The appeal of leatherless bags


While I have a large stash of leather bags like Chanel and Saint Laurent, on the rare occasions I’ve been out at night this year, the two bags I’ve worn the most are a small black and white clutch from the polka dot cotton from the Manchester-based brand Roop and a gold crochet shoulder bag from the Colombian textile studio Verdi. Like many people, I find leather less attractive but also these charming new accessories are further proof that chic bags don’t need to be made from leather, or even leather substitutes.

The demand for vegan bags is increasing. As leather continues to dominate the luxury industry, concerns are growing about the environmental and ethical impact of animal agriculture. Searches for “vegan leather” on the global fashion shopping platform Lyst were up 178% year-over-year, with “vegan leather bags” up 81%.

“Customers are significantly more interested in alternatives to leather, and the idea that an investment piece should be leather now seems old-fashioned,” says Eleanor Robinson, director of accessories at Selfridges, which stocks Roop. “Over the past few years we’ve seen tote bags and small, non-leather bags become very popular. ”

Roop Recycled Furoshiki Satin Bag, £ 75,

This development does not go unnoticed, even among the big luxury players. This season, Hermès is launching a version of its Victoria bag created in partnership with the Californian MycoWorks, with an alternative to leather made from mycelium, derived from mushrooms. But for those worried about sustainability issues, this isn’t a simple trade-in. As of yet, there is no clear argument that biotech fabrics pose no problem for the environment – plant-based leathers often still rely on chemical processes. And, as far as the vegan customer goes, the new Victoria will also feature calfskin elements.

While leather has traditionally been synonymous with luxury, fabric bags can have an artful feel, often with somewhat quaint associations. When I first met Alexa Chung, probably 15 years ago, she was wearing what looked like an old clip bag, a little printed cotton drawstring style: the kind of idiosyncratic accessory that helped establish Chung. like a pioneer.

“There are so many possibilities with all the amazing fabrics already available,” says Natasha Fernandes Anjo, founder and designer of Roop, which makes bags from recycled satin and cotton (from £ 75,, based on Japanese furoshiki (the brand now offers additional styles), which look like small gifts. The aforementioned Verdi bags (£ 637, available for pre-order, are a high version of the traditional mochila arhuaca. Hand-woven for 10 days, they have a luxury hippie vibe.

London-based brand Shrimps, which started making faux fur jackets, has always made its now cult bags with non-leathers. “I created Shrimps out of love for animals and the need for cruelty-free products in the fashion industry,” says founder Hannah Weiland. “Being ethical and environmentally responsible is such an important part of our design process. ”

Her bags have gone from faux fur to soft natural fabrics like velvet or her famous pearl patterns. The Antonia bag (£ 475,, launched in 2017, is her signature, a square beaded square handbag with two top handles that sells every season and is featured in the V&A exhibit, Bags: inside out.

The creation of leatherless bags also gives small brands a point of difference with the big luxury brands. London-based designer Molly Goddard introduced leather bags to her Spring / Summer 2019 line, but has since crafted them from brightly colored polyester and cotton, using handcrafted techniques that give a super fun effect and are in line with the brand’s signature smocked and gathered clothing.

Molly Goddard Sapporo Ruffle Shoulder Bag, £ 520,

Molly Goddard Sapporo Ruffle Shoulder Bag, £ 520,

The Orion bag (£ 780; is made of nylon tape – over 250 yards – and is hand crocheted in the UK. Each bag is unique and made to order. The Sapporo (£ 520) and Nagoya (£ 580) models feature the brand’s signature hand-picked “bump” technique and are made in London. The water-repellent fabric comes from Italy. Last year Goddard told the FT, “I think I want to stick to my guns and keep making fabric bags. They are really fun to make and more versatile.

For Zofia Chylak, Founder and Creative Director of Warsaw-based luxury bag brand Chylak, creating a collection of woven fabric bags was a challenge that took over a year; it can be difficult to make a large, durable bag. But Chylak is looking to phase out leather from his business (high in leather) due to the environmental impact of extensive cattle ranching, including deforestation, land and water overuse, and emissions. of carbon.

Moiré Chylak Soft Drawstring Bucket Bag, £ 150,

Moiré Chylak Soft Drawstring Bucket Bag, £ 150,

Chylak also claims that many alternatives to vegan leather are “problematic” for the environment because of the amount of plastic they contain. She is currently testing fruit and vegetable-based alternatives to leather, but in the meantime she wanted to make bags that “look nothing like leather” and that are also less harmful to the environment. Moiré is the result, a romantic collection centered on an ancient technique that produces a wavy filigree effect on the fabric embossed by heavy steam-filled rollers. Think of taffeta; thinks Marie-Antoinette.

Moiré was originally used on silk, but that wasn’t going to work for a collection that included a £ 335 oversized ‘dumpling’ clasp bag;, a drawstring bucket bag (£ 150), a shopper and a baggy hobo (both £ 255). After intensive and frustrating research and development, the brand opted for polyester made from 62% recycled ocean plastic.

“Bags are difficult to make sustainably because you have a lot of internals that nobody talks about or cares about, like interfacing,” says Chylak. “It turned out that no one was interfacing in anything green remotely. Everything is made of virgin polyester.

But the collection is not in leather and many of the brand’s customers are happy to have the alternative. “Younger customers asked us if we were planning a leather-free collection,” says Chylak. “So there is a demand.

Learn more about eco fashion

Sink or swim? My quest for the eco swimsuit

Swimsuits are almost universally made from synthetic materials, but does it have to be?

Sustainable fashion? There is nothing like it

The industry’s marketing may be ultra-green, but the reality is much different

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