How to get your hands on bags with a conscience

7 brands making sustainable and socially responsible arm candy

This is an update to a blogpost I originally wrote in 2017 about my favourite style of bag: the small cross body. And although this features a couple of new brands, many of the original ones mentioned are still here, because locally made, quality bags are always something I have really liked.

Before we get into the actual bags (patience, people), let me explain what makes the perfect bag for me. Firstly, I’m mad for a cross body. I have a degenerative spinal disease called ankylosing spondylitis (one of the reasons I wear flats but don’t worry, it sounds worse than it is!) so not only does a bag have to be easy too carry, it has to be small enough that I can’t overfill it with too much crap. I’m also a big fan of rucksacks, but let’s save that for another post.

Second, I like a simple bag. I hate lots of brass and buckles – the more simple, the better – but that’s not to say that I won’t go for a print or a bright colour. My personal collection is a mixture of subtle blacks and olives, with a few statement bags in monochrome prints and bright yellows.

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Also, ideally, I like to know where my bags have been made. There are lots of smaller brands out there that use sustainable leather or small artisan workshops, which is much more appealing to me as a consumer than the mass production of the high street. This is also has an effect on the price though – you’re going to have to invest if you want a good leather bag, but then it should last you decades if you look after it properly. I’m not talking the prices of designer it bags, but do think about saving up if you’re looking for something special and hardwearing. Plus, it’s a leather bag – if you think about the materials and labour involved in making it, it really shouldn’t cost any less than £50 (depending on size).

Finally, I’m all for practicality, obviously, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be black or brown and large enough to house your entire make-up collection, a spare pair of shoes and the kitchen sink. Pick something that is really ‘you’, and that gives you the same buzz that a special pair of shoes does. I don’t have loads of bags, but I really, REALLY love all of them because I’ve put a lot of thought into how they will work for me, size-wise, and how well they will fit with my wardrobe.

So here you go, my guide to the best, quality cross body bags out there at the moment.

Wickerwings

Wickerwings and boots

Wickerwings Natural Mini Kuai, £270 (wickerwings.com). This bag was a gift from the brand in December 2018 and I have worn it roughly 50 times.

This lovely brand is run by a brother and sister and was inspired when they learnt that their grandmother had a secret skill: she knew how to weave wicker like a true Chinese artisan. I love the simplicity of the styles and the quality is beautiful; the bags are handmade in England. The rattan is biodegradable and grown naturally, and the leather is veg tanned. And yes, it’s small, but I can fit my purse, phone, lip balm and keys in here easily.

Paradise Row

Paradise Row

Paradise Row ‘Sorrow’ leather bag, £395 (paradiserowlondon.com)

I met with Nika, the founder of Paradise Row, and I absolutely loved the reason she told me she set up her gorgeous brand. With a background in business psychology, she had a chance encounter listening to a man speak about the East End of London’s dying heritage in leather goods, and decided she wanted to do something to save it. Nika’s leather supplier, workshop and design office are all based in East London. She designs for longevity, using a slow season model and only releasing one (vey beautiful) collection per year, all while protecting the livelihoods of local people in the capital.

READ MORE: IN PRAISE OF THE SUSTAINABLE JUMPSUIT

Lost Property of London

Lost Property of London

Lost Property of London ‘Mini Arlington’ saddle bag, £305 (lostpropertyoflondon.com). 

I’ve been swooning over these bags on Instagram for years now, and it has a great backstory. Their ethos is to use ‘zero waste’ techniques – including salvaged materials – but its suppliers are all top notch, so the quality of the bags is great. They also use vegetable tanned leather, which is much better for the environment than other techniques used to colour leather. And one of the things I love most about Lost Property of London is the amazing colours, so it’s obviously a brilliant technique, too! This one was a gift from the brand last year; it’s beautiful quality and a LOVE the warm grey (it matches my floorboards!).

Bottletop

Bottletop

Bottletop ‘Amazona Mini’ bag, £185 (bottletop.org)

The clue’s in the name with this ethical brand: all of its bags feature this signature chainmail fabric made from, yep you guessed it, upcycled bottletops. Actually, they’re metal ring pulls, but the label started life with the type of metal tops you find on bottles, hence the name. They also use Zero Deforestation Amazon Leather, which helps to protect the rainforests, and all of the bags are made in Bottletop’s own atelier in Brazil where the skilled workers are paid a fair wage. They do a LOAD of other great stuff, including running a charity foundation, and a campaign to raise awareness of the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development, but you can read more about that on their website. (FULL DISCLOSURE: my current day job is working two days per week on Bottletop’s #TOGETHERBAND campaign web content but I’m featuring them purely because I think the bags are fab).

READ MORE: STYLING OUT FORMAL FLATS

M Hulot

M Hulot 2

M.Hulot bag, no longer available but mhulot.co.uk has similar

Head to M.Hulot if you like navy and yellow; they’ve declared them their signature colours, as you can see from the lovely bag I’m sporting here (I also have a smaller plain yellow one). Their veg tan leather bags are crafted by two makers in east London and they also use a factory in the Midlands, as well as makers on the Scottish boarders for their canvas bags. Both of my bags are from previous seasons, but there’s some lovely stuff available now, including this lovely two-tone number.

Bohemia

Bohemia Design

Bohemia ‘Dylan’ crossbody basket, £48 (bohemiadesign.co.uk)

Veg tanned leather bags don’t come cheap, and they’re also made of leather (no good for vegans), which is why I’m finishing with some beaut straw bags from Bohemia. As well as this roomy basket, there’s a gorgeous smaller round version for £48 which I think you will love. Bohemia works with artisans all over the world to produce its bags, accessories and jewellery (I can also highly recommend its leather babouche slippers).

I’d love to know your favourite sustainable and ethical bag brands – leave comments below!