Let’s face it, every outfit needs a handbag, but often sustainability is not at the forefront of shoppers’ minds in a world where designer logos, celebrity endorsements, and buzzy brands reign supreme. Thankfully, fashion’s messaging is starting to shift and investing in a bag with style and substance is becoming more than just a trend.
“Just like clothing, completing the look with an additional sustainable accessory gives even more strength to the wearer's message—a conscious outfit from head to toe,” Hassan Pierre, CEO and co-founder of Maison De Mode, tells Byrdie. Although it might be the last piece you throw on, handbags are one of the most important items in a wardrobe, often worn multiple times a week, if not daily.
Consequently, investing in an eco-conscious option that is mindfully manufactured and will stand the test of time is all the more important. “[Bags] are closely connected to a person's most intimate being and for this reason they are long-lasting products that can be used and reused but also passed on between family members, through different generations,” says Francesca Monaco, co-founder of accessories brand THEMOIRè. A few of the absolute guide points Pierre calls out are recycled, organic, cruelty-free, charitable, fairtrade, and women- or BIPOC-owned.
Whether you’re looking for a carry-all satchel that will hold a full day’s necessities or a festive, party bag for your next big event, our list of 20 sustainable bags will make everyday dressing all the easier, with picks and tips straight from the experts.
Sarep and Rose Slender Kenya Tote
Robin Sirleaf, founder of Sarep + Rose, travels across Africa to find the best materials and artisans. The Kenya tote is sustainably sourced leather that has been made with an eco-friendly vegetable tanning process. This sleek and compact handbag easily fits an 11- to 13-inch laptop without being too overwhelmingly large or heavy on the shoulder. Contrasting, topstitched straps add an artisanal touch. Whether a breakfast meeting or a group workout class is on your morning agenda, this bag will add instant polish to any outfit.
Price at time of publish: $265
Material: Leather | Colors: Black | Dimensions: 15 x 13 x 4.5 inches
Cuyana Recycled Sling Bag
Cuyana’s brand slogan of “Fewer, better” truly reminds us of the importance of meaningful purchases. Its recycled sling bag leans on the pillar of “better”, crafted from recycled plastic taken from a landfill. It is a versatile shape that can be worn on the shoulder or crossbody, thanks to an adjustable strap. The slouchy design is ideal for weekend errands and casual excursions, with ample room for all the necessities and more. Choose from three different sizes (small, medium, and oversized) to find the one that will best meet your everyday needs.
Price at time of publish: $178
Material: Upcycled 100% Global Recycle Standard-certified landfill plastic | Colors: Cappuccino, Black, Dark Olive | Dimensions: 9.5 x 16 x 4.5 inches (Medium)
Stella Mccartney S-Wave Shoulder Bag
“The perfect ‘90s bag made from recycled material does exist,” Martinez says. “This bag is sustainable to the max.” Stella McCartney has been a pioneer in sustainable materials since the brand’s conception in 2001, having launched her high-end luxury brand without any use of animal products (leather, feathers, skin, or fur). Each year, the label centers its efforts around research to help in the development of cutting-edge sustainable production processes. This smooth shoulder bag is one of its latest handbag evolutions, made from a vegan alternative material, boasting a recycled brass logo and a recycled interior lining. This nineties-shaped bag will give any outfit a pop of color, from tailoring to jeans and a T-shirt, (but there are neutral colors to choose from, should you prefer, as well).
Price at time of publish: $1,695
Material: Recycled polyester and polyurethane with solvent-free, bio-based coating; recycled brass logo | Colors: Daisy Blue, Black, Smoke, Bright Red, Cameo Blue +more | Dimensions: 6 x 11 x 2 inches
Themoire Tia Apple Clutch Bag
THEMOIRé was founded in Milan in 2019 to produce fashionable goods with the least environmental impact. The brand is best known for its minimalist-inspired line of handbags, all made using the highest-tech bio-based fabrics and recycled materials. This clutch is one of co-founder Francesca Monaco's favorites. “The Tia is a clutch bag with a top magnetic closure and linings made of 100% recycled materials,” says Monaco. “Made in Italy, this innovative material recovers apple peels and cores from food industry discards and transforms them into a new raw fabric. The apple waste is used to substitute other raw materials of chemical origin and lower the consumption of energy through the entire food production chain.” Wear yours for a night out either with or without the removable shoulder strap and top handle.
