What are sustainable accessories?
You might not automatically think about sustainable accessories when you think about sustainable fashion, but buying sustainable accessories is just as important as buying any other sustainable product. Most accessories are very cheap, poorly constructed, and made in toxic working environments. Considering the origins of your bags, jewelry, and other accessories is essential for the sustainable shopper.
Fortunately, you don’t have to compromise on style to be sustainable. There are plenty of brands offering sustainable alternatives for every type of accessory. These brands use natural, recycled, dead stock, or recycled fibers and pay their workers a fair wage. Sustainable accessories are made to last a long time and aren’t harmful to people or the environment. This article covers five different accessories, breaking down their sustainability issues and suggesting more ethical brand alternatives. We hope this helps you swap out your conventional accessories for sustainable alternatives with ease.
This article will cover:
- iPhone Cases
- Leather Bags
- Knit Scarves
The eyewear industry is monopolized by unsustainable brands. Sunglasses are traditionally made of acrylic and plastic, which are materials that contain toxic chemicals and take hundreds of years to decompose. Manufacturing of wasteful plastic frames leads to toxic chemicals and micro-plastics seeping into surrounding soils and waterways. Production of these materials is linked to high co2 emissions and intense water and waste pollution. If the sunglasses you are about to buy are ridiculously cheap, you can expect the cost to be elsewhere: unsustainable production, biodiversity loss, non-renewable materials, child labor, toxic pollutants, unsafe and unfair working conditions, etc. Luckily, there are plenty of brands creating sunglasses out of compostable materials like bamboo and cork or recycled wood and plastic. Next time you buy a pair of sunnies, buy from a sustainable brand like Sunksi or Proof.
Sustainable Sunglasses Brands:
Sunski is a great sustainable sunglasses brand that uses plastic-free packaging and recycled plastic frames. They source their recycled plastic locally from US landfills, and they make their sunglasses in the US, as well. Most sunglasses come in a wasteful plastic bag but Sunski instead uses innovative, recyclable origami to protect their frames.
Sunski is part of 1% For the Planet, meaning they donate one percent of sales to environmental non-profits. Their sunglasses are built to last. To back their quality, the company offers a lifetime warranty for their glasses, promising to fix them if they ever break. Their goal is to keep the shades out of the landfill for as long as possible. Sunski offer sa fun virtual try-on feature so you can try on their styles using your phone. This helps minimize waste and returns. The brand is also certified carbon neutral. They have a wide selection of high-quality, fair-priced sustainable shades for men, women, and kids.
Proof is a fantastic brand that gives back with every purchase and makes its sunnies out of biodegradable materials like recycled skateboards. How fun!? They offer men’s, women’s and optical glasses. With each purchase, $10 goes directly to the Do Good Program, an organization for health, empowerment, environmental and educational initiatives. Also, each frame purchased now plants five trees.
Proof makes their sunglasses from a variety of biodegradable materials including recycled skateboard decks, recycled aluminum, cotton-based acetone, FSC certified wood, and bamboo. They are handmade and come with a sustainably-sourced wood case. Each pair is designed for disassembly so you can recycle or compost with ease. They also offer a recycling program where you can send in your old frames and receive 40% off your next pair. Proof is a great brand if you're looking for biodegradable materials and to give back with your purchase.
iPhones have become an extension of ourselves. The average person upgrades their cell phone every 22 months and with every upgrade comes new accessories. Since we love variety, this usually means two or three new phone cases. More than 1 billion phone cases are produced every single year, and, at best, each one is used for 1 to 2 years before spending centuries in our landfills and oceans. The cheap polluting plastics used for iPhone cases break down into micro-plastics that get consumed by fish, and these synthetic petroleum-based materials are also problematic due to their high energy use during manufacturing. To make matters worse, iPhone cases often contain harmful toxins like BPA and Phthalates.
The most important thing to consider when buying iPhone cases are their materials, as this is what determines their end-of-life outcomes. Sustainable accessories for phones use biodegradable, natural materials like bamboo, FSC wood, cork, and recycled materials—look out for iPhone cases that are certified specifically to ensure there are no toxic chemicals. Since your phone case is constantly in your hand and pressed against your face, toxic chemical use is of a greater concern than usual. Brands are finally creating biodegradable, non-toxic iPhone cases; check out two such brands, Pela and Tech21, below.
