As ethically minded consumers become aware of how materials are obtained and demand another kind of change for their dollar, diverse businesses around the world are lining up to cash in on vegan leather enterprises. Many companies — among them Land Rover, Tesla and H&M — are shedding their animal skins to grow new business and investment opportunities.
“The attitude toward animal byproducts is changing,” says Land Rover Design Director Gerry McGovern. “Personally, I’d be quite happy to move away from leather tomorrow. I don’t like that we have to slaughter all those cows to create leather.”
He’s right on the money about a shift in attitude. According to a recent report, the global synthetic-leather market is expected to reach $85.05 billion by 2025. Tesla has helped lead the charge by offering innovative, high-tech vegan leather that reduces the automaker’s carbon footprint while enhancing its focus on sustainability. In the world of fashion, popular retailer H&M is committed to becoming “climate positive,” which means using materials that reduce emissions. To fast-track this goal, H&M is helping fund a company that’s making leather out of wine.
Here are nine source materials now being used by vegan-leather startups that are poised to take the fashion world by storm.
Wine leather is the latest innovative material produced by processing the solid remains of grapes. It’s a fully natural, raw material made of the grape skins, stalks and seeds discarded in wine-making.
“We are currently running the patent implementation stage and our objective is to be ready by the beginning of 2018,” says VEGEA Founder Gianpiero Tessitore. “From that moment, we will start partnerships with strong brands and will define with them the market strategy and the timing for companies to purchase Wineleather. At the current stage we are preparing some prototypes for furniture, bags, garments and other accessories and we are aiming to show them during an event which is planned for October, in Milan.”
Apple leather uses wasted pulp — the stuff that’s left behind in the cider pressing process — as the main ingredient. Apple leather sticks to the fruit’s authentic qualities, adding as little as possible to the pulp recipe. This keeps the material 100 percent biodegradable (and edible). The Apple Girl, a PETA-Approved company, fulfilled its first order to create wristbands for the Copenhagen Cider Festival in August 2016. This product is meant to be consumed or break down naturally: It can go back to the soil from which it came without harming people or the planet. The concept is a full circular economy, mimicking life by looking to nature for inspiration and solutions.
Based in the U.K. and Spain, Ananas Anam has developed a material called Piñatex. It’s soft, flexible and breathable — plus it can be printed on, stitched and cut. This creates a long list of potential uses, including footwear, fashion accessories, home furnishings and interiors for the automotive and aeronautics industries. According to the company, Piñatex fibers are byproducts of the pineapple harvest and require no extra land, water, fertilizers or pesticides beyond what’s needed to cultivate pineapples for consumption. Leaves are degummed and made into a luxe, mesh material that feels much like felt. Aesthetics aside, pineapple leather is super-sustainable. New vegan brand and online shop PlanetGuests carries Nae’s new pineapple-leather shoes.
The Italy-based Grado Zero Espace creates many vegan textiles, including a mushroom leather that resembles suede. MuSkin is made from mushroom caps tanned with nontoxic ingredients — unlike the toxic chemicals used for leather made from the skin of cows or other animals. The new biodegradable material is softer, more breathable and more water-repellent than leather derived from animals. That makes it perfect for everyday items such as belts, purses and shoe soles. To learn more, check out this video.
Nothing says sustainable, luxury style like wearing trees. Paper No. 9 creates vegan paper leather in an array of colors, textures, and effects. The company’s signature textiles are nontoxic, plastic-free and made to order. Each is composed of recycled paper, fabric (from remnants, organic sources or otherwise ethically obtained sources) and natural glues, waxes, oils and emollients.
Portuguese brand Pelcor manufactures sustainable cork skin that’s lightweight, waterproof, flexible, resistant and insulating. Pelcor offers cork with backings of cotton, polyester-coated polyurethane or nylon. The process uses cork oak — the naturally regenerating, water-resistant cells from the outer bark of cork oak trees. These products are as appealing to the planet as they are to your sense of style.
It’s no longer just your go-to healthy brunch drink. Researchers at Iowa State University as well as entrepreneurs from the German startup ScobyTec have been using kombucha tea to make vegan leather. It’s affectionately called “teather.” Although materials still are being tested, harvesting fibers from a kombucha-based mixture is showing serious promise. We can’t wait to see pieces on the runways.
XXLab in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, is creating a new soy leather made from the liquid runoff inherent in tofu production. This low-cost, zero-waste fabric has been used for shoes, purses, and wallets. The new leather-like material is not yet available to the public, but we look forward to seeing the results of this fascinating project.
Related: The Art of Creating a Vegan Brand
Coronet makes bio polyols, which are plant-based polymers derived from natural, renewable sources. Think grains and seeds from food-free cereal crops rather than from petrochemical origins. At the manufacturing stage, these cutting-edge fibers generate zero carbon-dioxide emissions. The main raw material in bio polyols is either field corn or yellow dent. Yellow dent grows on more than 99 percent of North American cornfield acres and is produced to make ethanol and other manufactured goods. Field corn isn’t viable for human consumption, so its textile use doesn’t have an impact on the edible corn market. And the raw material needed for bio polyols has a smaller environmental footprint than do their petroleum-based alternatives.