Sustainability in handbag production involves more than just ethical labour. Because a lot of quality bags are made with leather, there’s a responsibility for brands to know where their leather comes from and how it’s processed, or they take on the challenge of ditching leather altogether to find a sustainable alternative. There’s also innovation in metals and zips available, and an environmental element when it comes to packaging up a lot of little products (ideally not in plastic!) From producing in Australia to sourcing upcycled fabrics – these Australian and New Zealand brands have ethical and sustainable production in the bag.
Note: There’s quite a bit of leather on this list. Find vegan handbags over here.
A_C Official (formerly Ahimsa Collective) is leading the charge in its industry to find sustainable materials and ethical production methods. The label’s ethos is to not only reduce the footprint this generation has had on the planet, but attempt to reverse it, and the brand is doing so with its vegan leather alternatives and minimal-waste production model. A_C Official’s range of handbags and clutches are ethically made in China, using materials such as Pinatex (a plant-based vegan leather), ethically sourced washable paper and upcycled vinyl salved from landfill.
A pioneer of independent Australian design, ELK has been making beautiful genuine leather products since its start is 2004. The brand’s handbag range is handcrafted from vegetable tanned and semi-vegetable leathers, with a range of styles including coin purses, multi-functional wallets, cross-body bags, backpacks, large totes and accessories designed to wear better with age. ELK publishes a transparency report which is a comprehensive review of where, who and how the brand makes its products. It details information about Elk’s tier one factories, the people it works with and the materials they use. It also details the social and environmental impacts of the brand’s operations.
Sunshine Coast bag, shoe and accessory designer Felicity Cooney has a handle on sustainability. In producing the brand’s high quality products, she opts for ethically sourced kangaroo leather from Australia. Felicity Cooney uses Zero Waste pattern cutting techniques to ensure fabrics are not wasted, and runs her design studio on solar energy from a local farm. The signature tote pictured is Felicity Cooney’s ‘Summer Bag’ – good for market runs or your everyday handbag. But if you’re not into this, the brand also has a range of more classic, minimalist bags and accessories. Felicity Cooney is all ethically produced in Australia.
Queensland-based Empire of Bees is making high quality handbags and accessories (including cute purses, wallets, and market totes!). In an effort to avoid unethical factory production, the brand works with independent tailors in Indonesia, who handcraft their goods from locally sourced quality leathers that are a by-product of the local meat industry. For their internal fabrics, Empire of Bees uses upcycled fabrics that they’ve sourced from op shops and vintage stores from around the globe. The brand also avoids using packaging and plastics by shipping their products in the consumer garment carry bags made from calico and leather offcuts.
Melbourne-based handbag and accessories label Simétrie says it balances the human desire for style with our impact on the earth. The brand works with sustainably sourced, vegetable tanned kangaroo leather and hemp and linen canvas fabrics for its range of quality, handcrafted bags. Said bags are handcrafted in Melbourne by local craftswomen who are paid fairly in exchange for their skilled craftsmanship.
Georgia Jay makes minimalist and modern handbags and accessories, with a focus on natural materials and hand finishings. The products which are a range of card wallets, purses and clutches, summer baskets, handbags, shoulder bags and totes, are all ethically made in New Zealand. Georgia Jay keeps a focus on slow fashion and says their limited edition runs and one-off pieces keep the brand adaptable and ultimately exciting.
YU MEI is a luxury handbag and accessory maker out of New Zealand. Opting for a modern minimalist design, their bags are made from soft, high quality deer leather and all feature their logo in their signature gold foil print. By sourcing deer leather from New Zealand, YU MEI ensures that the leather has been ethically processed, and to minimise their impact on the environment, they use deer skins that are a by-product of the New Zealand venison industry. YU MEI’s bags which range between small handbags and totes are all handcrafted in New Zealand.
These Melbourne-based designers work with artisans in India and China to make their vegetable-tanned leather handbags and accessories. From the fair trade block printing of their fabrics in India to the handmade assembly of their bags in China, they keep a close relationship with their suppliers and ensure safe working conditions for the people making their goods. The bags come in a range of coloured leathers and feature bright and bold fabrics.
New Zealand’s Duffle & Co opts for a vegan alternative to leather, using a Pinatex product made from pineapple leaves for their clutches, bags and accessories. Their products are ethically made in India, Nepal and Bali, and when you buy a Duffle & Co bag, the brand “plants 10 mangrove trees in Indonesia to protect wildlife populations and provide subsistence to local communities”.
Also on the animal-free train is Velvet Heartbeat – maker of vegan handbags and accessories. The bags themselves are no-frills and reasonably priced – the perfect ethical option for a classic bag or clutch to add to your collection. To reduce its environmental impact, Velvet Heartbeat uses deadstock fabrics, Pinatex and re-purposed and vintage fabrics. What’s better – the bags are all ethically made in New Zealand. How could you not have a soft spot for the brand?