8 popular handbags and what they’re made of

Michael Kors

mk

Most MK bags are made from Polyurethane or PU, with leather trimmings. You will hear the abbreviation PU a lot in this story, so let me explain what it means. PU is a kind of plastic that can be treated to look a lot like leather. In fact, most bags, shoes, sofa upholstery, you see on the market are in fact made from PU. No animals are killed in manufacturing PU, BUT its non-biodegradable, so after you throw it away, its going to stay in the earth for hundreds of years and cause a lot of pollution.

The leather used in the trimmings is chemically tanned, again a highly polluting process.

Good On You review – 2/5. 

According to Good On You, it does not provide relevant information about its impact on the environment and its labor rating is ‘very poor’.

Louis Vuitton

louis-vuitton-neverfull-mm-monogram-handbags--M41177_PM2_Front View

LV is best known for their Coated Canvas bags, specially the Monogram and Damier lines. Coated Canvas is a layer of cotton canvas that is treated with the plastic derivative PVC (Polyvinylchloride). They are not found to use Organic Cotton in their Canvas. The bag trimmings are made from leather, which is chemically tanned.

However there is an upside to LV – Their bags are highly durable, so if you buy one, really care for it, and own it all your life, and perhaps even pass it on to your daughters, thats better than buying ten cheap bags.

Good On You review – 2/5

According to Good On You LV has made a public commitment to reduce its direct and indirect carbon emissions, but has made no commitment to eliminate hazardous chemicals – chemicals are a big step in leather tanning, which is extremely harmful to the environment.

Charles & Keith

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Most C&K bags are made from PU. It is hard to find information on whether or not they use leather for their handbag trimmings. Since C&K is an affordable brand, my guess is that they don’t.

I have a lot of respect for C&K because they’re a fairly new brand from our part of the world that has taken the handbag world by storm.

But let’s not ignore the fact that they use plastic for most of their products.Additionally, when you buy a handbag or wallet from them it comes with a ton of unnecessary plastic packaging. Even the insides of the bag is filled with foam and plastic bubble wrap, and there are several layers of plastic packaging on the outside.

Good On You review – They have not reviewed this brand.

 

Hermes1513202893.jpg

The first thing that comes to mind when you hear of Hermes are the Birkin Bag or the Kelly Bag. So what are these bags made of? Leather – a lot of it ! For example -a lizard skin handbag requires four to five lizards for just one bag. They also use alligator and crocodile skin. Hermes provides no information on their tanning process, and I am pretty sure the leather is chemically tanned. Their bags wouldn’t be so flawless if they didn’t!

Good On You rating – 1/5  “It has not heeded calls to take part in GreenPeace’s ‘Detox’ campaign to eliminate certain hazardous chemicals, and it is on Rank a Brand’s Greenwashing Alert list”.

All is all – Disappointing. Hermes bags cost a fortune, so the company can definitely afford to take steps to minimise their carbon footprint, but they haven’t.

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Most Coach bags are made in Canvas, denim, straw or sateen and use Cow, Lizard, Crocodile, Python and Lamb skin.

One of the biggest issues with Coach is how opaque the Supply Chain is. They provide no information whatsoever about environmental impact (which means they are tanning chemically), how the leather is extracted, and labor standards.

Good On You rating – 1/5

Kate Spadeksks.jpg

Kate Spade bags are mostly made from leather – Cowhide, Boarskin, and others. All of their leather is chemically tanned. No information has been provided by KS on environmental impacts or the company’s efforts to minimise environmental damage from tanning.

Labour – Something really cool that KS has done is setting up a manufacturing unit at an unlikely destination – Rwanda. If you see the ‘On Purpose’ label inside a KS bag, know that it has been produced in Rwanda. Rwanda isn’t the easiest place to manufacture in, with lack of roads, electricity, water source, and fashion manufacturing skills and culture. So this step is pretty commendable. 

Good On You rating – They have not reviewed this brand.

