All you need to know about vegan leather and what makes an animal-free bag

Everything you need to know about the cruelty-free bags.

Those who love animals and don’t want to wear them will be opting for a vegan handbag. But what really makes a bag vegan? What animal materials are normally used for fashion? Is it as simple as swapping from leather to faux leather? What can we be wearing instead?

Let’s talk about vegan leather

Hundreds of millions of cows are killed and skinned, their skin transformed through chemical tanning into leather, from which countless handbags and wallets are made. 

Cows are sensitive creatures who have best friends, who get excited when they learn, and who love to play games. 

vegan leather bags
Vegan leather alternatives: vegan snake print, crocodile and PU leather. Accessories by Kinds of Grace.

The most common cruelty-free alternative to cow skin is polyurethane or PU. This material is man-made, and while it’s not the holy grail of sustainability, it is only half as impactful on the environment to produce compared to cow skin. Other animal skins used for these purposes include sheep, goats, pigs, snakes, crocodiles, and lizards.

Vegan leather is able to mimic the patterns of all sorts of animals, like reptiles, appreciating the beauty of nature and animals without taking from them. 

Vegan leather is also made of all sorts of more innovative and eco-friendly materials. Think bio-based pineapple, grape and apple ‘leathers’, cork, recycled PU, washable paper and more.

What about lining materials?

While it is pretty easy to know if a bag is vegan or not by seeing what the outer material is, there are other elements to consider, too.

Some luxury bags may be lined with silk. Silk is not vegan as it is made from the cocoons of silkworms who are boiled alive while inside of them. The cocoons are then unravelled and spun into silk – not as fancy as the material is made to sound. There are plenty of alternatives to silk, with even synthetic materials like polyester satins having a far lesser eco-impact to produce.

Sustainable alternatives also include:

  • Orange fibre silk
  • Tencel made from sustainably sourced wool cellulose
  • Bamboo Lyocell

All of these materials have the same silky touch, without the animal harm.

The glue used in making handbags

Though luckily it is less common than it used to be as fashion production has evolved, some glues are made from animals. Specifically, collagen, found in animal hides, bones and fish bodies. Knackeries (a name used for premises where horses are slaughtered) are sometimes colloquially referred to as ‘glue factories’ for this reason.

Plenty of bags are made with synthetic or plant-based glue, but it’s something to check in with if the brand is not vegan certified.

…and dyes!

A few dyes that may be used in the colouring of materials are not vegan. In both cosmetics and material production, red dyes are often derived from a scale insect cochineal (known as carmine) and some purple colours come from a type of snail. Some of these more hidden animal-derived materials are a perfect reason to support certified vegan labels who are dedicated to not harming animals.

Choosing a vegan bag is literally life-saving. Not only for the animal who is not skinned for the bag, but for silkworms, for horses, pigs and other animals who don’t have their bodies turned into glue, for insects spared from being crushed for dyes, and for the environment.

We all share this planet, and looking after it through our fashion choices is something we can all do to care for our earth.


Editor’s note: Feature image via Kinds of Grace.