I’ve had this post in the pipeline for a long time but I wanted to wait until closer to Christmas to publish it. As I mentioned in my last post I have moved to a (predominantly) gift-free Christmas and this has freed up a lot of time and money, and heartache. The saved time is easy to redistribute – there is never enough of that! – and money saved is put is divided up between the savings accounts, charity donations and investments in higher-quality versions of goods we need.
Of course I could wait until sometime in the new year to buy but I’m human and the pressure to shop at Christmas can be so overwhelming that, instead of resisting it completely which I’ve found very difficulty, I’ve opted to pivot towards essential goods made by companies that share my values instead. The need differs from year to year, it might be a new set of towels or bed sheets or dress or shoes. Whichever of life’s necessities benefits from greater investment. In this post I’m looking at bags.
Now realistically each of us only need a very small selection of bags to get us through life so this post isn’t intended to have you lusting after a new bag just because. It meant to help you find a sustainable ethical bag to suit your needs and within your budget, which will serve you well for the rest of your, hopefully, long life. I bought a relatively expensive (€150) leather handbag 15 years ago and it’s still going strong. When the seams started to rip I had it repaired by Isaac Jackman (formerly C&D repairs) on Charlemont St, D2 and I feed it with olive oil a few times throughout the year to keep it supple. Based on its current condition I’d expect this bag to keep me going until the grim reaper comes calling.
When I start researching a ‘where to buy’ post like this I tend to start with a broad definition of ‘sustainable and ethical’ and refine as I go. For example I did bookmark suppliers of vegan bags but most of them were just plastic with little else, eco-wise, going for them. So I’ve decided to only include bags made from materials that are either recycled, reused or compostable. If you’d like to educate yourself on the eco-credentials of the various materials used in bag making check out my blog post on Sustainable Ethical Fibres and Fabrics
Forester Products in Ireland create bags made from cork, with cotton linings. The bags are handmade in Portugal, where the material is grown. They also make belts from cork and polyurethane, and watches with stainless steel watch faces and straps made from Ultraleather®, which is said to be a PVC free, low emissions material. The material Ultraleather® has a gold certificate from a company called Greengaurd, which appears to be a subsidiary of a commercial science lab. All Forester Products bags are packaged in a large 100% unbleached cotton drawstring bag with inner support from Sweetair, an air pillow film, made from bioplastic. Although the pillows aren’t recyclable in Ireland, they are reusable and being lighter so will save on fuel emissions from transportation. The company also funds the planting one tree for every product sold.
Another Irish company, Lovern use traditional vegetable tanned leather to make stunning long-lasting barrel shaped bags in Ireland by hand.
Based in Ireland Vel-Oh make cycle-friendly bags from British Millerain waxed cotton and canvas with London sourced leather details. The heavy duty cotton webbing also comes from the UK and every bag is lined with a polka dot cotton material from a supplier in Ireland.
Another company involved in recycling material was Cork based Mamukko. Set up by two Hungarian brothers the company offers sailing bags upcycled from sails, life rafts, leather and textiles in their workshop in Kinsale, Ireland.
Fresh Cuts in Dublin 2 sell a range of backpacks made from recycled cotton.
Cork Crafts in Cork! sell bags, wallet and shoes made from cork leather in Portugal. The store owner told me that no plastic or synthetic chemicals is used in making the cork leather, just adhesive to stick it to the backing fabric, which may or may not be natural so check before you buy.
International brand Tumi, which are available in Brown Thomas in Dublin offer a range of recycled bags made from post-industrial fabric scraps collected from factory floors.
Another international brand Samsonite have a range of bags partially made from fabric created from recycled PET bottles.
Lost in Samsara is a UK company sells long-lasting accessories from natural and recycled materials, made by underprivileged artisans across the globe, some of whom are disabled. They plant one tree for every product sold and for every keyring sold they donate to Surfers against Sewage. Their website is hosted on servers located in Germany and powered by renewable energy. It’s hard to tell from the website exactly what products are made.