Sustainable iPhone Case Brands:
Pela is the most popular sustainable iPhone case company. They have created the world’s first compostable phone case—it fully breaks down in a mere 3-6 months! Their recycled material cases have 30% fewer carbon emissions, 34% less water usage, and 80% less waste production than traditional cases. Pela cases are always free of Phthalates, BPA, cadmium, and lead, and the company meets strict child safety standards for the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The brand is B Corp certified and climate-neutral certified. They are also part of 1% for the Planet and use 1000% plastic-free, recyclable packaging.
A majority of Pela's renewable materials are created from Flaxstic, which is a renewable feedstock byproduct that is typically burned. This compostable material beneficially gives their cases strength and natural shock absorption. Another sustainable initiative, Pela offers a program called Pela 360 in which they collect old cases and regrind the materials to make new products. Aside from phone cases, Pela also has sunglasses, AirPod cases, zero waste screen protectors, iPad cases, and smartwatch bands. Pela is going above and beyond to offer sustainable, biodegradable, and nontoxic products. They rightfully lead the sustainable iPhone case industry.
A lot of sustainable iPhone cases are only offered in plain, boring colors. This is not the case Tech21. Their 100% biodegradable cases have a variety of aesthetically pleasing and fun designs, patterns, and colors. To create these designs, the company collaborates with independent artists.
Another super unique aspect of Tech21 is their microbe reducing formula. In collaboration with BioCote, Tech21 created an antibacterial, self-cleaning mechanism that is now built into their phone cases. Studies have shown that our iPhones have more microbes (germs) than a toilet seat. Through Tech21's antibacterial formula, microbe growth on phone cases is disrupted, effectively reducing 99.99% of microbes in just 24 hours. As for materials, Tech21 makes their biodegradable products out of recycled phone cases, and the only new material the company adds to their recycled phone cases is their antibacterial formula. Tech21 cases are also independently tested by physicists to withstand falls and are drop protected. The company offers a variety of colorful iPhone and Samsung cases as well as Macbook, iPad, and AirPod cases. Tech21 is the perfect combination of sustainability, science, and innovation.
Finding sustainable leather bags is often hard to do. Traditional leather production is notorious for its awful working conditions, toxic chemicals, and animal welfare issues. Tanneries have a huge environmental impact and generate large amounts of wastewater with high toxic chemical concentrations. However, the most popular alternative to leather, vegan leather is often made of intense plastic and PVC that is not good for your health, animals, or the environment, either. There has been growing concern about the environmental impact of plastic-based vegan leather and its inability to biodegrade. Another concern with plastic vegan leather is that it is full of harmful phthalates, which added for softness and flexibility. Phthalates are linked to impaired fertility and reproductive development.
Luckily, new plant-based vegan leathers are being created with better natural materials like Pinatex (pineapple leaves), cork, hemp, apple skins, and more. When shopping for this sustainable accessory, the best options are a recycled leather bag or a PVC-free and plastic-free vegan leather bag. Recycled leather can come from old leather products or from discarded leather from manufacturing—this is a great option if you desire the look and feel of traditional leather. We recommend one plant-based leather bag and one recycled leather bag below.
Sustainable Leather Bag Brands:
Svala is a luxury vegan accessories and handbags brand that has fantastic leather bags. Svala’s vegan leather is made from a combination of polyurethane, Pinatex, and cork. Their products are PVC-free and PETA-approved vegan. The lining of their bags is made from organic cotton and recycled polyester from plastic water bottles.
All Svala products are handcrafted locally in Los Angeles which helps ensure fair working conditions and wages. They have a carbon offset program and donate 10% of their profits to various charities. One organization to which they donate is WildAid, whose mission is to end the illegal wildlife trade. Svala won the 2020 Eluxe Award for the best vegan brand of the year. For the eco-conscious vegan shopper Svala is the perfect leather bag.
