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11 Eco-Friendly Purses, Totes and Handbags | Eco Fashion

Updated on October 16, 2015
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Not All Eco-Friendly Products Are Equal

Companies realize there is growing consumer demand for products to be environmentally friendly. Consumer awareness of the need to protect the earth rather than exploit it is affecting a broad spectrum of products, including those promoted by the fashion industry. Unfortunately, the world of fashion hides a nasty truth: it is one of the most environmentally devastating industries in operation. Too many clothing companies view the new "green" lingo as just another selling point to be plastered on a label rather than a real call to action. Eco Fashion is fast becoming simply the next new "rage."

With the plethora of new green terms used to describe the many different types of environmentally consciousness production comes confusion . . . and an ignorance to what a product's real impact on the earth might be. For instance, using excess candy wrappers to create a handbag may be considered "recycling," but what type of environmentally damaging processes produced the wrappers in the first place? A material may be 100% organically grown but have a product fabricated from it using unfair labor practices, even slave labor, that is then packaged in plastic. An item may be handmade from sustainable materials in another country but be transported by ship to the United States, the shipping process itself using fuel that is environmentally unsound. It is an unfortunate fact that very few of our modern day products will have zero negative impact on the earth.

That being said, steadily moving toward a more eco-friendly way of life is imperative for the health of our planet. Environmental consciousness must be clarified and expanded across all facets of our society, including fashion.

Trash turned into treasure:

  • poptops/pull tabs
  • soda cans
  • vehicle seatbelts and seat fabrics
  • tractor, vehicle and bicycle inner tubes
  • magazines/catalogs
  • plastic bags
  • juice containers
  • candy wrappers
  • LEGOs
  • movie films
  • coffee bean, rice and other feed sacks
  • bottle tops
  • fire hoses
  • computer keys/keyboards
  • boat sails / truck tarpaulins
  • used vehicle airbags
  • license plates
  • hotel linen bags

Purses, Totes and Handbags Made From "Trash"?!

The concept of a handbag, purse or tote bag made from recycled, upcycled, repurposed or reclaimed materials is not likely to summon an appealing image. A tatty, patched denim purse, perhaps. Yet, a little research reveals handbags now being made from the most unbelievable materials . . . stuff once considered "trash"! And these finished products are very attractive!

However, not all of the "green" purses featured below are created from trash. Eco-friendly handbags are also being produced from a variety of sustainable materials - hemp, cork, jute and juco (a combination of jute and cotton) to name a few.

The following purses, totes, shoulder bags and clutches are only a sampling of a growing list of environment-conscious fashion choices available today. From funky and casual to elegant and professional, there's something for everyone.

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ve•gan:

products which avoid, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

► Hemp is an amazing plant in so many ways it's incredible there is so much controversy surrounding it. Hemp thrives in many different climates and soil types, does not require pesticides, uses less water than many other crops, and improves the health of the soil in which it grows - to name just a few of its benefits! It is also more sustainable than traditional cotton.

As a material for purses and handbags, hemp has many natural benefits. It is one of the strongest and most durable of the natural fibers. Hemp fibers are also resistant to mold and stretching and will maintain their dyed color for far longer than their cotton competitors.

A great example is this simple little hemp canvas coin purse. Use it to keep track of laundry money, credit cards, makeup items, earphones or any other small necessaries that tend to get lost in a larger handbag.

  • Colors: Natural, Sage, Indigo, Black, Moss Green, Terra Cotta, Chocolate
  • Size: 4.5" x 3.75"
  • Zip closure
  • Vegan

or•gan•ic:

of food or farming methods produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents.

► This wool shoulder bag, referred to in Mexico as a "morral", is handmade by the artist, Alberto Ruiz, from natural wool. The wool is colored in subtle earth tones with natural dyes and then hand woven on a traditional loom.

Ruiz is supported by the company, NOVICA (in association with National Geographic), which assists artisans from around the world, many of whom live in rural areas and would otherwise be unable to connect their products with a global market.

  • Size: 14.5"H x 13.75"W x 0.8"D
  • Zip closure
  • Fair Trade product

► We can all thank Ernie Fraze, an engineer, for inventing the pop top in 1959. However, it is quite fascinating to consider how the creator of a handbag made from pop tops might have come up with the idea. A wild guess is that chainmail was the inspiration.

Today, there are a variety of different poptop purse and handbag designs in many shapes, sizes and colors. This particular shoulder bag was made in Mexico . . . from 864 recycled poptops!

  • Size: 10"L x 4"W x 7"H
  • Fair Trade product

sus•tain•a•ble:

products that provide environmental, social and economic benefits while protecting public health and environment over their whole life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials until the final disposal.

► Cork is yet another natural, renewable material that can be used for purses, totes and handbags. Cork is the harvested bark layer of the Cork Oak tree found primarily in southwest Europe and northwest Africa.

Cork's beautiful and unique pattern distinguishes it from all other eco-friendly handbags. But this fiber also has many amazing properties which make it an ideal material for handbags: it is lightweight, soft, flexible, resistant to both stains and water and very durable. It's even considered to be somewhat fire retardant!

  • Colors: Dark Brown, Light Brown (two-tone)
  • Size: 15.7"L x 5.9"W x 8.3"H
  • Vegan

re•cy•cle:

to collect and treat used objects and materials that are ready to be thrown out in order to produce materials that can be used again.