Sativa make bags and wallets from hemp and organic cotton, and donate some of the profits to environmental charities like WWF. They don’t appear to have their own website but you can buy their bags from UK-based Highend Accessories, who are also a retailer for Hoodlamb Coats.
The Whale Company in the UK sell beach related goods (bags, tshirts and flip flops) from organic cotton, recycled or reused material. Even the toggles on their organic cotton bags are manufactured from fallen, harvested twigs. Also the dyes are Azo free; and the labels and display stands are made from recycled cardboard. They state that they visited the factory in India that makes their products to make sure the working conditions were fair. For every Whalebag or pair of Whaletreads sold, The Whale Company donates 10p to the charity WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The company is also actively involved in other ocean health campaigns and organisations.
Paperthinks in the UK make bags from reconstituted leather made from leather offcuts created during the manufacture of cow leather gloves and jackets in the welding industry. The offcuts, trimmings and shavings is shred into pieces then glued with natural rubber and laminated with a strong coating that the company says doesn’t involve harmful chemicals. I love the fact that this company are recycling a waste product, but the website gives no indication that the original leather being recycled was tanned without cadmium and nickle, or the content of the coating they use and whether their products are recyclable, biodegradable or compostability at the end of their life.
M-24 is a UK company that up cycles truck tarpaulins into bags.
UK-based Charlie Feist sells a few items made from recycled PET bottles. They also sell items made from something they call ‘eco nylon’ but not details on this material is provided so I can’t really comment on its eco-credentials.
Since 2005 UK company Elvis & Kresse have been rescuing raw materials, transforming them into luxury accessories and donating 50% of profits back to charities. For over a decade none of London’s fire-hose has gone to landfill and over 170 tons of material has been reclaimed. In 2017 the Burberry Foundation partnered with Elvis & Kresse, which will see at least 120 tonnes of leather off-cuts from Burberry recrafted into new luxury items, designed and sold by Elvis & Kresse over a 5 year period. A reader reported that they have an Elvis & Kresse bag and said that although it’s a very heavy day, it’s great on wet days because it you simply need to wipe it dry. Theirs is also lined with recycled reclaimed blankets used for printing auction banners.
TINCT make leather goods in England, from leather sourced from Sweden, Denmark and Belgium and tanned with vegetables in Italy.
Some of the bags made by Wilby are made from vegan cork leather, organic cotton and organic hemp. At the time of publishing all but one style of bag – the Tone Time – is made in the UK and the company plant a tree with the World Land Trust for every bag sold.
Carolina Wong bags are designed in London and handcrafted in Morrocco from veg-tanned leather with organic cotton linings and dust bags. The leather is coloured with natural dyes and the thread used is recycled from unraveled and spun car seatbelts. With a keen interest in sustainability waste is kept to a minimum with scraps from the production process being recycled for other smaller parts of the bag. In an effort to save people from the fast fashion industry. Wong herself and master artisans train each apprentice during the production process, helping young artists preserve their ancestors’ traditions. Apprentices are also paid a fair wage helping them sustain to their careers.
Elephant Brand pay a fair, competitive wage to local villagers who make bags out of locally sourced, recycled materials. Also buying one of their products and they will donate a school kit to children in Africa or Asia.
Atlas and Ortus in the UK sell products that support sustainable living including a certified organic cotton weekend bag that is made in West Bengal, by Freeset – a company that exists specifically to provide freedom for women vulnerable to India’s sex trade. By purchasing one of their bags, you’re helping Freeset provide employment to more than 250 women, enabling them to earn a fair wage and transform their own lives.
Millican make long-lasting backpacks from natural and recycled materials including organic cotton canvas, leather, British wool and recycled polyester. They use long lasting aluminium fixtures instead of plastic and some of their bags are made in the UK.