Price at time of publish: $490
Material: Apple with polyurethane lining | Colors: Linen, Wheat | Dimensions: 5.9 x 10.6 x 4.7 inches
TDL Vanguard Louis Bucket Bag Mini
One of Pierre’s top picks comes from a brand based out of Colombia called TDL Vanguard. “[Its] business model is marked by the replacement of the traditional production cycle with one in which they prioritize the recycling and reuse of waste, and then incorporate it into their pieces, thus seeking to significantly extend the life cycle of products and minimize resource costs. Artisans and recyclers work exclusively with elements from the environment.” The iconic bucket bag, for example, has been crocheted with 473 recycled, curated, and transformed metal tabs, with an orange peel handle inspired by the energy of the sun. This bucket bag proves the inventive designs that sustainability can truly offer. We recommend styling with a knit sweater and trousers for a daytime approach.
Price at time of publish: $537
Material: Upcycled tin tabs; silk cord; and orange peel handle | Colors: Not listed | Dimensions: 12.5 centimeter diameter
AAKS Bika Yellow Bag
Handcrafted in Ghana, AAKS was founded by Akosua Afriyie-Kumi to increase global awareness of ethical production and sustainable consumption, through the traditional weaving techniques and bright colors of Africa. The results are beautiful, hand-woven pieces that tell of community, craftsmanship, and tradition. New to the brand’s roster this season is the Bika, a crossbody style that boasts an exquisite, woven raffia exterior in a unique color combination. Take yours on your next warm-weather trip or simply lean into the everyday ease with outfits such as a sundress or a denim-on-denim look.
Price at time of publish: $170
Material: Woven straw | Colors: Natural/Blue/Yellow/Pale | Dimensions: | 6 x 6 x 3.25 inches
Paravel Net Sustain Fold-up Backpack
By now, you might be familiar with Paravel’s popular array of travel bags and gear, but did you know they’re also earth-friendly? 100% of the brand’s products use upcycled materials, and its impact on the earth, forests, and atmosphere is constantly top of mind through the design process. If you are the type to carry all your belongings in one place, the fold-up backpack will be your new go-to. This lightweight, water-resistant nylon fabric is made from 100% post-consumer plastic bottles and is Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and Global Recycled Standard-certified. We love the black and white color combo for everyday use, from home to the gym, the office, and more.
Price at time of publish: $75
Fabric: Water-resistant recycled nylon, black vegan leather | Colors: Black, Scuba Navy, Safari Green, Flatiron Grey, Canyon Yellow +more | Dimensions: 5.9 x 15.7 x 12.2 inches
Petite Kouraj Mini Fringe Top Handle Bag
Founded by Nasrin Jean-Baptiste, Petite Kouraj is an ode to the fashion stylist’s Haitian roots. The brand’s signature, netted fringe bags have quickly become street-style symbols, since debuting in 2018. Each strand of fringe is hand sewn 342 times (for the mini size) and can take up to 8-12 hours to create by artisans. The brand partners with D.O.T. Haiti, an organization that provides education, training, and opportunities to serve the Haitian people and grow their economy. Style yours with a fun, bodycon mini dress for a hot summer night out or a bikini, kaftan, and oversized hat for your next vacation.
Price at time of publish: $375
Material: Organic cotton netting; rayon fringe; and 100% leather handle | Colors: Nutmeg, Leaf, Syrup +more | Dimensions: 9 x 8 x .13 inches
Adriana Castro Zenu Two-Tone Cana Flecha Ring Top-Handle Bag
“As one of our designers Adriana Castro says, ‘When holding a genuine piece, one can understand the scope of quality and elegance that each handbag and accessory truly embodies’,” says Pierre. “These one-of-a-kind, handmade artisan pieces are timeless, wearable stories and works of art. Bold, sensual textures and colors give every piece extraordinary character and personality.” The Zenu bag embodies all these qualities and is a mainstay for the brand. The unique, round-shape design has top handles for easy carrying and is made by artisans of the Zenú Indigenous community, for whom the style is named. Each bag is woven with a locally grown cane called caña flecha. Wear yours to the beach with a swimsuit or on the street with a breezy summer dress and platform sandals, as a very special finishing touch.
