Velvet Heartbeat is a small Kiwi vegan handbag business taking on the world.
A lifelong vegetarian, Suzie Eggleton had been looking for beautiful, durable alternatives to leather handbags for years. A costume designer by trade, in 2017 she started making her own vegan accessories from her home studio.
Now her Auckland-based business Velvet Heartbeat sells beautifully finished handbags, wallets and pouches to customers all over the world, among other ethically sourced products.
At AMI we like to shine a light on New Zealanders who go out of their way to do the kind thing, and we love the work Suzie does to help protect Mother Earth.
Vegan handbags in New Zealand
“I was searching for vegan alternatives to the cute leather bags that I'd seen on the market,” says Suzie. “What I was finding was cheaply-made, fast fashion items that would wear out very quickly. It would be really disappointing, and I knew that I could do better.”
All of Suzie’s products are made with innovative, cruelty-free materials sourced from the same suppliers that work with high-fashion ethical fashion brands like Stella McCartney. Not only do they make use of waste products, but they create jobs for people.
“I started off with Pinatex, which is made from the leaves of the pineapple plant. Farmers used to just burn it, but now they sell it to turn it into a fabric, which is better for the environment and gives them an additional income stream. Another one is cactus leather made from the prickly pear cactus, which comes from Mexico. And the last one I've got is apple leather, made from the leftover pulp and skins from apple juice production.”
Beyond vegan leather
These vegan leathers are just the beginning for Suzie, who is always looking for the next exciting fabric, to keep her line at the forefront of the ethical fashion movement. She cares deeply about the environment, animals and human welfare.
Suzie aims to make products that can last a lifetime and will happily repair a strap that needs some love, rather than see someone buy a new bag. Each bag is made by hand and takes about two hours to complete, from cutting the fabric to attaching the recycled coffee bag lining, adding a zip and decorative studs and attaching a strap.
“I'd like to think the lifespan of one of my bags is a lifetime,” she says. “Quite often, if you use a bag every day, the strap might wear out and that's understandable. So I'm happy to replace that. In terms of the construction, I really stand by my construction. They are sturdy bags and they're not gonna fall apart.”
The fast fashion problem
Suzie says that despite New Zealand’s reputation for being a clean, green environment, there is plenty of room to do better, as individuals and as businesses. Fast fashion is a particular problem, in her opinion, and more of an issue than many people realise. It’s something we can all work on together.
“Fast fashion is not just a $7 t-shirt, it’s accessories that go into the landfill after one season,” she says.
“About 100 million kilos of fabric ends up in landfill each year. It’s the equivalent of every New Zealander throwing away 145 medium men's sized t-shirts a year.”
Suzie is doing her bit to turn that around, one bag at a time.