Vegan bags don’t just have to be ethically made or hard-wearing – they can be both of those things. And fashionable too. In a section of an industry dominated by leather and pleather goods, Ahimsa Collective realised there was a niche it could occupy, and aims to turn that niche into the norm.
“We saw we were championing the banning of plastic grocery bags, but then we were watching our fellow comrades in the fashion industry going out and buying PU [polyurethane] bags. It didn’t make sense,” says Tessa Caroll, co-founder of Ahimsa.
Tessa had worked within the fashion industry for a number of years before co-founding Ahimsa Collective with Susie Hemsted in 2017. Tessa despaired at the amount of waste created by and for the industry, as well as an over-reliance on animal products and planet-damaging materials, like leather alternative polyurethane – aka that ‘80s favourite, pleather
But, while other industries were embracing recycled materials and plant based technology, the fashion world was always a couple steps behind.
“Most people who were using recycled materials were either very niche, or they were huge like Patagonia. There was no-one in the high street fashion, or the major fashion houses using them,” she says.
Ahimsa Collective creates beautiful bags, backpacks, purses and wallets with a social conscience.
“First and foremost, our main goal is plant-based textiles – that’s because our intention is for the accessory to return to its natural form or raw material at the end of its life. That said, we’re definitely interested in the recycled side of things as well, and that is because of the longevity in recycled polyesters and plastics.
“We’d be lying if we said there was no room in the world for plastics,” she admits. “Plastics have some wonderful properties about them, they just need to be sourced the right way and controlled, so it can be reused and put back into the system.”
Ahimsa Collective bags are made out of hard-wearing, almost leather-like, Piñatex. Frankly, it’s a remarkable natural textile – made from waste pineapple leaf fibre. Other products are available in a range of materials as diverse as washable paper and recycled fashion waste.
So far, Ahimsa’s desire to reach varying ends of the ethical fashion spectrum has been successful, with everyone from PETA to Vogue featuring its products. One of the brand’s central tenets, ‘Do No Harm’ applies not only to animal welfare, but to both the people in its production chain – and the planet.
As important as it is for Ahimsa to be the toast of the fashion world, what’s more important is how it affects change through its products. Working with a number of social enterprises like Ghost Nets Australia, Ahimsa donates a portion of all sales to the fight against climate change.
“Our intention in starting the brand was to give us a platform to speak – which sounds ironic because most fashion designers don’t start out wanting to be activists,” admits Tessa. “We started the brand because we were violently furious at the amount of plastic we were finding in the ocean.
“We knew it wasn’t just enough to tackle that problem, we have to pay back and make a change. Our entire ethos has been built on reversing the effects of climate change through a fashion-based, commercially viable product,” she says.
With products starting at around the AUS$18 mark – all the way up to AUS$288, there’s something to suit all price points.