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A Faux-Leather Tote That Doesn’t Suck

Leni Penn’s vegan leather bags look like the real thing.

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A black crocodile faux leather tote
Leni Penn Black Crocodile Tote ($230)

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I love the look of a simple leather tote, which has always struck me as pleasantly understated but in a cool way, like they belong to women who are just too busy for zippers. I lusted after them for years and did nothing, and by the time I felt ready to make a commitment, I had become a sort of casual vegan (not in a principled way, I’m just rigid by nature), and so the dream was dead. I would not get a nice real leather tote after all. Instead, I would get a nice fake leather tote.

You would think this would be easy, given that it’s the 21st century and we can grow human kidneys. It’s not. Unless you have a spare $900 for a Stella McCartney, in which case, live your best life, you are stuck with a very large variety of very bad options. Vegan leather is, on the whole, terrible — the "leather" coating often flakes away or peels off, and it generally looks not only fake but plastic, like a grown-up bag by way of Fisher-Price.

Certainly, it doesn't slouch. Good slouch in a bag is essential! I like to think it gives me a carefree, not-even-trying quality I do not otherwise possess.

For an embarrassing number of years, I settled for a bright canvas tote that was large and shaped like a feed bag, which was appropriate for most things I do (go to the grocery store, go back to the grocery store), but it felt inadequate for more formal events, such as anything else. The problem is that it’s difficult to look and feel like a powerful professional when your signature piece is a neon sack that appears to have been designed for a horse.

By the time I discovered Leni Penn — a tip from my boyfriend’s well-dressed mother — my quest for a suitable faux-leather tote bag had become a central part of my identity, like being anxious, or brunette. But there it was, on the internet, and it was perfect: everything I wanted in a faux-leather tote bag and had thought I could not have.

It is not an understatement to say that it has changed my life.

The tote bag ($230 for the small, which is enormous) is water-resistant and insanely durable, with just the right amount of slouch. It’s incredibly roomy but doesn’t look like luggage. And while I was initially weirded out by the embossed faux-animal textures, I’ve come to embrace them: They make me feel just primal enough to put some spring in my step.