Price at time of publish: $785
Material: Woven caña flecha and leather | Colors: Black, blue | Dimensions: 16 x 16 x 3 inches
WE-AR4 The Godspeed Nylon Crossbody Bag
WE-AR4’s sporty, modern designs are made using luxury deadstock fabrics and upcycled materials. The nylon crossbody bag is made from water-resistant fabric that was produced in 2018 in Italy, having been dormant for 4 years in the mill until it was bought by WE-AR4 and revived into new shapes. Pockets aplenty make this shape extremely versatile, and an adjustable, webbed crossbody strap will keep things comfortable as you run to appointments, grab a coffee, attend an outdoor concert, and more. Keep things casual when styling this piece and pair it back to athleisure, denim favorites, or utilitarian separates.
Price at time of publish: $195
Material: Nylon and REPREVE® recycled polyester | Colors: Military, Black, Burnt Orange, Cement Gray +more | Dimensions: 6 x 8 x 2.25 inches
Sarah's Bag Shimmer Silver Bestie
“Sarah's Bag is a Beirut-based handbag and accessories brand and one of the leading social enterprises in the Middle East, designed on the basis of the skills of 200 female prisoners, ex-prisoners, and disadvantaged women in Lebanon, giving them the opportunity to embroider their way towards a life of responsibility and financial independence,” Pierre explains. The brand’s playful designs incorporate beading and embellishments, producing some of the best handbags for evening, including the shimmery Bestie style. Inspired by the 1920s, wear this fringed, beaded number to your next big gala event or wedding reception.
Price at time of publish: $420
Material: Canvas, hand-embellished with glass beads | Colors: Silver, gold, multicolor | Dimensions: 8.6 x 7.8 x .78 inches
Edas Mini Leather Belt Bag
Careful craftsmanship and innovation are at the forefront of Edas’ founder and creative director Sadie Mims’ designs, with a focus on community. This convertible belt bag is no exception. Made with a mindful, hand's free construction, the card case and mini handbag are all detachable from the belt itself, and made to be worn in various ways. Complete with a natural tiger eye beaded handle, this is one unique piece that will live in your closet for a lifetime. Play up the utilitarian nature of the bag with wide-leg cargo pants and a crop top for waist definition.
Price at time of publish: $410
Material: Leather | Colors: Camel, Midnight | Dimensions: 4 x 3.75 x .25 inches (zip bag); 5.5 x 5.5 x 2 inches (flap bag); and a 52-inch adjustable belt for both
Chloe Marcie tasseled textured-leather shoulder bag
“The brands that I see doing the most to produce ethically and are the best to invest in are Stella McCartney, Chloé, and Gabriela Hearst,” Martinez says. “As global brands, they have been able to lead the change we need.” Chloé was the first luxury maison to be B Corp-certified, which is a demanding credential that evaluates a brand’s social environmental impact. The Marcie shoulder bag is inspired by the heritage, equestrian shape, but is made with leather that has been certified by the Leather Working Group (LWG). “With its saddle stitch and removable straps, this Chloé bag is perfect for the girl who loves horses,” Martínez notes.
Price at time of publish: $1,790
Material: Leather | Colors: Gray, Brown | Dimensions: 6.3 x 11 x 3.1 inches
Aimee Kestenberg bali Double Entry Leather Satchel
Meeting Nordstrom’s Responsible Manufacturing criteria, Australian-based Aimee Kestenberg’s satchel handbag is made from Leather Working Group-approved leather, making it a style worth investing in. The brand also works with its local community’s charities through a philanthropic fund called AK Gives Back. A customer favorite, the Bali satchel is large enough to fit a laptop, notebook, and more, making this the best bag for work or for those with a serious commute time.
Price at time of publish: $278
Material: Vintage leather | Colors: Black Vintage | Dimensions: 13.25 x 9.5 x 5.25
Everlane The Cactus Leather Hobo
Crafted from Everlane’s first plant-based material Desserto®, a bio-based fabric made from organically sourced prickly pear cactus, the Cactus Leather Hobo is a classic design that does not sacrifice style for sustainability. Crafted with a smooth, minimalist construction, the hobo shape is spacious enough to fit your essentials, and features an inside pocket for stashing keys, credit cards, and more. Go for one of the neutral colors that can be mixed and matched with all your closet staples, from trench coats to summery separates.
