Is your vegan handbag toxic? This post explains the toxicity of some vegan leather, how to find out if your vegan handbag is toxic, and how to source vegan alternatives.
June 3, 2021
Vegan (faux) leather is a rising trend.
According to whowhatwear.com, in 2020, people shopping for faux leather increased by 105% over the previous year. Great news for those of us who are veggies, empaths, and animal rights activists.
There’s no question that vegan leather is a much better choice than traditional leather.
Not only does the leather industry cause animals to suffer, but the people who produce it are also exposed to toxic chemicals, it seriously harms our environment, and according to PETA even finished leather products can cause harm to those who use them (releasing a toxic chemical called hexavalent chromium). This Bustle article explains it well.
But, unfortunately, not all vegan leather is a great choice.
DISCOVERING THE TRUTH
Two years ago, I got rid of all my handbags.
A ten-year collection of beautiful clutches, cross-bodies, and oversized bags I’d carefully searched for. Feeling good about the impact I was making by investing in cruelty-free goods.
Then, one day, I stumbled across the blog My Green Closet and was shocked to find out that some vegan leather was actually PVC. And upon investigating further, that included the vegan leather in ALL of my handbags.
Why I hadn’t looked into what the heck I’d been carrying around for all of those years, I don’t know. I was aware and conscious in so many other areas of my life, but that was a major blind spot for me.
I lead a healthy lifestyle, so the fact that I had a toxic substance touching my skin every day for ten years was incredibly frustrating and disturbing.
And so began my journey to becoming a more conscious shopper.
WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT PVC?
According to Greenpeace, polyvinyl chloride (often referred to as PVC or vinyl) “…is the most environmentally damaging plastic. The PVC lifecycle — its production, use, and disposal — results in the release of toxic, chlorine-based chemicals. These toxins are building up in the water, air and food chain. The result: severe health problems, including cancer, immune system damage, and hormone disruption.”
FASHION AND PVC
I get why PVC is appealing to the fashion industry. It’s inexpensive, versatile, shiny, waterproof, and durable.
Surprisingly, even many of the largest fashion houses use it. And in turn, this harmful material is worn by top models and celebrities, and featured in popular fashion magazines and blogs.
WHAT’S IN YOUR BAG?
More info about a company’s fabric choices are often found on their website’s “About” page, or on the product page under “Fabric and Care”.
Also, lots of manufacturers now choose to have their products certified by the “Oeko-Tex Standard 100” label (confirming that the fabric is free of harmful chemicals and safe for human use).
If a company uses a terms like “vegan leather,” or “man-made material” and hasn’t provided any other information, it’s often suspect.
The best way to learn more is to email their customer service. It takes less than two-minutes, you’ll typically have an answer within 24-hours, and most companies are transparent and happy to share that info.
But, if they’re not up-front and still choose to hide behind an umbrella term, don’t purchase the product. There’s a reason they’re keeping that info from you.
THE GOOD NEWS
More and more consumers are adopting a conscious approach to purchasing, and this awakening is affecting change — prompting companies to embrace a more conscious, kinder, and transparent way of doing business.
Though PVC is still prevalent in the fashion industry, there are lots of safer and more sustainable vegan leathers available, made out of materials like cork, pineapple leaves, apple, and even fungi!
Mylo is a vegan leather made from mycelium (the root system of fungi) and luxury fashion houses like Stella McCartney and Gucci have taken interest — Stella McCartney has already started working with it. Expect to hear a lot more about this innovative fabric in the near future.
Like people, we can’t expect any company to be perfect, but we should expect them to be conscious of their impact on people and the planet and commit to evolve, learn, and make kinder choices.
But until there are policies that prevent the use of toxic materials in fashion, we’ll need to do what we can to educate ourselves and others.
WHERE TO SHOP
Looking for some luxe, stylish, non-PVC vegan handbags? Here’s a roundup of beautiful handbag brands that don’t use PVC in their vegan leather.
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