Bags, belts, scarves, shawls… If you opt for ethical fashion, can you embrace it right down to your accessories? If so, where do you find them and how do you pick them?
In the bags section: Ethically-sound bags, from leather produced via plant-based-tanning to alternatives
Second hand – an obvious choice
The first option for leather goods is obviously buying second hand. And in this department you’re spoilt for choice, in all possible styles and to suit all budgets. You can find very cheap bags in second-hand fashion chain stores such as Guerrisol and on the Vinted app. You’ll also find leather goods, from mid-range to high-quality and big brands, in specialised consignment stores or on sites such as Vestiaire Collective and Monogram Paris.
Upcycled or plant-based leather
Another possibility, which is getting more and more commonplace, is leather goods made via plant-based tanning (and not with harmful chemicals, such as chromium, which is commonly used in large Asian tanneries). This is the case of some lovely French brands, such as Jules & Jenn, Valet de Pique and the Basque country-based brand Bihotz as well as Spanish brand Minuit Sur Terre, all of which have these items manufactured in Europe to boot. In fact, many leather goods brands that create bags via plant-based tanning are the same ones that make shoes in the same way. Others make bags from dormant leather stock, or from leather offcuts.
As with all goods traditionally made from leather, there are plant-based leathers and bags made from grape leather (from Maison peaux neuves), mushroom leather, cactus leather, apple leather (Apple Skin) and pineapple leather (Pinatex). These bags are less commonplace and consist of a few models in a collection or are the preserve of small brands.
Others have gone for cork, which can retain its natural, slightly Roots-like appearance or be treated to look like leather. This know-how is particularly widespread in Portugal, where most of these bags are produced.
Lastly, you’ll find even more choice in terms of leisure bags, whereby recycled cotton and polyester are put to use. The on-trend brand Rive Droite makes all of its bags and bumbags from recycled cotton, while brands such as Sandqvist and Patagonia offer backpacks made from recycled polyester. And there are also bags made from truck or advertising tarpaulin offcuts (from the well-known players Freitag and Oh la bâche) and from boat sails (727 Sailbags, Les Voiles du large)
In the belts section
The same possibilities, from upcycled leather to alternative materials, are obviously there when it comes to belts and other small leather goods. But because of their shape, belts have invited even greater inventiveness. For example, from Saint Lazare and La Vie est Belt, you can find items made from seatbelts, fire hoses, tyres, inner tubes and so on.
In the scarves and shawls department
In this sector, the alternative to standard materials is more complicated and it is very hard to know what’s what. Scarves and shawls are basically made from polluting materials: wool, cotton, acrylic and silk. So what can you do?
Certified wool or fleece scarves
Neck warmers and scarves made from technical fabric like fleece, made from recycled plastic, are now very commonplace but still relegated to the sports section. They are an economical and ethically-sound option, but not very stylish.
Conversely, there are now a few brands – at a much higher price point – that produce organic cashmere items (Kujten) and luxury wraps and scarves from certified Organica Precious Fiber Merino wool (Amédée). This is the first international certification for Merino wool, which is environmentally and socially responsible and is respectful of animal welfare. You can even find out which sheep’s wool was used to make a given product by scanning the QR code. As for Organic Basics, it went with recycled Merino wool for its scarves, which are made in Europe in an ethically-sound way that’s respectful of the environment.
Shawls – a real headache
When it comes to shawls, it is even more difficult to find a totally virtuous product.
There are a few organic or recycled cotton shawls, but you have to look hard.
And as for silk, it’s even more complicated.
90% of the raw material comes from Asia. The world’s leading supplier of raw silk is China, where silkworm (bombyx mori) farms mostly use pesticides and fertilisers and whereby the worms are often suffocated and scalded to yield their precious thread. True enough, there is eco-sourced silk, certified under the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) from Sichuan province, a protected area east of the Himalayas. Some descendants of those in the Lyon silk industry are gradually trying to reintroduce silkworm farming in France (after it was wiped out in the early 20th century following a series of epizootics), not least in the Cévennes area.
But when it comes to shawl production, India being world-renowned for its weaving techniques and print know-how, much of the manufacturing takes place there under conditions rarely highlighted even by the loveliest brands.
Other than that, you can gravitate towards small brands turning out limited production runs via local craftsmen, not least in Laos. Alternatively, you can opt for scarves made from linen or Lyocell, which are more environmentally sound.
In any case, to make the right choice you have to read the labels and get information from brand websites and Instagram accounts, paying attention not only to the origin of the materials, but also to the production location and conditions.