Are America’s 4 Most Popular Handbag Brands Ethical?

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Few industries can reach across the globe quite like the fashion industry. Handbags worn on the arm of a model strutting down the runway during Paris Fashion Week can be seen on stylish individuals in Australia in a matter of days.

Photos of decor-laden ita bags popularized by hip teenagers in Yokohama and Paris can spread like wildfire on social media, being sported by fashionistas and pin collectors in America in a number of days.

The world of fashion is just that—the world.

Several American fashion brands have outsourced manufacturing to other countries, exploiting workers by paying them pennies on the dollar to carefully craft the next “it” bagSeveral American fashion brands have outsourced manufacturing to other countries, exploiting workers by paying them pennies on the dollar to carefully craft the next “it” bag

As wonderful as it is to unite the world’s citizens with garments of every type, the fashion world’s reach and need to keep up supply for the consumer’s demand have led to some unfortunate consequences.

High fashion brands and labels that appear at Walmart alike have outsourced manufacturing to other countries, exploiting workers by paying them pennies on the dollar to carefully craft the next “it” bag.

With ethical consumption becoming a more pressing issue for the consumer than ever, American shoppers have turned their sights toward American fashion brands. Now, consumers are holding these brands to a higher standard, asking them to do right by their customers and their employees.

To help you understand the global impact behind your favorite bag (or simply to help you pick your next favorite purse!), we’ve compiled a list of the four most famous and iconic American handbag brands—what they’re known for, where they’re made, and what they’re doing to step it up.

1. Dooney & Bourke

First launched in 1975 in Norwalk, Connecticut, Dooney & Bourke began as a luxury leather company creating lasting pieces that could be seen sported in the equestrian community.

In 1981, the brand debuted its first collection of women’s handbags, finding its peak in popularity in the early 2000s. Dooney & Bourke not only created their own “it” bags but even released a line called “It Bags” in collaboration with actress Hayden Panettiere.

Aside from the US, Dooney and Bourke also manufactures its bags in Italy, Mexico, and ChinaAside from the US, Dooney and Bourke also manufactures its bags in Italy, Mexico, and China (Credit: Melissamn / Shutterstock)

Vintage Dooney & Bourke handbags were manufactured in the United States, featuring a “Made in America” stamp inside each purse.

While the brand still manufactures most of its products in the United States in 2022, some Dooney & Bourke handbags are manufactured in Italy, Mexico, and China.

The brand still manufactures a number of its most famous bags from the early 2000s, though they look a bit different than they did back then. Here are a few of Dooney & Bourke’s most iconic bags that you can buy at Zappos and Dooney & Bourke:

1.1 Pebble Grain Zip Zip Satchel, $278

One of Dooney & Bourke's most iconic silhouettes, the Pebble Grain Zip Zip satchel is a modern satchel made from durable pebble leather with a dome shapeOne of Dooney & Bourke’s most iconic silhouettes, the Pebble Grain Zip Zip satchel is a modern satchel made from durable pebble leather with a dome shape

1.2 All Weather Leather 3.0 Saddle Crossbody 20, $348

Inspired by equestrian design, the All Weather Leather 3.0 Saddle Crossbody is made from innovative Italian pebble leather that's lightweight and long-lastingInspired by equestrian design, the All Weather Leather 3.0 Saddle Crossbody is made from innovative Italian pebble leather that’s lightweight and long-lasting

1.3 Florentine Satchel, $508

A Dooney original, the Florentine Satchel is a chic satchel made from Italian Vachetta leather that gets softer with ageA Dooney original, the Florentine Satchel is a chic satchel made from Italian Vachetta leather that gets softer with age

2. Coach

First founded off 34th Street in New York City in 1941, Coach New York (affectionately known as Coach) became a household name in the mid-60s.

From the ’80s to the 2000s, Coach dominated the American handbag scene due to its versatile styles that could fit any occasion. After a brief period of becoming relegated to outlet malls across the United States, Coach has breathed new life into its styles to adapt to new generations.

Coach remains one of the most popular American handbag brands despite its reported unethical manufacturing and environmental practicesCoach remains one of the most popular American handbag brands despite its reported unethical manufacturing and environmental practices (Credit:Robert Way / Shutterstock)

Despite being one of the most popular American handbag brands, Coach no longer manufactures any of its bags in the United States.

Instead, the brand has outsourced production to Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and the Philippines, and Coach has come under fire for its unethical manufacturing and environmental practices.

