By now, you may be aware of the ethical dilemma and environmental impacts of using animal skin for leather. As a result, there has been growth in research and investment to develop suitable alternatives to animal leather.
Below is a list of vegan leather alternatives and animal leather substitutes that we’re super excited about:
1. Tea leather
Tea leather or ‘teather’ is a promising biodegradable leathery material, produced using the by-products of fermented green tea. It was developed by researcher Young-A Lee and her team at Iowa State University. The remarkable feature of this product is that involves turning food waste –fermented green tea by-product– into raw materials.
“Our research team was looking for sustainability design practices starting from fiber, to product design and development to the end – consumers. We started to explore alternative materials for leather and synthetic textiles, focusing more on natural fibers,” Lee said.
“At the same time, we also searched whether there is any way for us to use byproducts from various industries to generate new materials for apparel-related products.”
Lee found that a green tea-based cellulosic material can perform in the same way as leather, and after the team combined this material with a hemp-based lining on the inside, the result was tea leather; an eco-friendly alternative as durable as animal leather. The textile is now being used to make fashion prototypes.
2. Muskin leather
Next on our list is muskin leather produced from well, mushroom skin. This kind of vegan leather is strong, versatile, and is already being adopted by brands in the fashion industry. The fungus needed here is (very conveniently) extracted from the caps of the mushroom species we don’t eat, and treated afterwards in a natural tanning process.
The end product is muskin which feels just like animal leather complete with a suede-like touch. Nat-2 and MycoWorks are some of the brands already challenging the status quo by turning muskin into leather products and we can’t wait to see what the future entails for this vegan leather.
3. Malai coconut leather
Coconut leather is another plant-based leather material which features the cell wall of coconut water and banana fiber that would otherwise be discarded. This vegan leather was dubbed ‘Malai’ which means ‘cream of the crop’ in a North Indian language.
The production process involves collecting and sterilizing the coconut water for the bacterial culture to feed; its fermentation, its refining, and subsequent enrichment with natural plant-based materials to a leather-style product. The result is Malai leather an organic product free of plastic or synthetic ingredients.
4. Cork leather
Natural cork leather is made from the bark of the cork oak tree and is often considered sustainable because the entire tree doesn’t need to be cut down in order to produce the material. Highly durable with a distinctive look, cork leather is also waterproof, stain resistant, and easy to maintain.
Cork leather and fabrics have been used in the market for decades, particularly in Portugal and Spain where much of the raw material is sourced. You’ll find cork leather in high-quality wallets, unique handbags, footwear and other accessories.
5. Pineapple leather (Pinatex)
Pineapple leather commercially known as Pinatex is a natural leather alternative made from fibers extracted from pineapple leaves. Created by materials company Ananas Anam this animal-friendly alternative to leather is made from pineapple waste.
This innovative vegan leather is well-loved for its softness, durability and flexibility. It is a natural, non-woven material made from pineapple leaf that is extremely sustainable since this raw material is sourced in the Philippines where the fruit grows abundantly.
Pinatex is already being used in clothing, shoes and bags and adopted by brands such as Hugo Boss and vegan shoe company Nae.
6. Soy leather
Soy leather is a bio-leather made from soybeans. It was originally created in Indonesia by XXLab, an all-female collective, from the liquid waste from large scale production of tofu. Put differently, just like Pinatex, this vegan leather is made from food waste.
To produce soy leather, the researchers boil the liquid waste –which would otherwise pollute Indonesian waters by the way– with vinegar, sugar and bacteria until the mixture becomes microbial cellulose. It is then dried and the finished product is a highly-durable leathery fabric that can replace animal leather in the making of shoes, bags, and other accessories.
7. Zoa bio-leather
Zoa bio-leather is made from bio-fabricated materials, with no any animal products or toxic chemicals. It is challenging our conventional perception of the clothes we wear because the material can hold to any mold, create any shape take on any texture and combine seamlessly with any material.
You might not know this but collagen, which is found in animal skins, is the main biological building block of leather. To counter this, Modern Meadow fabricates collagen by engineering a strain of yeast which can produce collagen through fermentation. Zoa leather assumes the form of liquid leather and so can be transformed into all kinds of shapes. This makes it a worthy replacement for animal leather.
8. Cartina-recycled paper leather
Cartina is so far, the only fabric in the world made from recycled paper for use as vegan leather in the fashion industry. Made by a Tuscany-based label; Cartina leather has remarkable durability and soft texture and is currently being used in the making of clothes, shoes and bags.
Last year, sustainable luxury label Humour Noir’s ‘Glory’ bag made with Cartina leather and cork won the German Design award for leading vegan fashion design.
9. beLEAF sustainable tanning solution
While not a leather, we thought it should be added to the list as the beLEAF innovation is a natural tanning solution that represents a safer way to tan leather than conventional methods that involve high use of chemicals such chromium and formaldehyde.
Developed by Brazil-based Nova kaeru, the name ‘beLEAF’ refers to the natural tanning process of the leaves of the elephant ear plant to produce a breathable, cruelty-free and leather-like material. This tropical plant grows on the banks of rivers and forests but without killing the plant, the company treats each large leaf with organic and eco-friendly tanning agents. Not only is the tanning process sustainable but the harvesting of the leaves are as well.
These are just some of the vegan leather alternatives being made available to fashion designers and manufacturers. If you’re aware of others, feel free to share below.
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Feature image credit: Pinatex.