Coach Stanton Carryall at left, $295 USD. Matt & Nat Wellington Crossbody at right, $140 USD.

Here another Conscious Fashion Swap for you — only this week, I’m focusing on accessories. Specifically, handbags. This one came to as a special request from +Anna Mae and I’m happy to help!

If you have a special request in terms of an unsustainable brand or category of clothing that you’d like to see a sustainable swap for, let me know! But in the meantime, on with this week’s swap!

Switch Coach Bags

Coach is probably the most well-known and popular handbag company today. I mean, how often do you see that logo emblazoned across leather and fabric handbags? And while the company, like many widely-available fashion brands, has a “sustainability report” on its website, it’s about as valuable as the (digital) paper it’s written on. Especially where leather is concerned, it is not only unethical in terms of harming animals, but tanneries located in developing countries are extremely polluting, harming families living nearby.

What you have to do to find out the facts about massive fashion brands such as Coach is head to third party renditions of the facts. I found this China Daily article citing Coach as one of the fashion brands that perform below average when it comes to taking responsibility for the environmental damage caused by their supply chain, even though they contribute to pollution the most.

For Matt & Nat Bags

Matt & Nat, on the other hand, make vegan bags and accessories with liners that are produced from recycled plastic bottles. I was first introduced to them by one of my friends, when she showed me her cute little envelope bag that looked and felt like real leather.

And while vegan leather means that no animals were harmed in its production and harmful tanneries were not involved, vegan leather comes with a set of challenges all its own. With this in mind, Matt & Nat sources Polyurethane over the more harmful PVC whenever possible, and also uses sustainable materials such as cork and rubber whenever they can.

It’s an imperfect solution. But until someone develops a supple vegan leather made from bamboo, it’s the lesser of two evils.

Also of note are Matt & Nat’s relationship with their factories. In a perfect world, fashion and apparel products would be produces in the same countries in which they are sold. This would cut down on pollution from shipping halfway around the world, and it would also imply (at least to me) that factory workers everywhere in the world are paid high enough that they can afford the goods made by the factories they work for. It’s a systematic problem for sure.

At Matt & Nat, they assure us consumers that they have close relationships with the factories that produce their produce. Those factories adhere to the SA8000 standards, meaning that they comply to human rights as set out by the UN.

So it’s good to know that rather than a faceless, sprawling set of sub- sub- sub- sub- sub-contractors from which most large fashion brands source their product, Matt & Nat knows who makes their bags and accessories. However, I question the wisdom of producing a “sustainable” product in China. Not because the Chinese are undeserving of the contract, but rather because shipping across the world seems counter to their mission.

Matt & Nat is headquartered in Montreal. So why can’t a Canadian company set up and produce in a Canadian factory? This again points to the larger problem with our entire world. (Middle class) people might balk at the price if it were produced by Canadian workers. So what has gone so wrong with our world that middle class folks with steady jobs cannot afford goods produced in this country?

All ranting aside, Matt & Nat is a much better choice if you’re on the market for a great, classic handbag that will stand the test of time. And despite my nit-picking (you know that’s what I do!) they are always evolving and always trying new, more sustainable materials. So maybe one day my dream of a bamboo-based vegan leather will come true!

If you like these Conscious Fashion Swaps, check out these other ones!

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