From Belo only use leather that is dead stock from local industries and their textiles are all from recycled fabrics and recycled plastic bottles, with high-quality hardware like YKK zippers. Their bags are made in Brazil by a husband and wife team. The company also donate plates of food to under-priviliedge Brazilians every time a bag is sold. The donation is done by way of the NGO Casa De Maria, in Belo Horizonte’s biggest slum, Cafezal.
Ragsto based is a one-man company in England that makes bags to order from salvaged materials.
Been make bags from recycled leather and recycled polyester in London. Their designs are such so as to reduce the amount of waste generated. Their packaging is completely recycled and recyclable. All of their packaging and logistics are done by the Camden Society, a social enterprise that trains and employs Londoners with learning disabilities.
The Level Collection hand-make backpacks from weather proof Scottish waxed cotton, which they claim doesn’t crack or transfers onto your clothing or other surfaces. The leather detailing they use is hand-cut British vegetable tan leather and their stainless steel buckles are laser cut and polished in their hometown, Sheffield UK.
Ms Bag in Belgium makes bags from 100% rescued waste material salmon leather with some black Italian veg-tan leather as details. Ms. Bay produces in Kolkata, India in factories that are SA8000 standard certified, which means that they qualify for fair trade standards regarding child labour, health and safety, discrimination and remuneration.
Oh My Bag Amsterdam in Holland make their products from vegetable-tanned leathers without the use of harmful chemicals like chromium and a synthetic top finish. Their canvas collection and dust bags are made from GOTS certificated organic cotton. All of our factories have SA 8000 certification standards to ensure that all operate under fair conditions. Their packaging is made from recycled materials and is certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Customers can also choose to have their purchase shipped in a returnable and reusable RePack which can be dropped in a nearby post box after use. As a reward, Repack will send a 10% discount voucher by email for O My Bag and all other brands that use Repack. The company states that it is constantly trying to minimise its carbon footprint and that they offset what they do produce by investing in the Envira Amazonia Project. Also in 2017 the company donated 3,000 school bags to The Brickfield Schools Project which is an organization that provides school lessons to children of workers in Indian Brickfields.
Zamt in Germany sells beautiful vegetable tanned leather bags and wallets with no synthetic top finishes for men and women. The leather is from France and is tanned in Italian and Portuguese tanneries that work within the strict framework of European Environmental Law. The hides are vegetable tanned with wood extracts then greased with tallow and sunflower seed oil and rounded off with a natural finishing. The company has also chosen GoGreen from DHL, which is working towards reducing all logistics-related emissions to zero by the year 2050.
Ulsto (see photo above) make bags, wallets and yoga mats from natural, animal-free and durable materials in Germany. They use cork, GOTS – certified organic cotton, felt made from recycled PET bottles and OEKO-TEX certified (toxin-free) metal zips and cotton cords. They also do a range of cork based jewellery. Their website is in German so you’ll have to use google translate with it.
German company Pinqponq make long-lasting products from recycled plastic in Vietnam. The company is a member of Fair Wear Foundation and they have partnered with bluesign systems to help keep environmentally damaging substances out of the production process. Their bags that don’t include leather are certified as being vegan by PETA. You can buy directly from the company or via the e-tailer YOOX
I’m a fan of making stuff from existing stuff including these bags and wallets made from used bicycle tubes by German company Deus ex Machine.
Pagura is another German based company offering a wide range of bags and wallets made from recycled bicycle tubes.
Wayks make durable PFC-free bags from recycled polyester in a factory in Vietnam that is owned by a German company and recognised by Fair Wear Foundation. Their also source their materials from companies registered with bluesign, a Swiss organisation, which certifies and assists companies throughout the fashion industry’s supply chain, helping them to reduce their environmental impact.
Ecoalf is a Spanish brand for men and women that uses recycled plastic (from discarded fishing nets and PET bottles) to simply styled backpacks. Through it’s foundation Ecoalf are involved in a project to clean our oceans of waste called Upcycling the Oceans
Le Petite Sardine use artisans, mostly in Portugal, to make fairtrade bags from sustainable organic materials
GrunBAG in Denmark produce high-quality bags and wallets from sustainable or recycled materials like truck tarpalins, building supply bags, lifeboats, seat belts and recycled plastic.
