Updated: Aug 29
If you read my last blog post, you know that you can’t win when it comes to leather vs. faux leather. Animal leather is cruel, and the livestock industry is rapidly killing the planet, while plastic alternatives emit carcinogenic toxins during production, use, and disposal.
So, what are we to do? Your safest bet is to buy from bio-based leather alternative brands using cactus, apple, pineapple, mycelium, or mango ‘leather.’ Which is both crazy cool and better for the planet.
So without further ado, here are my favorite bio-based leather shoe and bag brands for you to add to your birthday wish lists:
Handbags and Wallets
Ask Scandinavia – Plant Leather Collection
Having a ‘green line’ is not the solution, but ASK’s Plant Leather Collection is too gorgeous to pass up. This collection is made from sustainable cactus, 100% organically grown by rainwater. Their cactus leather is also recyclable and partially biodegradable. And their designs are truly divine.
I love A_C. They use cactus leather, pineapple leather, cellulose (aka washable paper), deadstock materials, and recycled polyester (dubbed ‘ecoprene’ made from recycled carpets, recycled water bottles and post-consumer textile waste). And their bags are honestly gorgeous.
Another one of my absolute favorite finds. The WEEK/END bag is made with a cactus leather exterior and eco-suede interior. It can be worn three ways (crossbody, shoulder, clutch) and completely deconstructs for easy storage/packing. Each bag is made-to-order to avoid waste, and every bag comes with a limited-edition erotic story chapter inside. It’s arguably the world’s sexiest sustainable purse.
Luxtra exclusively works with plant-based materials: they have pineapple, corn, apple, and cactus collections. I love this silver bag of theirs, made from pineapple leaf fibers. They even have a video on the many ways to style it.
Founder Jessica Kruger informed me that they’re about to start working with Mirum, a plant-based leather that is all plant no plastic. This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many plant-based leathers are still primarily plastic. Vogue Business calls Mirum “The newest and most exciting entrance to the field of plant-based leather.”
All Santos bags are handmade in the US from cactus fiber and recycled water bottle mixed with organic cotton. They occasionally use deadstock vintage hardware.
Plus, they've partnered with One Tree Planted, so a tree is planted with every handbag sold.
Kairi uses cactus, apple and pineapple and grape leather. They do have some vegetable-tanned leather bags, but I suggest option for the plant-based collections. They always use 100% organic and fair trade. And they partner with Treeapp, planting a tree with every bag sold.
Alexandra K makes bags and shoes from a variety of materials, including grape and corn leather.
Their grape leather is made from wine production waste and grape oil. These blue cuties are made from corn pulp! Their black bags are 77% biomass (the white bags unfortunately are mostly PU). However, they do still use water-based ‘eco-PU.
Valespir make unisex backpacks, briefcases and weekenders made from food waste in the apple industry. Their apple leather is water resistant, making them the most sophisticated practical bag I’ve ever seen. They also use Econyl: 100% recycled nylon from plastic waste like fishing nets and water bottles. They’re quite expensive, so definitely an investment piece. If you like this style, check out Etereo too.
Tea and Tequila work primarily with deadstock and more eco-friendly materials. This is their seriously cute ‘taco bag’ from Mexican cactus leather. Even their packaging in biodegradable.
I love the zig zag strap detail made from glass beads. They’ve also partnered with Tree Sisters to plant a tree with every order.
Cihuah is on a mission of self-improvement. They’re upfront about not being 100% perfect, but as consumer whose first move is to look for a ‘Sustainability’ web page I appreciate their transparency. All their bags are handmade in Mexico from cactus leather. This Maxi Tote is for those who keep everything they own in their purse (like me).
Onyx and Ora make the perfect basics for a capsule wardrobe. They make backpacks, totes crossbodys, and pouches. The exterior of their bags are made from cactus leather and their interior lining is made from EcoVero Viscose. This viscose is made from wood and pulp, and the production of this materials uses 50% lower emissions and water compared to generic viscose.
Tomtex make card holders from seafood shell waste and coffee ground and no plastic. The food industry creates 6 to 8 million metric tons of crab, shrimp and lobster shell waste and 9.5 million tons of waste coffee grounds annually. When coffee grounds break down in landfill they release methane (which has a greenhouse effect 28x stronger than CO2). By using waste, Tomtex are zero-waste champions.
The only caveat being this card holder is a whopping $990. Radically out of my budget, but too cool not to share.
Yatay gives me hope for humanity. Their shoes are all hand-made and bio-based, crafted from corn, wood, recycled tires and recycled plastic bottles. Yatay shoes are waterproof and uber soft (thanks @ sustainable wood pulp). Each pair of shoes comes with a code that you can enter online, and Yatay will plant a tree.
