • Cheap fake leather will start to crack after a few months (which will create more waste)
  • A lot of alternatives to leather are made with non-sustainable materials like PVC (non-recyclable)
  • Many fake leather handbags are produced in developing countries where workers are exploited and exposed to toxic substances

No wonder we believe that alternatives to leather are cheap and useless: that’s what we have been used to for years. But things have changed now. Many brands have taken the cruelty-free and sustainable pledge, as well as striving to be as ethical as possible. Most vegan brands are also environmentally-friendly and good to people.

Don’t be fooled by leatherette, pleather, fake leather and so on: look for quality cruelty-free and ethical brands that tick all the boxes for your standards.

Here are some materials you should look for when buying vegan leather handbags, totes and accessories:

  • Canvas
  • Glazed cotton
  • Recycled PET
  • Recycled rubber
  • Polyurethane (Biodegradable)
  • Cork
  • Ultrasuede
  • Ultraleather

Avoid PVC, as it’s the most polluting material used for vegan leather handbags. If you already keep real leather out of your closet and shoe rack because it involves suffering and killing of many innocent animals, you should also consider continuing to avoid it because it’s neither sustainable nor ethical.

Non-Sustainability of Real Leather

The truth of the matter is that the fashion industry has tricked you into believing that real leather production is “all-natural” and cool for people and for animals. But it’s not. I’m sure you’re already aware of the fact that animals (not only cows: at least other 16 species are exploited for their skin) suffer from cruel farm treatments like overcrowding, confinement, deprivation, castration and dehorning.

More than 60% of the world leather production comes from India, China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It’s cheaper, they don’t have many laws regarding the fair treatments of animals, and workers are underpaid and often work in dangerous conditions.

Despite being a “natural” product, leather is not biodegradable and not recyclable; Therefore, it is not sustainable. The tanning process involves chemical dyes, formic acid, formaldehyde, and chromium. Even if adopting “vegetable tanned leather” (which many brands are doing lately), this material is still not sustainable: the leather industry is intertwined with the meat and dairy industry, and together they are the first cause of global warming, deforestation, and water waste.

Quality Vegan Leather Handbags

The existential question now is: where to find beautiful cruelty-free handbags? GUNAS is a perfect example of high fashion, zero cruelty and sustainability in the accessories word. Ethics and sustainability are the core founding principles of GUNAS: this idea totally matches my standards, because a brand can’t truly be cruelty-free if it’s still cruel to people and the planet. Besides being 100% free of animal by-product, these vegan leather handbags are made using sustainable fabrics like coated canvas, polyurethane, ultraleather, ultrasuede and recycled polyester. For some specific bags, they also use upcycled upholstery that would have been discarded into landfills otherwise. For metal parts, they use a mix of recycled metals (lead and nickel free). Last but not least, GUNAS designs are elegant, neat and they are no less than their real leather cousins.

Below is a selection I made of my favorite GUNAS vegan leather handbags for every occasion.











PARIS Vegan Duffel Bag by GUNAS“PARIS


RIDLEY Cross Body Clutch by GUNAS“RIDLEY


There are plenty of other brands to quench your thirst for awesome vegan leather handbags that are also ethical and sustainable. Have a look at Matt & Nat, Cycochik, Angela & Roi, Hipsters for Sisters, Freedom of Animals, BAREL Ethical Luxury, Pansy Maiden.

This article was written by Elisa B, founder of the alternative and cruelty-free fashion blog and author of Your Cruelty-Free Wardrobe eBook. You can find more info about leather alternatives on my ebook, as well as many alternatives to silk, wool, fur and down. Elisa is a costume designer, a fashion & lifestyle blogger and a yoga enthusiast. She has a vision: the human race is living on a healthy planet while not harming any other living creature, including other humans. She’s determined to fulfill this vision and spread the love through her blog and her books. Get her book here.