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Chic and vegan in the same bag

From Stella McCartney's iconic Falabella to bags made with recycled plastic bottles, the options for devoted vegans go beyond food

Matt & Nat’s ‘Parallel’ Handbag, worn as a briefcase or cross-body bag.
Matt & Nat’s ‘Parallel’ Handbag, worn as a briefcase or cross-body bag.

If you eat meat, stop reading now. If you are often accused of being a grass-eater, carry on. The eureka moment, when you realize that if you don’t eat it, you shouldn’t wear it, is accompanied by a sense of sartorial discomfort. In India, while designers flirt with the idea of cruelty-free fashion, it’s not all-encompassing. Satin clutches and beaded pouches aside, where do you find the sophisticated bag, the kind with fashion lineage and net worth, the bag that speaks a million dollars with a slight flash of its label? Where do you find a bag that isn’t nouveau riche and one which shows that you care? It may sound noble, but saying no to leather isn’t glamorous when your options are polyurethane.

In 2001, Stella McCartney, a life-long vegetarian and a supporter of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, took her lifestyle choice and made it a sustainable business. The British designer doesn’t use leather or fur in any of her high-end fashion products. They are cool, edgy and modern and keep the good politics alive, one animal at a time. It actually mimics leather so beautifully that you wouldn’t know the difference, unless your eye picks out the giveaway trademark metal edging (and really, with that price tag, it will keep society from judging you on the basis of your bag).

While McCartney’s classic Falabella handbag (distinguished by a braided chain detail) packs a punch, the Canadian company, Matt & Nat (Materials and Nature), came as a complete eye-opener. When it arrived in the mail (after the whole customs shindig), the vegan bag itself was sleek and functional, but what the “live-beautifully" product said was that the lining was made with 100% recycled plastic bottles (clocked at approximately 21 bottles per bag). The label is made from recycled cork, the price tag moonlights as a bookmark. They have introduced recycled bicycle tyres in their collection and on Earth day, their Instagram post noted that they have recycled over three million plastic bottles to create the linings of their bags. Unlike cheaper man-made materials, this bag lasts until you tire of it, without any difference in texture or appearance.

While their site does not publicize it, the founders are of Indian origin: Inder Bedi launched the company in 1995 after moving to Montreal to go to university and attempted to go vegan. He found his options limited, so he set out to become a game changer. Five years later, Manny Kohli, another passionate vegan, joined him, and is currently president and chief executive officer. Their office lives by the philosophy, including having monthly vegan potluck meals.

Take another instance of vegetarian-turned-vegan Sugandh Agrawal, who grew up in India and now lives in New York. Her experience with raw hide, while interning at a local handbag design firm that specialized in exotic skin handbags and shoes, led her to start her own line of vegan fashion wear, Gunas.

Unlike man-made leather, ahimsa leather, which has become a topic of serious discussion in India over the last few years, is made from the hide of dead animals. Grain, started by Avinash Bhalerao in 2014, offers unisex bags. While no certification is provided, they work with 30-year-old tanneries that recycle the skin of dead animals into leather, which is the closest you can get to the real thing, without actually harming the animal.

Brands like Guess are dipping into the man-made leather initiatives—but it wouldn’t be amiss to begin thinking about sustainability, and going all the way while you are at it. It is a process of transition, as model Renee Peters explains on Ethica, an ethical fashion blog: “The hardest thing about going completely green has been doing it while being a member of the fashion industry and wanting to express my personal style. I have to work harder at curating my own look…." Go ahead, make a difference, one bag at a time.

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