► Attention Coca-Cola fans! Sorry, Pepsi lovers, you're out of luck!

This unique and very distinctive backpack-style mini handbag was literally made from recycled Coca-Cola cans. Make a fashion statement and promote recycling at the same time with this remarkable handmade bag.

  • Designs: Coca-Cola, 7 Up
  • Size: approximately 7"L x 8"H

re•claim:

to get a usable material from materials that have been used before.

► Untreated leather hides are biodegradable. To produce usable leather products, hides must be treated, typically with methods that involve large amounts of water and toxic chemicals. The processes used to tan leather for luxury shoes and purses are said to be one of the fashion industry's worst environmental offenders. Thus reclaiming and recycling as many leather products as possible is of huge benefit to the environment.

Reclaiming leather simply means that parts of existing leather products are used to create new items - such as a small change purse from part of an old leather sofa. Recycling leather involves shredding used leather items and then combining the pieces with water and eco-friendly binders such as natural rubber and acacia wood bark. The resulting pulp is then rolled into a sheet and processed to the desired size, color and texture.

This gorgeous (and very large) shoulder bag, whose shag texture is made from reclaimed and recycled pieces of suede, is a wonderful example of just how creatively discarded leathers can be reused.

  • Colors: Camel (suede), Black, Black and White
  • Size: 24" x 20" x 17" with 13" strap

up•cy•cle:

to reuse discarded objects or materials in such a way as to create a product of higher quality of value than the original.

► With an estimated 290 million+ tires/inner tubes discarded every year, any means of recycling them should be welcomed. Inroads have been made in reprocessing this huge amount of rubber waste into viable products, but the use of inner tubes in the fashion industry is a more recent event.

This particular roomy and very attractive tote was made from upcycled truck and tractor tire inner tubes from Latin America. As you can imagine, this tote will be one very durable carry-all, an added bonus being that it is also water resistant inside and out.

  • Size: 14L X 14H X 3W

re•new•a•ble:

capable of being replaced by natural ecological cycles or sound management practices.

► The buriti is a palm tree found in the swamps and jungles of South America. Every part of this amazing tree can be used. Its buds, fruit and sap are all edible and extremely nutritious. Oil extracted from its pulp is also edible, has healing properties and is used for a variety of cosmetic purposes. Its wood can be used for furniture. But it's the fibers from its leaves that can be woven into handbags.

This beautiful and simple clutch is handmade by the Brazilian artist, Carlos Paiva, from buriti fibers. Paiva is supported by the company, NOVICA (in association with National Geographic), which supports artisans from around the world, many of whom live in rural areas and would otherwise be unable to connect their products with a global market.

  • Size: 11.75" H x 4.7" W x 2.8" D
  • Magnetic closure

bi•o•de•grad•a•ble:

products that are capable of being slowly destroyed and broken down into very small parts by natural processes, bacteria or other living organisms.

► While plastic feed bags benefit the companies that use them by being extremely durable, water-resistant and able to keep their contents fresher for longer periods of time, they are not biodegradable. For many areas of the world without a way to recycle them, they simply add to the solid waste of an already crowded landfill.

Repurposing these feed bags into attractive totes is a creative alternative! Lightweight, hard-wearing and amazingly colorful with a wide variety of patterns, they make unique shoulder bags - while reducing waste in landfills and providing jobs.

  • Size: 15"W x 14"H x 3.5"D
  • Zip closure
  • Fair Trade product

► That a fashionable (and durable) purse can be made from paper products is really quite incredible. This metallic copper colored clutch is made from 300+ recycled excess stock candy wrappers. Excess stock cookie, chip and soda wrappers are chosen if a more colorful and patterned look is desired; for a more subtle and multicolored effect, newspapers and magazines are the materials of choice. Very chic and perfect for a night out on the town!

  • Size: 11.5"L x 5"H x 1.5"W
  • Zip closure

re•pur•pose:

to change something so that it can be used for a different purpose.

► Seatbelt purses have come a long way, baby! There have been a number of these types of purses around for awhile, many of them not terribly attractive - at all!

However, a couple of designers have apparently stepped up to the plate and set a whole new standard, Harveys being one of them. It's truly stunning to see the range of colors seatbelts come in and the handbag designs that can be created from them!

  • Colors: Fuchsia Pink, Marigold Yellow, Teal
  • Size: 11"L x 5"W x 9"H
  • Magnetic closure
  • Guaranteed for Life

Which of these handbags is your favorite?

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Photo Credits:

[1] Collage by Gemini Fox of following photos (clockwise):

  • Pull tabs: By sundazed, CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Foter
  • Candy wrappers: By thomas pix, CC-BY-2.0, via Foter
  • Inner tubes: By DaveBleasdale, CC-BY-2.0, via Foter
  • Seat belt: By goodgerster, CC-BY-2.0, via Foter
  • Harvesting cork: By Cazalla Montijano, Juan Carlos, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Soda can: By Daveybot, CC-BY-2.0, via Foter
  • Water bottles: By shrff14, CC-BY-2.0, via Foter
  • Hemp plants: By Barbetorte, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Books: CC0 Public Domain, via Pixabay

© 2015 Gemini Fox

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