One-by-one, big fashion houses are dropping fur from their collections. Gucci and Versace are among the pioneers, but the wave of environmental consciousness has yet to reach leather with a similar force. In Sausalito, however, Filbert co-founder Bridget Brown is ahead of the curve, manufacturing vegan leather bags with a luxurious look and feel.
“I came up with the concept of Filbert after moving to a vegan lifestyle five years ago, literally the next day after watching the documentary Vegucated,” says Brown, who was born in Louisiana and lived in San Francisco before moving to Marin in 2008. “The movie opened my eyes to the cruelty behind factory farming and the horrific conditions that animals live in, and the abuse they are subjected to. I found the dietary change much easier than the fashion aspect of trying to find luxe, beautifully crafted, made-in-the-U.S.A. handbags.”
After Brown’s husband and business partner Nick Brown pointed out that the perfect handbag was always out of reach, the two decided to try and create one themselves.
“Vegan leather is an extremely durable fabric that is also easy to maintain and care for, and the bags will last a long time,” Bridget says, “because we don’t need more things, just things that are made better and that will last longer!”
The Filbert website currently offers a wide range of cruelty-free handbags and accessories, from elegant crossbodies to trendy bucket bags, as well as the Bay Area staple—the roomy, carry-all tote bag, in relaxed greys, browns and creams. Bridget and her husband previously dealt in much brighter colors; in 2000 they founded Bella Bridesmaids, which grew to 43 franchise locations across the U.S. before the couple eventually sold the company in 2012.
“We founded Bella Bridesmaids after seeing a need for chic, modern and wearable bridesmaid dresses,” Bridget says. “We opened our first by-appointment-boutique in Cow Hollow and started seeing very quick growth.”
Despite having moved to Sausalito on a whim (“We had a boat that was anchored in Clipper Yacht Harbor when we lived in the city, and every time we’d travel over the Golden Gate Bridge to take the boat out, we’d wonder how it is to live there,” Bridget recalls), the brand’s name carries San Francisco in its heart. “Filbert is the street we lived on in San Francisco that was very near and dear to us, but then I found out it’s a type of hazelnut. Who knew?” she says with a laugh.
The brand’s vegan leather, a nylon-fiber matrix without plasticizers, is made in a factory in Massachusetts. “Vegan leather looks and feels like leather,” Bridget says. “There’s an age-old perception that leather equals luxury. I think there’s a newer, better way to look at luxury. Luxury to me is knowing that my products are made in a factory with good, safe conditions and where the workers are treated well and paid fairly, without human or animal suffering.”
Despite having products that are primarily based online, with items placed additionally at International Orange spa at the Marin Country Mart, Bridget enjoys lots of support from the local community.
“We find that so many of our customers like supporting local businesses,” she says. “Sausalito feels like you’re in an Italian village every time you walk out your door, from hanging out at Cibo cafe, to walking the boardwalk and watching the ferry come in, to ending the day with a glass of wine overlooking the bay.”
In 2018, this timeless European-style romance pairs especially nicely with a stylish leather bag made mindfully without animal product.