ChanelChanel

Ok the Fashion Industry and every girl who likes dressing up (or dressing down) owes so much to Coco Chanel, so I’m kind of nervous while I type this review, Phew, but here goes.

This breaks my heart into a million tiny pieces – LambSkin.

Yep, the skin of Mary’s little lamb that has no business hanging from our shoulders. Some sources also say caviar skin is used, which is more scratch resistant than Lambskin. All leather is chemically tanned.

Good On You rating – 1/5. “ It uses fur and angora, wool and leather without specifying sources. It continues to source chemicals tested on animals.”

Gucci

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Most Gucci bags are made of Coated Canvas, just like Louis Vuitton, along with leather trimmings from Calfskin. They also use Snake and Crocodile skin for their purses. Some forums suggest that they also use Pigskin, but I cannot vouch for this. All their leather is chemically tanned.

However, Gucci has done something most high end handbag companies haven’t. According to Good On You – “Gucci has made a public commitment to reduce its direct and indirect carbon emissions by 50% by year 2025.”

The company has a policy in place to minimise pollution caused by leather tanning using Chromium. They’ve also made efforts to reduce waste throughout their supply chain. I cannot stress how commendable this all is, because following through on these commitments isn’t easy or cheap. So my respect to Gucci.

Good On You rating – 2/5

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My pick – If I had to choose from this list.

My Pick if I had to choose based on these companies’ efforts to do better, or the lack of it, it would have to be Gucci. However, I am not the biggest fan of their designs, so I would go for the second contender – Drumroll please – Louis Vuitton.

Wow I’ve never really wanted an LV and even I’m surprised at this revelation, and the simple reason is this – Durability. Bag manufacturing in general is an inhumane and polluting industry, and Louis Vuitton is no exception to this fact. But the thing is that its better to own a bag forever than to buy 20 cheaper handbags over the coarse of a lifetime and eventually send them all to the landfill.

A Common Misconception

It is commonly believed that leather extraction is a by-product of the meat industry. According to animalsaustralia.org – “Whilst true that usually an animals’ meat is also sold (such as in the case of cattle and sheep), their skin can still represent a significant portion of the income made on the sale of their body parts, contributing to the overall commercial viability of the enterprise. So sadly, leather is a ‘co-product’ of the meat industry, and may help drive demand for more animals to be raised and killed.”

Leather Alternatives

I might forego leather bags, but i absolutely love faux leather boots and jackets. While ‘faux’ is considered ‘Vegan’, the truth is that it is mostly plastic. So what choice do we have?

There are two major innovations worth mention. If I missed any others, please leave a comment!

Richard Wool’s ‘Eco Leather’

eco leather.jpg

Scientist Richard Wool has invented a faux leather that is also bio-degradable. I mean – massive respect for this guy. According to Ecouterre – “ The product is made by mixing either flax or cotton fibers with palm, corn, soybean and other plant oils. This mixture is laminated together in layers to create something that feels and acts like animal leather. “

The product has not gone commercial yet (I could not find any brands using this), but if you ask me this is the future of leather fashion.

 

Piñatex

Piñatex® was developed by Dr.Carmen Hijosa using pineapple leaf fibre. So no harmful tanning chemicals are used, and no animals are harmed in the process.

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In all honesty Piñatex® is not nearly as smooth, shiny and attractive as animal leather, but then if it means not having to kill a lamb, and not ingesting rivers with chromium, its a good option.

I hope the company will be able to improve the product’s finish in the near future, and I’ll be patiently waiting for that day !

To learn which brands are already using Piñatex®, click here.

 

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Assumption made while writing this article  – If a company has not published any information on how their leather is tanned, i am assuming that it is chemically tanned. Most leather worldwide is tanned using chemicals, and vegetable tanning does not produce the smooth finish that you see on most bags (yet!). 

Sources – Good On You, Purseblog, Yoogi’s Closet, Animals Australia, Ecouterre, Leaf.tv and a whole lot research !

 

 

 

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