Please see this more recent post: Ten More Responsible Alternatives to Madewell’s Transport Tote for more options and updates. Thank you!
Today I’m introducing a new series: Buy this…Instead of That, where I’ll feature ethically-produced, sustainable, eco-friendlier, made in the US, heritage, or otherwise interesting brands and alternatives to popular mass-produced products. They’re out there, and I’m going to find them.
This isn’t always going to be about made in the US, although for those of us who reside in the US, I think it’s important to try and purchase products that are manufactured here as often as possible. It’s more about identifying the brands and companies with history, that have stories to tell, most of whom are doing it quietly. Some you may already have heard of, some you haven’t.
My goal is to try and stick as close as possible to the original price point of the item I’m trying to find alternatives to. This will be quite a challenge, although not impossible, because in general, made in the US commands a higher price. Stories come with price tags, artisans & makers need to survive on a smaller scale, and we will have to pay for provenance.
On to today’s challenge: finding similar, made in the US alternatives to Madewell’s immensely popular Transport Tote**.
You know this tote, every blogger and her mother has one of these. And no wonder, it looks pretty good; sturdy, with good shoulder straps, minimal, and classic. But with a little searching, I found a couple of good leather tote alternatives that are made in the US at a comparable price:
Madewell Transport Tote | $168
The BAGGU Basic leather tote | $160
Cuyana leather tote | $150
BuboBaaggins leather tote (etsy) | $180
American Apparel L’epicier leather tote | $130
threadandpapershop (Etsy) leather tote | $178
And of course, if you’re willing to spend more money, there are LOADS of other options out there.
Some of my favorites:
Admonish (my personal favorite – my black Admonish tote holds everything, and only looks better a couple of years in)
Clare Vivier (stylish, if a bit “overdone”)
J.W. Hulme (comes with a lifetime guarantee)
reMade USA (recycled leather bags, made in the US)
Everlane (made in Italy, although the company is transparent about manufacturing practices)
Lotuff (crazy expensive, but sturdy-looking)
Do you have any more suggestions for made in the US alternatives to the Madewell Transport Tote? Any independent leather designers you love?
Also, if you’d like me to find an eco-friendlier alternative to a popular mass-produced item, send me an email! I’ll take requests 🙂
I have nothing against Madewell. Well, yes, I sort of do. They position themselves as an “American heritage” brand (not officially, of course, but they play off the idea that the original Madewell brand was made in the US, sturdy, workwear). And they have an opportunity to be better, I think, to make more of a positive impact with regard to American manufacturing.
Madewell is hugely popular and has the aesthetic that appeals to the demographic and age-range of women who are just starting to become concerned with ethics in manufacturing and the stories behind their clothes. Their denim is their cornerstone, and their best sellers, yet it’s still made in China, or “imported” anyway; if you buy online, you have no idea where it’s made. AND they keep raising the price of their denim. Remember when it hovered around $100, a good deal for “premium” denim? Recently, though, it’s crept up and is around $125 or so, spend another $25 or $50 and you can get a great pair of jeans that is made in the US (At Need Supply, you can even get jeans made in the US for under $100). And really, if there’s anything we in the US manufacture best, it’s denim.
With Madewell’s reach & influence, there’s really no excuse for them to NOT manufacture their denim in the US. So this is really the root of my beef with Madewell. But I do appreciate that they feature independent artisans and carry some lines in stores and online that are smaller, and made in the US. Which is significant actually. Because maybe that’s what we need – a large, mass retailer who will expose, in small doses, its clientele to brands and products that are made domestically, with stories and histories behind them, like Rachel Comey, Skargorn, NSF, so they don’t have to do the work themselves, and seek out such brands.
Baby steps I guess. And props to Madewell for featuring a $414 Chimala chambray shirt next to their $72 version, although there are much more reasonably priced chambray shirts out there that are made in the US (Chimala is Japanese…).
Anyway, this is not to “dis” Madewell specifically, although lately, I’ve found their quality really lacking. In the past, I’ve had some good Madewell pieces, but the last one was a year or so ago. I won’t shop there anymore for myself, but ultimately I think they have value, and potential to do more with their brand.
I’m a bit late to finding this post, but I was also thinking about my fashionABLE tote that I own while reading this post. The leather is so soft, the bag is very well made, and I get compliments on it all of the time (which is a great excuse to tell others about a good company!). Raven & Lily is another good one in a similar vein.
I buy a lot of my accessories via fair trade/ethical companies based in Africa/South America, but was looking on here for more items made in the US. Great links and sources!
Lucy Merino says
As of May 2018 I don’t think think the other totes in this category deserve to be maligned by comparisons to Everlane. I received their Day Market Tote a few days ago. It’s priced & labelled as “100% Italian leather” but it’s made out of a reconstituted leather that smells like plastic + a thin outer hide. Very cheap materials & not worth the price.