Main image courtesy of Unsplash.
Finding the perfect handbag, purse, or backpack for your needs can be difficult. You want to find something durable, and something that will fit all your daily essentials-- but it also needs to fit your aesthetic. There are lots of options, and it’s not always clear whether the bag you’re looking at will actually suit your needs, or whether it’ll fall apart within a few months, forcing you to get another one.
This problem becomes worse when you think about how much waste the bag industry produces every year. So many bags and purses are made out of polyester and synthetic nylon-- which don’t biodegrade when they wear out and go to the landfill. And traditional leather tanning methods can cause a considerable amount of pollution, too. So what should you do if you want to track down a good bag that doesn’t harm the environment?
Luckily, plenty of purse brands, backpack brands, and handbag brands have made valiant efforts to produce unique bags that are both sustainable and durable. Here’s a list of some of our favorite sustainable bags:
This backpack from Day Owl is a solid option if you’re looking for a sustainable backpack for casual, day-to-day use. With a capacity of 21L, a padded laptop pocket, and several extra pockets to help you organize your essentials, this bag is great for school or light travel.
As for its sustainability, Day Owl’s backpack is made out of canvas manufactured from recycled plastic bottles, lined with recycled polyester, and uses algae-based foam for its laptop pocket. The company also aims to be entirely circular in its bag production-- if your Day Owl bag gets damaged or starts to wear out, you can bring it to a mending studio to fix it and continue using it instead of tossing it altogether.
If you like leather bags, but need lots of space to bring your work from place to place with you, you’ll want to check out the Kate Bag from O My Bag. This shoulder bag comes with three compartments, cardholder slots, and an inside pocket. It can even fit a laptop up to 15” in its outside pocket, so don’t worry about transporting your computer.
The bag is made out of O My Bag’s Stromboli leather, which is vegetable-tanned and therefore much healthier for the environment than traditionally-tanned leather. Since O My Bag seeks to keep its products in circulation rather than allowing them to wind up in the landfill, the company also provides information on how best to care for your leather bags. Plus, every bag comes with a lifetime guarantee-- if it gets worn down or damaged, you can send it in to be repaired for free.
The Colbie Straw Tote from Kayu is a lovely choice if you enjoy a good tote bag as much as we do-- and with its woven, natural look, it’ll make a great fashion statement, too. This bag is handwoven from all-natural straw using indigenous techniques by women in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia-- so purchasing it helps support women artisans as they keep their culture and art alive.
Kayu makes a point of using sustainable materials and production methods. As we’ve already mentioned, the straw used to make Kayu’s bags is natural. The leather used in the handles is all vegetable-tanned, so it’s chemical-free and more environmentally-friendly, too. And Kayu’s insistence on handcrafting their products in collaboration with artisans around the world both helps minimize the negative ecological effects of production and helps preserve the beautiful art of basket weaving.
If you’re looking for a smaller bag to carry with you from day to day, this Crossbody Bag from Sans Beast might suit your needs well. The main compartment is big enough for a cell phone, wallet, keys, and other incidentals, and the back features an easy-access card pocket. It’s adaptable as a shoulder bag, waist pack, or crossbody-- whatever fits your needs best at the moment.
It’s also a solid sustainable option, especially if you like the look of leather but aren’t comfortable with using animal products. Sans Beast aims primarily to make products without animal-based leather-- the company uses vegan and synthetic leather in its bags. Although synthetic leathers may not always be the best for the environment, Sans Beast is also constantly striving to use more eco-friendly synthetic materials, and most of its products are made with recycled content. The company is definitely doing its part to decrease its environmental impact.
The Abby Drawstring Backpack from Parker Clay is an excellent choice if you want a functional day-to-day bag from a brand that truly gives back to the earth and to the community. This backpack is made of full grain Ethiopian leather and features a main compartment, two exterior pockets, and an interior D ring to keep your keys safe. It’s also just got a gorgeous, classy look to it.
Parker Clay also does an excellent job of boosting its local community. The company aims to empower Ethiopian women to escape the exploitative world of prostitution and instead invest in their education while earning a fair income and gaining financial independence. To reach this goal, the company mostly employs women and provides fair wages, paid maternity leave, and meals while investing in its employees’ educations.
Parker Clay also makes strong efforts to stay as sustainable as they can-- all of their leather is sustainably sourced, and their products are all made in Ethiopia to reduce the carbon emissions that would come from transporting goods to be manufactured elsewhere.
Price: $186 (Regular Price $248)
Another excellent choice for a summer outing or for storage at home, this Oversized Palm Basket from Indego Africa is a lovely sustainable bag with plenty of space to carry your essentials. This basket is handcrafted by artisans in Rwanda using natural fibers made from palm leaves, so its production is very eco-friendly.
Indego Africa makes a point of empowering women artisans in Rwanda and Ghana by providing them with a global marketplace to sell their products. The company values preserving cultural traditions by partnering with local artisans around Africa who use local materials to hand make their baskets, bags, hats, and more. Handmade, locally-sourced products have a tendency to be more sustainable than mass-manufactured ones, so on top of giving back to its local communities, Indego Africa is also eco-friendly.
This Tote Bag from Uashmama is too unique to leave off of this list. Its height is adjustable-- you can roll the sides up and down until it’s the right depth for you. It also comes with a woven cotton shoulder strap, enabling you to carry it as a shopping bag or beach bag.
The Carry One Tote Bag’s unique look comes from Uashmama’s washable paper. Produced using water-saving methods and treated with biodegradable wax, the paper that makes up this bag is durable, flexible, water resistant, and hand-washable. As such, it’s plenty sustainable!
If you want a vegan leather backpack, look no further than this backpack from Allégorie. With several interior and exterior pockets, plus a padded sleeve that fits a 16” laptop, it’s a great way to carry around all your necessities no matter where you’re going. It’s got a nice, clean look to it, and the ruched pockets are a lovely accent!
It’s a great sustainable option, too-- this bag is made of apple leather, manufactured from apple peels, and is therefore free of the harmful chemicals that traditional leather often contains. Allégorie uses plant products and fibers to produce the leather in its bags, incorporating waste from apple juice manufacturers, cactus fibers, and more into their products. They aim to minimize the amount of synthetic materials used in their bags, and they’re always improving on that count-- so shopping with them is a great way to be vegan and eco-friendly.
If you need a sustainable and durable sports bag or duffel bag, this one from GRÜNBAG is a unique option. With a volume of 34L, this bag features plenty of pockets to help you organize your belongings.
It’s also extremely durable-- a goal that GRÜNBAG aims to achieve in all of their bags. GRÜNBAG prioritizes using recycled materials in their bags, including seatbelts, tarpaulin, airbag materials, and sails. This bag is made out of recycled sails and lined with recycled tarpaulin-- meaning it’ll stand up to a lot of wear and tear while also helping you stay eco-friendly with a unique bag.
Whether you’re looking for a purse, a backpack, or a nice tote bag for a day on the beach, there are plenty of options out there that are both durable and in line with your eco-friendly values. The brands on this list put a lot of effort into improving the sustainability and durability of their bags, and several of them also go out of their way to give back to the community, too-- so if you’re in need of an eco-friendly bag, try supporting one of these companies!