Still, Coach does make some cute bags. Here are a few that you can find at Zappos and Coach:

2.1 Cassie Crossbody 19, $295

A compact crossbody bag, the Cassie 19 has interchangeable straps for versatile styleA compact crossbody bag, the Cassie 19 has interchangeable straps for versatile style

2.2 Willow Saddle Bag, $375 – $471

The Willow Saddle Bag features a saddle-style silhouette and trendy wide crossbody strapsThe Willow Saddle Bag features a saddle-style silhouette and trendy wide crossbody straps

2.3 Duffle 16, $350

A compact crossbody bag, the Coach Duffle 16 is made from buttery soft leather and features a zip top closure that opens to a spacious interior with multiple pocketsA compact crossbody bag, the Coach Duffle 16 is made from buttery soft leather and features a zip-top closure that opens to a spacious interior with multiple pockets

3. Kate Spade New York

Founded in 1993 in Kansas City, Missouri (surprisingly not New York), Kate Spade is one of the top handbag brands in the world. Known for its whimsical, colorful take on utilitarian items, Kate Spade purses can be found in nearly every department store—luxury or low-end—across the United States.

Since Kate Spade handbags are sold in both high-end and casual establishments, the brand’s prices and manufacturing processes vary greatly depending on the type of bag and where it is sold.

Sold in both high-end and casual establishments, the prices and manufacturing processes of Kate Spade bags vary depending on the type of bag and where it is soldSold in both high-end and casual establishments, the prices and manufacturing processes of Kate Spade bags vary depending on the type of bag and where it is sold (Credit: DreamArchitect / Shutterstock)

Kate Spade handbags made of leather or other animal products are made in Italy or the Dominican Republic, while wicker bags are made in factories in Taiwan or the Philippines.

The remainder of Kate Spade handbags is manufactured in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. There are a select few Kate Spade purses that are produced in the United States, which are labeled as such.

While it is difficult to know whether Kate Spade upholds ethical manufacturing processes, we have to admit that the brand has churned out some of our favorite bags of late. Here are a few of our favorites from Nordstrom and Zappos:

3.1 Knott Medium Satchel, $348

Featuring a classic satchel silhouette, the Kate Spade Knott is a compact and structured satchel constructed from pebbled leather with a top carry handle and a removable crossbody strapFeaturing a classic satchel silhouette, the Kate Spade Knott is a compact and structured satchel constructed from pebbled leather with a top carry handle and a removable crossbody strap

3.2 Boxxy Crossbody, $498

As its name suggests, the Kate Spade Boxxy features a boxy silhouette with a padded lambskin leather designAs its name suggests, the Kate Spade Boxxy features a boxy silhouette with a padded lambskin leather design

3.3 Love Shack Heart Purse, $179

The Love Shack bag is defined by its unique heart-shaped silhouette, complete with a top handle and a crossbody strapThe Love Shack bag is defined by its unique heart-shaped silhouette, complete with a top handle and a crossbody strap

4. Michael Kors

Launched in 1981 and again in 2002 by its eponymous founder, Michael Kors handbags became popular across the globe due to their luxurious, wear-anywhere styles that feature a touch of edge.

Like Kate Spade, Michael Kors bags and purses are seen in an odd dichotomy of places—either for hundreds of dollars in high-end luxury stores or for less than $100 in budget retailers like TJ Maxx.

These two lines—budget and luxury Michael Kors handbags—are made for entirely different price points and are (unfortunately) manufactured accordingly.

The majority of Michael Kors bags are made in China, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam, or the Philippines, while some of its luxury bags are produced in Italy or TurkeyThe majority of Michael Kors bags are made in China, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam, or the Philippines, while some of its luxury bags are produced in Italy or Turkey (Credit: Sorbis / Shutterstock)

If you purchased a Michael Kors bag at Marshalls, there is a good chance it was made in China, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam, or the Philippines.

Though some luxury Michael Kors styles are produced in Italy or Turkey, the brand still gets the majority of its materials and labor from China.

Despite Michael Kors being a brand frequently seen on red carpet regulars, the brand seems to produce iterations of the same three bags over and over again, like the following from Zappos and Nordstrom:

4.1 Chantal Large Logo Tote Bag, $328

The perfect bag for staycations or shopping sprees, the Chantal Large Tote has a spacious interior with wall slip and zip pocketsThe perfect bag for staycations or shopping sprees, the Chantal Large Tote has a spacious interior with wall slip and zip pockets

4.2 Valerie Small Pebbled Leather Satchel, $328

A petite version of the classic Valerie, this satchel is made from pebbled leather with smooth trim, double top handles, and a detachable shoulder strapA petite version of the classic Valerie, this satchel is made from pebbled leather with smooth trim, double top handles, and a detachable shoulder strap

4.3 Parker Medium Logo Crossbody Bag, $398

The Parker Medium Crossbody boasts a sleek camera bag-style silhouette with multiple interior pockets that provide practical storageThe Parker Medium Crossbody boasts a sleek camera bag-style silhouette with multiple interior pockets that provide practical storage

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