Handbags: Is “Ethically Handmade” right for you?


“I have to have that bag” she says, “even if I have to wait for months. It has to that exact orange tone and in that alligator hide please.” – Love, Some lady with a sincere fetish for designer, luxury bags.

Several luxury brands using exotic animal hides boast about their products being so exclusive because they are tediously handmade individually piece by piece. There is an art and science to it; a long waitlist even, of hundreds of admirers that want to own one because they want to be a part of that “club” or be seen a certain way in society as projected by their belongings. Buyers will pay a fortune to own these bags while for most that might be equivalent to a mortgage or a car purchase. All that, for a bag that’s made from a dead animal (or several) stitched together carefully and neatly by artisans that have been in this field for generations. Because that’s what they’ve learned and that’s all they know.

So what you are really paying for is the skin of an exotic animal harvested in a farm somewhere,  specifically for that brand, ruthlessly slaughtered for a bag or a pair of shoe, an overpaid CEO of a fashion company leading an upscale lifestyle, plus the thousands (if not millions) of dollars that brand is pushing through their marketing efforts to make this mass slaughter look fabulous! Wow! I hope I struck a bell somewhere in your mind. The sound of this was so naturally “unnatural” for me and I wondered why more people weren’t talking about this. When you view the world of “handmade” luxury through a glass wall, it will shatter your desire to ever own something made that way.

I’ve been in this journey and industry for a decade now. I’ve personally researched, observed, read about and visited several artisan studios to understand what and how I wanted to define “ethically handmade”. What kind of principles I wanted to stand for in an industry that’s practically non-existent versus an industry that’s beautifully paintings cruelty to look so luxurious and desirable. As humans, we inherently want to do the right thing. I always like to believe in the goodness of people. But, we’ve been so brainwashed by the idea that if it’s not “perfect” it’s not beautiful, that we apply it to every aspect of our existence; from our appearances to the products we use. Whereas in reality, the beauty in handmade is in its imperfections. In a world infested with the idea of perfection, we want to feel good about buying a handmade bag, but want it to have the perfection of a machined bag. We are in conflict with our true desires and the expectations that society has thrown upon us.

Gunas skilled craftsman

So what does it really mean to be “ethically handmade”?

Dictionary definition of:
Artisan: A skilled craftsman or a company making high quality, distinctive product in small quantity, usually by hand, or by using traditional methods.
Ethical: Pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong in conduct.
Handmade: A manual skill. An art, craft, or trade in which the skilled use of one’s hands is required. 

A. Note that it does not say “machined”. Traditional methods usually mean traditional hand tools, eyeballing, hand drawing patterns, using measuring tape instead of laser and computers for example. The only machine involved in this process is a sewing machine as it’s the only way to make canvas backed, non leather sturdy and durable versus hand sewing. All edges are hand painted with color for finishing and hung to air dry before being stitched together. This is handmade, blessed by human touch, susceptible to minor errors.

B. Speaking of ethical, does the thought of living in a world full of AI and robots scare you? It does to me. The thought of being over connected digitally and yet no physical and emotional connection to one another is frightening. Our society is sadly moving in that direction at an alarming speed. It’s happening; but is this moral? Are we trading efficiency and convenience (or laziness) for mental health problems? Industries are switching human jobs and employing robots to complete tasks in pursuit of perfection and timely deliverables. If less people have jobs, and we are killing their buying power, then who are we ultimately producing for? We are clearly creating a major imbalance. I remember when I was young, I would visit our local seamstress to have a new dress made as a child. It was nice to connect a face to my newest outfit and know who made what I wore. The emotion was charming.

C. Now here’s a problem I have when shoppers compare a vegan leather product with a real leather product. A comparison should be made between two things that are similar. Leather and vegan leather are NOT similar. They are sourced and made very differently. One’s animal hide, tried and tested for centuries by cave men and the other is plastic + plant-based (think cottons!). Why do we expect both to function exactly the same way? Vegan materials have their own qualities and care requirements that are different from “traditional” leather. Let’s be mindful of these as you decide to commit to switching out your wardrobe.

benefit of using Gunas NY vegan products

” I have to have that Bag, because it gives me joy. Joy to support real artisans, avoid animal cruelty and wear fashion that speaks to my style and ethics. I have the tolerance for human error and appreciate the art of mending and slow consumption” – Love, A GUNAS GIRL.

This is an inside perspective and observations I've had as a small 
business owner, someone who has seen the birth and evolution of this 
movement in Fashion since its inception. 
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