To anyone who ever had a loud obsession with Sex and the City, I know. It was more than a show, it was a bonding experience. It was as if the females in my life and I never truly knew one another until we sat down and watched other women sit down and talk. And yes, my group of friends in high school did choose which characters each of us we were, and then my group of friends in college did the same. Luckily, I don't really relate to any of them now, but I still recognize the brilliance of the show, and I would still watch it because quite frankly, it was just pretty.
However, I do blame Sex and the City for the ongoing struggle to find the perfect bag. When I started watching the show, I had just graduated from backpack to H&M tote, and I was carrying text books, not lipstick or condoms (now I carry a mess of other shit, but still no lipstick or condoms). But even back then, I knew the importance of a good bag. Which leads me to my recent struggle to find a purse large enough that I can carry my life in it, without inducing back problems, but which also looks fucking good, and that isn't too expensive. And because of my current crusade, I threw in the requirement that it should look like a chic-as-fuck leather bag, but not have any negative impact on the earth or other people.
As I went digging for a purse that would meet all these requirements (which, it should be stated, usually do not go hand-in-hand), I found something that I thought might actually fit the criteria: vegan leather. Vegan leather? That's like, non-leather leather! It will look like leather, but vegans are into it, so it HAS to be good for you! Suddenly things were popping up all over the place. Bloggers' lists of good vegan leather options, lower-end vegan leather bags on Amazon, higher-end vegan leather bags made in Montreal and California... the possibilities were endless and I thought for one glimmering second that I had found the answer. I found one company called Matt & Nat, cool, but pricey... Then I found Angela Roi: the cheaper version of Matt & Nat, with awesome vegan leather bags in my price range. The below $50 price tag made me swoon and I was basically ready to buy right then and there. Then my boyfriend asked me what I was doing, and I shouldn't have responded, but I did, and he asked, "so if it's vegan leather... what is it actually made of?" and I realized I had to be honest and say "I have no fucking idea."
Vegan leather is, in most cases, just a fancy way of saying "PU," the abbreviation for polyurethane, which sounds like it was made in a beaker. Every once in a while, other materials like kelp might be used in vegan leather, but the vast majority is a man-made product that emits harmful chemicals into the environment. And since it's harmful to the fucking atmosphere of the planet, you can bet that it was harmful to anyone who was around when it was being made. Matt & Nat does have some options that are not made of PU, but the ones that are not PU-based are small and made out of shit like bottle caps or bike tires and while I am not opposed to a funky, colorful handbag every now and again, that wouldn't do on an everyday basis.
I started thinking that maybe I should just buy some real fucking leather. Would it be better to carry my planner and chapstick in the refined skin of an animal, or in shit that was made in a factory and then stitched together in Korea? For the record, I am not pulling Korea out of my ass, Angeloa Roi actually has factories in Korea but the "supply chain" is totally "transparent" so no worries guys.
These were taken from the Angela Roi website, where they put the words "high quality" in front of "PU leather" and collage images of hands sewing next to pictures of the finished product to make us feel like conditions are good and the potential toxins are better. I don't know about you, but yes. YES.
So now we find ourselves at the crux of a decision. Real leather, or vegan leather? (I even looked into canvas bags on Amazon, but unless you are going to the beach or like looking like a newspaper boy circa 1950, those are not viable options either... and canvas can be shady too). So, back to vegan vs. real, read this:
This blurb was taken from a fucking awesome article by a lady named Jody McCutcheon in Eluxe Magazine. Click here to read the whole thing, and trust me, you will want to. She finishes out with this tidbit:
"Ultimately, even the most adamant vegans need to consider this fact: the pollution caused by ‘vegan leathers’ seems to hurt all other
animals, including humans, in the long run."
So, vegan leather is out. Regular leather is, if you are so inclined, out. If you are cool with spending money, go for recycled or up-cycled leather. It's already been made, so at least it's being re-used and isn't ending up in a landfill somewhere. If you like funky shit, get that purse made out of bottle caps and bicycle tires. Or... go cheap and buy whatever the fuck you want second hand. It's already out there. Words to live by coming, so get a pen ready: the most responsible way to create, is to re-use.
The only list I have found that has legitimate options for nice purses that are mostly made with linen, recycled or vegetable-dyed leather, organic cottons, etc., is this one. Be careful, though, because Matt & Nat is listed here, but if you wander onto their website, they do have PU-based options. If you decide to try and avoid all PU, you'll want to check what each bag is made of. Personally, I really like Shannon South, Love Mert, and Fleabags. All three are relatively expensive, but... you pay extra so that the employees get paid, I guess.
My mom raided her closet and sent me a bunch of shit she's not interested in anymore, so I got a big new purse from her. It's got a little wear and tear, and I'm not sure if it's leather or vegan leather... but the price was "free" and I'll give it to my kid or a Salvo one day. Long live the handbag.