Price at time of publish: $150
Fabric: Desserto® bio-based cactus "leather" with a woven cotton backing and solvent-free polyurethane coating | Colors: Honey, Black, Pepper | Dimensions: 11.8 x 10.8 inches
Behno Simone Mini Crossbody Pebble
Behno’s brand pillars are numerous, but some of the reasons to invest in this brand include its devotion to the manufacturers it employs, through benefits like access to healthcare clinics, equal remuneration for women, as well as no child labor, fair wages, and transparent contracts. This mini crossbody shape is cute and functional and can easily be dressed up or down with the change of a strap. Simply carry it over your shoulder or as a crossbody, to see how versatile it really can be. Wear it to work, dinner with friends, or even a date.
Price at time of publish: $545–$645
Material: Leather | Colors: Black Pebble, Terracotta, Acid Green Pebble +more | Dimensions: 8 x 4.5 x 2.5 inches
Mansur Gavriel Apple Leather Bucket Bag
The bag that started it all, Mansur Gavriel’s legendary bucket has finally been introduced in 100% vegan apple leather. Created in Italy, the material is produced through a coagulation process that replaces 50% of fossil derivatives with 50% of the product coming from apple peels and cores, discarded by the food industry. The result is an alternative that is waterproof, durable, and lives up to the designers’ quality stamp of approval. This wardrobe essential shape can be paired back to suiting for the office or a casual sweater dress for a weekend brunch with friends.
Price at time of publish: $495
Material: 100% vegan apple leather | Colors: Jade, Black/Flamma, Dusty Rose/Rosa, Cammello/Sun | Dimensions: 7 x 9.8 x 4.75 inches
Santos Agave Triangular Tote
Best known for its cactus leather creations, Santos by Mónica took the downtown fashion scene by storm. Since 2020, founder Mónica Santos Gil has created a cult following, not only in part due to her modern designs, but also her eco-conscious ethos. The color-blocked, triangular tote is made from the infamous material, which is biodegradable as well as regenerative (since only the tops of the leaves of the cactus are cut off, allowing the plant to keep growing). Each bag is also made-to-order, ensuring no waste in the production process. Stash all your belongings for the day in this mod-feeling black and white handbag, that can be worn with just about anything, from a trouser and a blouse to a miniskirt and T-shirt.
Price at time of publish: $335
Material: Cactus leather and organic cotton | Colors: Black/White, Electric Blue, Beige +more | Dimensions: 18 x 14.5 inches
Mashu Calliope Bag
Another new brand to watch is Mashu, a vegan accessories line founded by Ioanna Topouzoglou. Inspired by Art Deco interiors and Cycladic architecture, the brand’s unique aesthetic is demonstrated through the statement-making Calliope handbag. A wiggle handle in plated Brass takes center stage, adding to the modern shape that feels entirely architectural. But let’s not forget about the sustainable aspects. This particular handbag features many of the core values, such as verified vegan materials and manufacturing with ethical labor standards. A tree is planted with every purchase, as well.
Price at time of publish: £345
Material: Apple skin leather | Colors: Green, brown, cream +more | Dimensions: 7.5 x 8.7 x 3.1 inches
de Maria La Peque Shoulder Bag
Manufacturing sustainably is at the forefront of de Maria’s brand mission. Owned and founded by Daniela Novelo Iñiguez and Genoveva Pedrero Setzer, the duo works with artisan workshops in Mexico to co-create unique pieces using local materials and deadstock leather, reducing waste and lowering the brand’s carbon footprint. Additionally, de Maria also donates percentages of its profits to Fondo Semillas, a non-profit organization in Mexico fighting for women's rights including girls, women, transgender and intersex women. The La Peque bag is a shrunken shoulder shape available in a plethora of outstanding colors and one of its signature designs. Try one of its bold shades to inject a little color into your wardrobe.
Price at time of publish: $395
Fabric: Deadstock leather | Colors: Rosa Barragán, Lechera, Mandarina, Galaxia +more | Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 inches
Sustainable bags will always be in fashion. Start with brands that focus on fabric, craftsmanship, and quality as your guide, like Stella McCartney’s S-Wave Shoulder Bag or Petite Kouraj’s Mini Fringe Top Handle Bag. Recycled materials are always a plus, (for instance, Paravel’s Fold-Up Backpack or Cuyana Recycled Sling Bag), and future-shifting materials such as Everlane’s Cactus Leather and THEMOIRé’s Apple Fabric are simply the latest in what fashion has to offer, in efforts to produce more mindfully for a better future.