The Organic Company in Denmark make a range of organic cotton products including a range for bags. The organic cotton is GOTS certified and the zipper made from recycled plastic.
Sandqvist in the Sweden make long-lasting fairtrade bags and backpacks from organic cotton, recycled fabric. They also have a repair shop in their flagship store in Stockholm and commonly used spare parts and repairs of worn out Sandqvist products are available at a reasonable cost through all Sandqvist stores. As a customer, you can choose to have your old and used Sandqvist bag repaired for a new life, or hand it in for second-hand sales in exchange for a voucher granting you 20% off your next purchase. Their cotton comes from Adilabad in the state of Telangana, India, where it for the most part is produced on small-scale by self-sufficient farmers (see www.chetnaorganic.org.in for info). Sandqvist is also a member of the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) and you can read FWF’s annual evaluation of Sandqvist on their homepage. Further information on the factories that they work with is available on this webpage. The company states that a large share of the synthetic material they use is certified regarding chemical content and that they also perform random chemical testing of our products, but there is no mention of it being OETEK certified as being free from toxins. You can buy directly from the company’s website or Yoox is an online retailer of Sandqvist Bags.
Fjällräven make long-lasting repairable bags from organic, renewable and recycled materials wherever possible. They evaluate materials on its efficiency, functional qualities, chemical composition and only use materials that they feel balance a material’s functionality with its environmental impact. They prioritise traceable natural materials. They don’t use materials with PFCs, PVCs and angora wool, although their zips currently contain PFCs for functionality. Although the company uses animal derived materials they claim that the welfare of animals is of great concern and no supplier engages in live plucking, force feeding or mulesing.
Lovia in Finland employ artisans to make bags and jewellery from salvaged materials from from Finnish furniture factories, elk hides left over from Nordic population control hunting and salmon skins, by-products of food production.
Natural Nuance use chrome-free leather and natural tanning agents to make their bags in European factories, and they do not seal them with plastics. They are also working to ensure that their products are designed to be easy to separate for recycling at the end of their life.
Dece Clothing work with disadvantaged families to make accessories and bags in Romania from leather, wool and cotton.
Dirty Girls of Lesvos make bags from upcycled life jackets worn by refugees that land in Greece. You can get a bag by making a donation of €100 to the charity, who’s main activity is washing blankets, sleeping bags and clothes for refugees instead of binning them and replacing them with new stuff as happens with other NGO’s.
3QUARTERS is an upcycling fashion accessories brand founded in 2015 in Athens, Greece. They upcycle leftover and used awning fabrics from local Athenian balconies with a zero waste philosophy at it’s core.
A A K S was founded to help create sustainable jobs within Africa. Their products are handcrafted in Ghana from raffia, leather and linen and are characterised by bright exuberant colours. I wouldn’t normally feature products made in Africa but these are available in Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters stores and from the UK-based e-tailer Gather & See.
- The Weed Solution (Ireland) sells a range of bags made from Hemp including the Sativa brand.
- The social enterprise The Big Issue (UK) have an online store where they sell bags from Elephant Brand, Elvis and Kresse, Hopeful and Dece Clothing.
- Oxfam (UK) has an online website where you can buy branded bags that have been donated to them.
- Gather&See (UK) offers a curated selection of cutting edge sustainable fashion labels including bags by AAKS, Carolina Wong and Tinct.
- Mi Apparel (UK) sells Elvis & Kresse and Oh My Bag Amsterdam.
- Frank and Faith, The Ethical Superstore, Natural Collection & Spirit of Nature (UK) stock accessories from Wilby and Patagonia.
- Ethical Market (UK) is an online marketplace for small makers of ethical goods, including clothing, footwear and accessories for men, women and children.