Though leather has long been synonymous with luxury, its production is also linked to a number of environmental hazards, from polluted waterways and deforestation to the release of greenhouse gas emissions and harmful chemicals. Thanks to the continued rise of sustainable material innovation, a raft of designers and younger, ethically minded labels are crafting covetable bags out of soft alt-leather substitutes that look just as luxurious. 

Stella McCartney, who has refused to use animal leather in her designs since founding her brand back in 2001, has created a collection of sleek crocodile-effect bags made from a partly bio-based material sourced from the apple waste from the juice industry. For the minimalists, Fréja New York offers a range of totes made from their signature scratch- and water-resistant ultrafiber leather substitute. Meanwhile cult Los Angeles label JW Pei’s accessibly priced bags, beloved by the likes of Hailey Bieber and Gigi Hadid, are made from recycled plastic bottles and come in an array of playful silhouettes. 

“Seeing the surprise on people’s faces when they realise the quality of [alt-leather] is immensely satisfying,” says Stephanie Li, who founded JW Pei with her husband, Yang Pei, in 2016. “It not only challenges but often changes their perceptions, opening their minds to the possibilities of sustainable materials.”

Fréja New York alt-leather Caroline bag, £207

Atomy apple-peel Trapeze bag, €489

Demellier alt-leather The Nano Montreal bag, £330

Mashu Peta-approved alt-leather Anemone bag, £345

Stella McCartney croc-effect embossed apple-skin-leather Frayme bag, €1,395

JW Pei alt-leather Jana bag, €110

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