Companies and consumers are fast becoming more open to faux leather or leather alternatives with the rise of environmental and societal concerns, as well as animal welfare. In recent years there has been an abundance of research and technological advancement to lead the way towards leather alternatives. Leather substitutes are being researched in labs or explored through organic materials and waste research, and the properties are always improving.
Technological advancements have allowed a variety of materials to now be commercially viable with large companies like Stella McCartney, Adidas, and Patagonia harnessing these materials in their collections. These alternatives aim to tackle social, ethical and/or environmental obstacles that the textile industry is incrementally facing.
We’ve rounded up the most promising leather alternatives in our free, downloadable guide. Read on for a quick summary of five of these options.
The global leather alternatives market is projected to reach $45 billion by 2025
Cactus leather is made from nopal cactus (also known as prickly pear) leaves and is currently produced by Adriano Di Marti, a Mexican company. Nopal cactus is abundantly available in Mexico and requires no water or chemicals to grow. Marketed as Desserto, this leather is durable, organic and comparable in elasticity, feel and quality to conventional leather, thus being suitable for both apparel and interiors. Though free from phthalates,
toxic chemicals and PVC, it is only partially biodegradable.
This newly developed non-woven material called Malai, has the feel and look of leather and is both flexible and durable. It is entirely made from bacterial cellulose and is grown on agricultural waste from the coconut industry. Once the bacteria and water ferment, a jelly- like substance is created that can then be reinforced with natural fibres and resins to mould into a sheet. Coconut leather can be naturally dyed with limitations to the range of colours, textures and prints. As the material is fully organic and natural, it can be placed in a compost to degrade once it is no longer of use.
Every year about 7 billion kilos of grape byproduct called grape marc is produced during wine production. With the potential of creating three billion square metres of leather from this byproduct including seeds, stalk and skins, Italian company Vegea created this bio-based leather that requires no toxic solvents, chemicals or heavy metals to produce. While comparable in feel to conventional leather, it is not biodegradable. It is currently in further development but aims to soon be commercially used in accessories and car interiors.
A by-product of the food industry, apple leather is made with a minimum of 50% apple skin and core waste. Frumat founded this leather substitute in the largest apple-growing region in Italy after seeing the amount of waste produced in the apple industry. Aesthetically it resembles leather but it has more of a paper feel than normal leather or other leather alternatives. As it isn’t 100% organically derived, there is the possibility of having different backings and coatings to allow for different effects and thicknesses for different functional or aesthetic purposes.
Other Plant-based leather alternatives
Mirum is a plant-based leather made by Natural Fiber Welding, from a mixture of virgin and waste natural sources such as cork and coconut coir fibre, designed to be both completely biodegradable as well as comparable to conventional leather in performance, look and feel. Using a patented welding process, it contains no petroleum-based components and needs no water in either the making or finishing process. Through a closed-loop system, Mirum is also designed to be reprocessed into new material or become soil nutrients, feeding into the circular economy while being truly scalable.
To learn more about them and leathers like PU, recycled, cork, pineapple, mushroom and fish skin leathers, their properties and companies to watch out for, download our Leather Alternatives Guide.
Aly is a footwear and accessories designer with a particular interest in sustainable and ethical fashion. She graduated as valedictorian graduate from London College of Fashion with a specialised focus on disassembly and circularity within footwear design. Aly has experience working with both leathers and non-leathers and works closely with factories in Europe. Since graduating she has worked for Stella McCartney, Two Degrees, McQ Alexander McQueen and Ganni.
Nayanika is a designer, writer and illustrator whose work spans research, storytelling and strategy for sustainability in fashion. Her interests specifically lie in sustainable supply chains, craft production/innovation, circular economies and design for social innovation. She graduated from the prestigious MA Fashion Futures program at London College of Fashion with a Distinction in 2019, and has researched at and written for Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Fashion Revolution, amongst others.
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