• Fashion

Tessa Carroll’s vegan handbags are made of cactus and pineapple leather

But it’s her passion for circularity we love most

By Jenny Ringland

Tessa Carroll is the daughter of a cheesemaker and started her career in the leather industry, and yet she is the founder of an innovative vegan, ethical handbag brand, A_C which recently won a coveted award in the PETA Fashion Awards for a tote made of cactus leather.

When she learned of the environmental impact her diet had on the planet, she stopped consuming animal products altogether, in both the foods she ate and the fashion and products she bought.

The concept for A_C was born out of frustration of not being able to find a clutch for a wedding that wasn’t made from leather or plastic. 

“About three months before we launched it dawned on me that a clutch bag is one of the most useless items in the carry-goods market for customers who were trying to reduce their footprint, carrying all the things one may need to do so,’’ Tessa says.

“I didn’t know exactly what kind of bag an environmentally-focussed person might need but I knew what bag I personally would want to carry. One night, at 2am, this design just popped into my head. Suddenly we weren’t just a clutch-bag business but a handbag brand with a range of different styles, sizes and shapes.”

Tessa Caroll in a black blazer at her desk
A_C founder Tessa Caroll's passion for circularity led to a recent PETA Fashion Award

From its inception A_C’s philosophy was to only ever work with innovative leather alternatives that, unlike plastic or animal leather, comparably, do far less damage to the earth. Which is where cactus and pineapple leather come in. Along with apples and corn, they are two of the leading sources of vegan leather in the world right now.

From channeling Patagonia’s sustainability model to finding the most sustainable and organic textiles and revealing her ‘triple threat’ we hope you love our chat with Tess as much as we did.

Congrats on winning a PETA Fashion award, what does the award mean to you?

Honestly, winning Best Carry All in a sea of contenders means the world to me. We set out to disrupt the carry-goods industry, proving that ethical, sustainable and cruelty-free handbags can and do exist. To me, this award is the outcome of our intention.

What is cactus leather? And why is it so great for handbags?

Desserto is a cactus-based biomaterial that originates in Mexico. It is made by harvesting the mature leaves of a prickly pear cactus and extracting proteins and fibres to make an organic bio resin which then is coated on a carrier. There is minimal soil degradation as plants are not removed from the ground for harvest. The plantation regrows really quickly – it takes only six to eight weeks to be ready for harvest again.

What about pineapple leather?

We use Pinatex – it is a natural and sustainable non-woven textile made from the fibres of pineapple leaves, which would ordinarily be burnt or discarded. Because the fibres are a waste product of an existing worldwide industry, no additional land, water, fertilisers or pesticides are needed; as such, the production of the leaves has virtually no environmental impact.

A_C cactus vegan handbag
A_C's collection of vegan handbags comprise of leather made from pineapple leaves and prickly pear cactus

What does living a sustainable life mean to you?

To me, living a sustainable life means making conscious decisions for the lightest footprint. It doesn’t mean I’m perfect but it means I’m trying. For example I avoid single-use plastic as best as I can. if I don’t have my keepcup I choose to sit in or go without and I have any number of cloth bags at the ready for shopping.We compost our food scraps and buy them seasonally. We buy fresh instead of canned and consciously check the origin of the food when shopping. If it’s not from Australia, we don’t buy it. 

These are simple things but they’ve become ingrained in me, so that they are now my habits.

Where does your passion for sustainability and in particular making vegan goods come from?

I was raised to be hyper aware of my environmental footprint, recognising the planet’s finite resources and respecting nature. So when I discovered the environmental impact my diet had on the planet, I quit consuming animal products instantly. 

Are there any brands, organisations or individuals out there that you look to for inspiration in the sustainability space?

As clichéd as it sounds, I can’t go past Patagonia as a blueprint for how businesses should be run. Interestingly, I didn’t know much about Yvon Chouinard before I started my business but I echo everything he stands for in human and environmental rights and how to run better business.

What’s the one thing you don’t leave home without?

It used to be the triple threat: Keepcup, cloth bag, water bottle but now I’ve added a reusable mask to my artillery.

Where are you currently wishing you could go on holiday to?

Gnaraloo and Ningaloo Reef.

Favourite sustainability focussed book or podcast?

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells.


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