Crystalyn Kae creates handcrafted bags and accessories made in the USA from ethically sourced and reclaimed materials. Crystalyn Kae truly covers all of the bases, offering three types of sustainable leather bags: upcycled, vegan, and vintage fabric bags. Their vegan bags are PETA-approved, while their upcycled leather bags are created from leather rescued from Manhattan’s Garment District. The recycled leather scraps are combined with a vegan glazed fabric that is lead-free, phthalate-free, and machine washable. Crystalyn Kae is truly unique in how they incorporate up-cycling into their design process. This is a fantastic brand for sustainable shoppers looking for locally made, durable leather bags.
A warm and cozy scarf is essential for those who want to stay warm in the winter, but still look cute doing so. An ethically made, fair trade scarf is even more essential for the sustainable shopper. Traditional scarves are dyed with synthetic chemical dyes, manufactured in awful working conditions, and mixed with materials like nylon, polyester, and viscose which don’t biodegrade. Not to mention, the treatment of animals shorn for wool is absolutely awful, and factory machinery for creating knit fabrics is often very dangerous for workers. Sustainable knit scarves use recycled and organic materials and are manufactured in safe conditions for workers and animals. This winter, cozy up in some sustainable knit scarves.
Sustainable Knit Scarves Brands:
Armedangels is a German sustainable brand that offers a variety of clothing for men, women, and children. They are best known for their “detox denim” line but they also have a great collection of organic cotton and organic wool scarves. Their products never contain any hazardous chemicals, fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, or toxic bleach. They source from small cotton farmers in India and operate under the Fair Wear Foundation Code of Conduct that protects workers’ rights. Their scarves are mostly 100% Gots certified organic cotton, and Armedangels has been Fairtrade certified since its creation in 2007. Check out this awesome German brand for cozy and sustainable scarves, beanies, and sweaters.
Organic Basics is a one-stop shop for simple organic basics. From socks to t-shirts to underwear, this brand does it all. They offer a range of men’s and women’s sustainable accessories including recycled cashmere scarves and sustainable winter gloves and hats to match. Organic Basics' scarves are made from post-consumer recycled materials like GRS certified recycled cashmere and 100% recycled merino wool. These scarves are compliant with GOTS and SA8000 standards. You can virtually visit their factories to make sure they are living up to their promise of safe working conditions and living wages. Organic Basics also offers carbon neutral shipping and their website was created to be low impact; their website requires 70% less electricity for data transfer than the average site. Organic Basics offers a great selection of warm and soft sustainable scarves.
Hats are a chic complement to any outfit and have the added bonus of helping protect your face from the sun. However, hats are often poorly made and contain leathers, plastics, and toxic dyes. In addition, cheap hats purchased at souvenir shops, sporting events, and fast fashion stores are often made in inhumane conditions with nonrenewable materials. When shopping for a sustainable hat, durability and ethical production are the most important things to look for. Luckily, brands are starting to experiment with hemp and recycled materials to create beautiful sustainable hats.
Sustainable Hat Brands:
Bucket hats have been the must-have accessory lately. Girlfriend Collective has you covered with their 100% biodegradable bucket hats. Their canvas bucket hats are a blend of low-impact materials. They are made of 50% recycled cotton (from fabric scraps found on cutting room floors) and 50% organic cotton. Their materials are Oeko-Tex certified and never contain any chemical pesticides or insecticides, and they use eco-friendly dyes and carefully clean their wastewater before disposal. The brand offers a “Regirlfriend” program where you can send in your old stuff and they will turn it into a new product. If you're looking for a sustainable bucket hat, Girlfriend is the brand to follow.
If you’re looking for a unique and beautifully handcrafted hat, G Viteri is an amazing brand to check out. G Viteri only uses materials that are sustainably harvested and renewable. Their toquilla straw hats are 100% handmade in Ecuador. Every hat is unique and made by local artisans using authentic and traditional methods. The brand works to improve local economies and ensures all workers are paid a fair living wage and work under just conditions. Further, the brand's packing, labeling, and promotions are all created from recycled materials. G Viteri offers beautiful hats that combine sustainable accessories with luxurious designs.