Meet the Expert
- Raz Martinez is a fashion stylist and editor based in New York City. His clients include Lauren Jauregui, Whitney Peak, and Grace Duah.
- Francesca Monaco is the co-founder of the Milan-based, environmentally responsible accessories brand, THEMOIRè.
- Hassan Pierre is the CEO and co-founder of Maison De Mode. He attended Parsons School of Design, where he studied Design and Management. Additionally, Pierre holds a position on the Board of Well Beings—an environmental and animal conservation NGO—is a member of the CFDA Fashion Awards Guild, and heads Fashion Trust Arabia's Strategic Development Committee.
What to Look for in Sustainable Bags:
“When shopping for a sustainable handbag the most important thing is the fabric,” Monaco says. “Many variables of the bag itself depend on the material and its degree of sustainability.” She recommends looking at what percentage of the bag is made from recycled, plant-based or innovative material (and don’t forget the linings and packaging!). “The research of the materials is key—plant-based, recycled and regenerated, starting from the product, passing through the inner linings, to be a conscious choice for everyone,” Monaco adds.
Finding brands that make quality products that will last a lifetime should be considered in the research phase. “The materials the product is made from should be kind to the planet and environment long term,” Martinez says. Shopping with longevity in mind will create a more mindful way of consuming. “Durability is another fundamental factor of its degree of sustainability,” Monaco notes. “The more refined and durable the materials are, the longer the bag will last and therefore the more time it will be used to justify its purchase.”
Craftsmanship and Tradition
Handcrafting is one way to measure sustainability. Pierre exemplifies MOLA SASA, a brand that works closely with Colombian artisans and breathes new life into their techniques and natural resources. “Each piece is made by a specific Afro/OD indigenous community with its distinctive natural fabrics and textiles,” he says. “Their methods and patterns draw from the weavings that narrate their stories.” The traditional techniques, stories, and heritages of global communities are integral to the creation of lasting, quality goods.
Fairtrade and Production Processes
“One of the most important points for me is to make sure the bag is made ethically in a safe working environment where the workers are treated appropriately and paid fairly,” Martinez stresses. Monaco agrees, saying, “Another fundamental characteristic for a sustainable handbag could be its production chain, where it was produced or if there are certifications concerning its value chain.” Before buying, take note of the brand’s production ethics and what certification qualifications it adheres to.
How has technology impacted new sustainable resources and materials on the market today?
“I believe that the sustainable market itself is also constantly evolving, looking for more and more recycling, manufacturing, and distribution techniques that would amaze people who are close to these values, and even more so those who are not, to attract their conscious awareness,” Pierre says. “Even more interesting to see how the boundaries of these intersect with other concerns, such as food waste and Greensaving.”
Pierre references Allégorie, a brand in the Maison De Mode portfolio, that is always looking for environmentally friendly alternatives, even beyond PVC, and transforming surplus food products such as apple, cactus, and mango peel into high-quality accessories for everyday use. “This is a demonstration of how brands are committed to transcend the boundaries of sustainable fashion and fight for the preservation of the planet,” he says.
How do designers go about sourcing sustainable materials?
Research is the key answer. “As the green world is still a developing industry through bureaucracy and authenticated processes, the critical points lie first of all at the research level,” Monaco says. “It is not always straightforward to find manufacturers' contacts and certifications that attest to the value of materials but we look for the top suppliers, building a virtuous value chain as a goal and supporting all these innovative new companies that work from a different point of view.”
“Fashion is one of the most polluting industries consequently our business strategy is based on the use of sustainable and recyclable materials,” Monaco continues. “Our goal is to build a better future, and the use of appropriate raw materials is essential if a challenging choice. Using a plant-based product is not limiting, although it can be complicated to find in a world that is still finding its way.”
Why Trust Byrdie
Full-time freelance writer and fashion editor Kristina Rutkowski has been covering all things style, trend, and shopping for over 10 years. Her bylines have appeared in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, WWD, The Zoe Report, Editorialist, InStyle, and SELF. Living in New York City, she is often able to see and try out brands firsthand, directly through the designer showrooms, which has provided ample research opportunities for this story.