Their sneakers can be easily washed for longevity: throw them in the washing machine gentle but remove the insoles and laces first.
Adar shoes are honestly hot. Their uppers are apple leather from apple waste while their laces and netting are made from up-cycled polyester. The lining is made from bamboo and the insole is made from biodegradable latex. Finally, the sole is recycled rubber from industry waste.
They're brand new, so you'd better pre-order while you can.
Sylvene make the most sophisticated bio-based shoe I’ve seen. Their shoes are comprised of organic apple waste for the ‘leather’; wheat and barley byproduct for the lining; coconut husks for the insole (which are naturally antimicrobial!); and recycled rubber for the soles. All the hardware on the shoes (i.e. zippers) are handmade by Kenyan artisans.
So. These shoes have a lot going on. The ‘upper’ on their shoes is made from an antibacterial eco-microfiber. This material has an Oeko-Tex Standard 100 –a super stringent label ensuring every component of the garment is eco-friendly and not harmful to human health.
The heel strip is made from pineapple leaves, the lining from recycled PET and corn fiber, the sole from recycled rubber, and the laces are organic cotton. You can also see the ecological impact of each shoe on the website. For example, this Mellby Chelsea Boot saved 15 plastic bottles and 1.5lbs of waste from going to landfill.
I’m incredibly excited by Oroz. Their sneakers are all clean, simple designs perfect for a capsule wardrobe or simply everyday use. Their shoes are not only zero waste but made from entirely ethical materials:
The ‘leather’ is made from corn and has half the environmental impact of animal leather. The outer soles are biodegradable, and the insole is made from recycled EVA foam and post-consumer cotton. The lining and laces are made from recycled plastic waste from the Mediterranean. Finally, the toe puff and counter stiffener made from recycled wood chips.
Bego is chunky shoe heaven. Their materials are quite simple: pineapple leather and recycled rubber soles. This color is actually the natural color of the fiber with no added dyes or bleach.
They have flats, these platform sandals, boots and the classic chunky heeled- boot.
I am hugely impressed by Ella & Witt. They have a wide variety of shoes from strappy sandals to dad sneakers and mid-calf boots. They work primarily with recycled or organic materials: their ‘leather’ is corn waste on recycled PET water bottles or cellulose backings.
Their sneaker laces are made from compostable Tencel and bio-plastic and the insoles include recycled cork and EVA foam. The outer sole is made from eco-rubber (70% recycled and 30% new SBR rubber) and is 100% recyclable! I also love their detailing. They stamped ‘Make Change’ down the back panel of their Karen boot.
A comparable but slightly cheaper brand is Zouri Shoes. They make sandals and sneakers from ocean plastic, pineapple leaves, apple leather, and hemp. They’re more of a Santa-Cruz-surfer vibe. I’m personally a huge fan of their Wave sandals in silver.
Will’s Vegan Shop ‘Ethical and Environmental Policy' page is not the clearest, which I don’t love. But, nonetheless, they have been included as Good on You gives them a ‘good’ sustainability rating. They use vegan leather made from a bio-oil derived from organic cereal crops grown in Northern Europe.
Only some of their products use this cereal leather, other use microfiber leathers that are Ecolabel certified and meet Oeko Tex 100 and REACH regulations. Again, please read the materials before buying to ensure you buy the right plant-based products.
Their insoles are made of recycled rubber and the outer soles use 10% recycled rubber. Not huge, but definitely a start.
To me, Komrads are an AF1 or Vans high tops alternative. Despite the fact that they use Frumat apple leather (which is still roughly half plastic: 55% apple waste, 40% synthetic resin, 5% PU), I’ve included them because all their other materials are completely recycled, which I appreciate.
The soles of their shoes are 100% recycled rubber from tires and old sneakers and colored with bio-based paint. 18 million hectares of rain forest are felled annually to make room for palm oil trees and rubber plantations. By opting for recycled rubber, Komrads isn’t contributing to this deforestation.
Their laces and linings are made from recycled cotton and water bottles—meaning significantly less water and energy consumption than virgin cotton, and less waste in landfill.
Plant + PU
I kept pretty high standards for this list— I wanted exclusively or majority eco materials. What I found is that quite a few ‘plant-based’ leather brands are actually still mostly plastic. Many brands use Frumat or AppleSkin leather, which make a blend of plant with PU. And more often than not it’s a 30% plant to 70% PU ratio.
That said, these are friendlier PU’s, ranging from water-based and plant-based to biodegradable. It depends on the brand. I didn’t include them on the above list, but companies using eco-PU are taking a step in the right direction and will inevitably have a smaller environmental impact than both plastic and animal leather. So here are a few brands I like that didn’t make the initial plant-based cut:
Samara (They also make sunglasses from castor seeds, backpacks from recycled ocean plastics and loungewear from bamboo).