Eco-friendly accessories have been all the rage for quite some time but, sometimes, it’s hard to find something that’s also fashion forward. Thankfully, husband-and-wife design team Hâkan and Arlene Nilsson started Los Angeles-based Hemptress in Jan. 2010 to offer sustainable handbags that are also really stylish. “There are very few fashion companies whose products are also eco-friendly,” Arlene says. “Of course there are plenty of non-fashion bags that are eco-friendly (or vegan and not eco-friendly), or they are fashionable but not eco-friendly. There are plenty of fashionistas out there who are also responsible consumers. These bags are for them and for me.”

Arlene, who previously worked for companies like BCBG, Zina Eva, Rough Roses and Reveal Bags, has plenty of experience in designed handbags. “BCBG was definitely the most important gig for me,” she says. “Working directly with Lubov Azria, I really got an understanding of how to track trends and understand designing for buyers.”

Even with her knowledge of fashion, Arlene admits that she’s been a “greenie” since her early 20s. In 2007, she was designing a handbag line and one of the bags was made from lambskin. “I did the math to see how many square feet of leather would be used, and I realized that two animals would die for one bag,” she says. “I started researching and that led me to hemp, which is the strongest and most sustainable natural fiber. I also use hemp to create my ‘reborn’ recycled leather, which I use as a trim. This product is 20 percent scrap leather bonded with cotton and other fibers, and then coated with lead-free Polyurethane and made into a fabric. It is much stronger and more leather like than any other faux leather.”

Arlene designs all of the bags herself, and she finds inspiration from many sources. Sometimes it’s from something on the runway for the upcoming season, while other times it’s from something in nature or even from life in the city. “I’m always designing based on what the trends will be for that season, combined with the Hemptress brand and what materials I am working with,” she says. “For instance, the Bailey Satchel was inspired by a bomber jacked designed by Christopher Bailey for Burberry for Fall 2010. I saw that jacket, and, knowing that I had access to the hemp “fur,” it was a bingo for me.

Some of her other favorite bags currently available include the Mona Satchel and the Mona Mini. The ruffles are actually inside-out raw-edge seams, which give the bags an edge look while also remaining feminine. “I especially love the new Teal Green Mini that has the lavender hemp/silk lining,” she says.

Regardless of which style you choose, Hemptress bags make a great accessory for several reasons. For starters, they are multi-functional and can be carried several ways. They also have a lot of pockets, they can be hand washed with warm water, they feature top-quality zippers and hardware that won’t rust or break, and the on-trend designs in neutral colors means they’ll be fashionable for many seasons. Plus they’re made with sustainable materials, so you can feel good about your smart purchase. The bags range from about $95 to $250, and they are available locally at Solne in Cherry Hills Village, at Mt. Tejon in Colorado Springs or online at Hemptress.

For more on fashion, be sure to attend 303 Magazine’s Spring/Summer Runway Presentation at Denver Fashion Weekend March 1 – 4 at EXDO Event Center. As an added bonus, the first person to correctly answer this week’s trivia question will win a free pair of tickets to DFW Nights 1 and 2:

Who is the makeup artist for Night 2 of DFW?

 

 

Misty Milioto is affectionately known as Denver’s Fashion Gal. She covers haute trends and local designers in the Mile High City, all while keeping a close and critical eye on national trends that are currently rocking the runways and the major glossy magazines. Stay tuned for all the best in fashion that Denver has to offer.

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