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Ethical leather bags: do you know the cost of fashion?

ethical leather bag on man in woods

Ethical leather bags – do they exist? Questions to ask yourself when choosing a leather bag.

Things are starting to change in the world of fashion. As we become more conscious of the effect of our choices on the world around us, there has been a significant movement towards sustainable fashion. Many of us are starting to look for and choose brands that commit to ethical and sustainable practices, taking responsibility for the ethical and environmental effects of the production, manufacture and transportation of the products we choose to buy.

In this blog post we’ll turn the spotlight onto the leather industry, and whether it’s possible to buy ethical leather accessories. How can we minimise the environmental impact of the products we choose, and support moral ethical processes in their production? How do you choose an ethical leather bag?

First, let’s take a look at why it’s important to consider the impact of the products you choose, and in particular leather products.

Is leather ethical?

As environmental issues start to come to the forefront of the fashion industry, the leather industry in particular faces scrutiny. The environmental impact of raising livestock, especially cows, has long been recognised. And many of the processes involved in the cheap mass production of leather for fast fashion accessories put a significant strain upon the environment. Read our blog post about how leather can be made more sustainable to find out more about how the processes involved in the mass production of cheap leather are unsustainable.

close-up of cows face on black background

Yet, the practical benefits of choosing leather, particularly for everyday accessories like bags, do hold a lot of weight. So is it possible to choose an ethical leather bag that doesn’t impact the environment?

Well, in short, no, not entirely. Everything that is produced will have some environmental impact. Every bag, every item of clothing, every piece of technology, every meal you eat - everything that has used resource and energy in its production will draw that resource and energy from the environment. Which is why its important to think about each purchase you make carefully.

Unfair manufacturing practices – who pays the cost?

As well as considering the environmental impact of the leather that we buy, it’s also important to consider the social impact of its production.

So you’ve shopped around and found a great quality leather bag, beautifully made from fine leather and at a bargain price. Too good to be true? Well maybe not in terms of the quality of the product you’d be buying. But cheap leather bags do come at a cost, even if that cost isn’t in terms of compromising the quality of the product itself.

Whilst you might not be incurring the cost, someone, somewhere in the world will be.

Whether it’s the maker, working 16 hour days in poor conditions, exposed to toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer; only to scrape by on an unethical wage.

Or the families whose lives who have been turned upside down by the toxic chemicals contaminating their food and water supplies as a result of shortcuts made by corporations to reduce the cost of manufacturing processes.

Or the cow itself, living a shadow of a life in a factory farm, abused and cruelly treated to absorb the cost of that cheap leather bag.

Cheap leather bags do come at a cost, you just might not be the one paying it.

Is there such a thing as an ethical leather bag?

For lovers of leather, the story so far sounds a bit depressing. Is there even such a thing as an ethical leather bag? Don’t give-up all hope yet! At Colville Leather we believe there is – otherwise we wouldn’t be compromising our values by working in the industry.

So, what makes a leather bag ethical and what things can you consider when shopping around for ethically made leather bags and accessories? Here are a few things to consider...

old man with magnifying glass

Questions to ask yourself when choosing ethical leather bags

Do I need this bag?

The true problem with fashion is its disposable nature and obsession with short-lived seasonal trends. When fast fashion items are purchased thoughtlessly and disposed of after minimal use, that’s when we face problems of sustainability. Weigh-up the cost of this product on the environment against the amount of use you’re going to get out of it. If you don’t really need it, don’t buy it.

Who made this bag?

Can the person or company selling you your bag tell you? Was it mass produced in a sweat-shop, or created by a maker working in good conditions and paid a fair wage for their work. Look for shops and sellers that recognise and support Fairtrade processes. Or even better, buy direct from the maker themselves.

Where was the leather sourced from?

Any responsible trader should be able to tell you where their leather was sourced from and the processes involved in its manufacture. Think about the environmental effects of the tanning and dyeing processes. Were toxic chemicals involved (as in chrome tanning), or were more environmentally sympathetic processes used, like oak-bark tanning and natural veg dyes? Look for suppliers that are transparent and clear about where they source their leather from, and who actively pursue environmentally conscientious projects, like using recycled leather.

Is this bag good quality?

To make the environmental impact of your leather bag worth it, you need to get a lot of use out of it. Poorly made products and cheap leather won’t last. Quality leather crafted into strong, well-designed bags will withstand the effects of daily use and last you a lifetime. 

Are vegan leather bags more ethical than natural leather bags?

If you don’t want to support the livestock industry then you probably won’t be an advocate of any type of leather bag. However, if you’re concerned about the cost of leather to the environment, vegan leather bags aren’t necessarily the way forward.

As with any other material, vegan leather will have an impact, both environmentally and socially. This article about the dark side of vegan leather gives a fascinating insight into the complex world of vegan leather, the chemicals used in its processes and it’s place within the world of fast-fashion.

What’s really important is to choose well-made products from companies that have an environmental and social conscience. Do they make efforts to reduce the impact of their production on the environment? Do they care about the people working for them and ensure they maintain safe and fair working conditions? Whether you buy vegan or natural leather bags, these are the questions to consider.

Colville’s Ethical Leather Bags made in the UK

ethical leather bag by colville leather

At Colville Leather we care deeply about the effect of our choices on the environment and people in the world around us.

We source our leather from carefully selected tanneries that are renowned and respected for the quality of the leather they produce. That includes Devon-based J&FJ Baker who use traditional techniques to make their exquisite oak bark tanned leather, as well as Horween Leather who are famous the world over for producing high-quality, low impact leather in their Chicago tannery. All the leathers we choose to work with are 100% vegetable tanned.

Every single product you find in our shop has been expertly crafted by Matt in his Devon workshop (no sweatshops here!). Our leather bags are made to last with solid brass hardware and stitched by hand with strong waxed, rot resistant thread. We offer a lifetime warranty on all our products and support you in caring for your bag, including providing repairs if needed.

So, looking for ethical leather bags? Choose Colville Leather.

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