The Top 8 Most Innovative Vegan Alternatives to Leather
Here at Clearly Veg, we’ve narrowed down The Top 10 Most Innovative Vegan Food Companies and The Top 10 Vegan and Animal Rights Documentaries for our readers to peruse. But with so many incredible-and surprising-alternatives to leather being continuously announced, we knew it was time to round up a new list dedicated to just that.
While there are many vegan and innovative alternatives (on the market or in-production) for various animal-derived fabrics-including polyester made with trash from the oceans, bags created from recycled seatbelts, plant-based compostable sneakers, silk created from yeast, and biofabricated vegan wool, this list is dedicated specifically to leather alternatives. So, without any further adieu, here are our top eight picks:
Piñatex founder Carmen Hijosa was in search of a more sustainable and cruelty-free alternative to leather after witnessing how leather tanneries operated in the Philippines. Inspired by the traditional skirts (barong tarong) worn by women in the country, she created fashionable, durable, and even biodegradable faux-leather products made from pineapples leaves. The key is “processing the pineapple leaves in such a way where the fibers can be transformed into different textiles mimicking the most desired fashions.” Piñatex is currently “only available in a commercial capacity,” and is focused on the following industrial sectors: Fashion and Accessories, Furnishings and Car and Aeronautic.
MuSkin is a textile that rivals the softness of suede and the sturdiness of leather. Made by extracting “skin” from the tops of mushrooms, it is then processed in a manner similar to traditional, cruelty-sourced leather, but without the toxic chemicals, making it “ideal for the use in close-to-skin applications,” such as “purses, watch straps, shoe insoles, and hats.” The resulting textile is hygienic as it “limits bacteria proliferation,” as well as “soft, breathable, and [able to] absorb and release moisture well.” Invented by Italian-based company Zero Grado Espace, the PETA-approved MuSkin can be purchased by visiting the Life Materials website, where it is sold in three sample sizes.
Kombucha, a fermented tea most people either love or loathe, is the key ingredient in a new leather alternative currently in-the-works by researchers at Iowa State University. According to Young-A Lee, an associate professor at Iowa State, the film residue byproduct of the beverage is “similar to leather once it’s harvested and dried, and can be used to make clothing, shoes, or handbags.” The production of this environmentally-conscious and biodegradable leather alternative has its set of challenges, including the fact that the material loses its structural integrity when wet, and becomes brittle when cold, and takes up to four weeks for one sheet of material to be produced. Lee and her team are working on these issues, and we can’t wait for (the new and improved) kombucha leather to be available!
Founded by award-winning designer Vicki von Holzhausen, von Holzhausen is a Malibu-based collection of accessories with a focus on design, sustainability, and quality of life. While the brand itself does use leather (only when it’s a by-product of the food industry), it also has a Technik-leather line, which is a “100% animal free, intelligent material” that “uses nearly entirely recycled materials and is free from toxins.” The resulting material has the “supple hand of traditional leather combined with the durability of an engineered performance fabric,” enabling it to be crack-resistant and half the weight of leather. Von Holzhausen has created handbags, totes, pouches, and belts in various colors with Technik-leather, all of which can be viewed and purchased here.
Modern Meadow, a start-up based in Brooklyn, made headlines last year after hitting $40 million in investments to create animal-free leather. The process, called biofabrication, involves designing and assembling collagen and other proteins. These proteins, built from the ground up, can be made into a material that is “biologically identical” to traditional leathers “using living cells instead of animals.” The company established Zoa, which is “the world’s first biofabricated leather brand,” that utilizes the “supple, durable, and flexible” material. While some Zoa products (within the luxury and consumer goods categories) are expected to be unveiled in 2018, Modern Meadow is also debuting its biofabricated leather materials at the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit Items: Is Fashion Modern? on view October 1st – January 28th.
With a mission to recycle organic waste, engineer Alberto Volcan first created cartamela (apple paper). He followed it up with pellemela (apple leather), made from “apple waste, water, apple flour and a natural glue to produce leather that is thick enough to meet commercial standards.” Pellemela became a material that could “perfectly replace leather in the production of fashion items and pieces of furniture,” and was used in the production of the Pellemela Shopper, a “natural resistant and biodegradable bag,” made in conjunction with artist and graphic designer Carlo Busetti. According to Circulate, as of 2016 the “methodology and the product are still in an initial phase, seeking investment and commercial opportunities.”
Researchers at XXLab, a female collective that focuses on art, science and free technology in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, are using soybean liquid waste to cut water pollution, replace animal leather and offer a sustainable fabric instead. Using the liquid waste that results from tofu production, the team boils it with vinegar, sugar and fertilizer, adds bacteria, and waits for 10 days for the mixture to become microbial cellulose, at which point it can be dried. The result is a low cost sustainable fabric with zero waste that has been used to create shoes, bags and wallets. While it is not available to the public yet, designer Ratna Djuwita hopes that soybean leather–or “soya c(o)u(l)ture”–will become a “new trend of material” in the future, and that by sharing the process, people “can apply it for free.” You can watch an AJ+ video on the company and product here.
Last, but definitely not least, is VEGEA Vegetal Leather. Founded in January 2016, VEGEA’s goal is to produce “innovative vegetal leather-like materials, based on ethical principles such as sustainability, health protection of workers and consumers, social responsibility and total respect for the environment.” The process of creating the eco-friendly material made from “fibers contained in grape skins and seeds” is described on the website: “Globally, 26 billions Liters of wine are produced every year. From this production process we can derive almost 7 billions Kilograms of grape marc, to be transformed into a high value added raw material and potentially produce 3 billions square meters of Wineleather, every year.” As the product is both “fashionable and eco-friendly,” VEGEA’s focus is for it to be “applied in every segment of the leather industry: apparel, accessories, furnishing, packaging, automotive & transportation.” According to Decanter, the company’s wine leather, in the form of “prototype garments, bags and other fashion accessories,” will have its official launch in Milan this month.
That wraps up our list of the top eight most innovative plant-based alternatives to leather. We cannot wait for all of these incredible options to become a reality to showcase the high-quality, fashionable, animal-friendly and environmentally-conscious options available in the fashion world!