The fashion industry is changing fast, fueled by consumers' increasing awareness about sustainability, which starts new discussions and modifies behaviours. Even luxury groups like Kering, which owns Balenciaga, Gucci, and Saint Laurent, is raising the bar when it comes to animal-welfare, developing a new standard policy for the use of leather and wool. Biotechnology keeps surprising the textile industry as well with sustainable hybrids like synthetic spider silk and incredible plant-based vegan leather options that are both sustainable and biodegradable. Discover these amazing options below -- and check how it compares to conventional leather.
Piñatex®: Vegan Leather from Pineapple Leaves
Just as Orange Fiber uses the peels wasted by the orange juice industry, Piñatex® also uses a byproduct: pineapple leaves from agriculture in a process developed over 7 years by Dr. Carmen Hijosa. This is a natural, cruelty-free material that is biodegradable and, at the same time, creates an additional income for farming communities.
The fabric is woven in Spain and distributed by Ananas Anam. It is a sustainable alternative to used by fashion designers in different areas of the industry, including footwear, interior furnishing and automotive upholstery. Brands using it include Puma and Hugo Boss.
Piñatex is a brand by Ananas Anam, a company founded by Dr Carmen Hijosa, who developed the biodegradable fabric. They work with a MOQ (minimum order quantity) of 1 linear metre and the thickness is around 1.5 -2 mm. Credit: Courtesy of Ananas Anam
beLEAF™: Botanical Tanning Technology
We saw this new vegan leather from Nova Kaeru at the 8th Future Fabrics and we're still amazed by the possibilities of its technology. After 20 years of research in the tanning field, the company has developed a tanning process that can be applied to leaves, and the first result is beLEAF™, a vegan fabric created from the elephant ear plant (Alocasia Macrorrhiza). Comfortable, resistant and with breathable properties, this botanical leather might be an excellent option for footwear brands.
The trees were planted and sourced in Nova Kaeru's own mahogany reforestation site and the natural fabric is also completely compostable, turning beLEAF™ part of a circular economy.
Produced by Nova Kaeru, beLEAF™ is a great option for footwear brands. Its tanning technology could potentially be applied to any plant once adapted to the peculiarities of each species.
Mushrooms for Luxury Leather: Bolt Threads
Synthetic spider silk is not the only innovation from Bolt Threads: American biotechnology company has also developed Mylo™, a leather-like material derived from mycelium (the underground root structure of mushrooms). By growing mycelium cells in an adequate environment, controlling temperature and humidity, the cells interconnect into a 3D network that is compressed, tanned, and dyed into the finished product.
Mylo™ is the result of a partnership with Ecovative, who pioneered the technique to create soft flexible foams. Their technology was adapted by Bolt Threads to mimic leather and supply the fashion industry. The material is completely biodegradable and non-toxic, already in use by Stella McCartney in some versions of her famous "Falabella" bag.
A 3D network of mycelium cells compressed to a 2D layer that becomes vegan leather: that's Mylo™, Bolt Threads' adaptation of Ecovatve groundbreaking technique. Non-toxic and biodegradable, this material is biotechnology at its best. Credit: courtesy of Bolt Threads and Creative Commons
Vegea: Vegan Leather from Wine Waste
The Italian company Vegea has found a new life for pomace, the name given to grape skin, seed, and stalk leftovers after crushing the fruit for wine production. Founded in 2016, their process involves no water and no toxic chemicals, resulting in a plant-based leather that is completely biodegradable and part of a closed-loop. How amazing is that?
The first collection came out in 2017, a collaboration with fashion designer Tiziano Guardini. One of the dresses was also exhibited in 2018 at the "Fashioned from Nature" exhibition* at the Victoria & Albert Museum, in London, UK.
Italy produces 6 to 7 billion bottles of wine per year, and the result is 7 million tonnes of waste: skin, seeds, stalks and other leftovers from the grapes. To tackle that pomace, Vegea has created a vegan leather that is completely biodegradable and part of a circular economy, a byproduct of the wine industry waste. Credit: courtesy of Vegea
(*) Cover photo - Tiziano Guardini´s dress at “Fashioned from Nature” exhibition, V&A, January 2019.
Frumat: Repurposed Apple Waste
Italy seems to be honouring its textile history with several companies that are studying ways of repurposing waste into biodegradable and sustainable fabrics that contribute to a circular economy. Frumat, for example, uses the core and skin leftovers from the apple industry to create a leather-like material that is waterproof and breathable.
Really versatile, the leather substitute is available in a variety of thicknesses, textures, embossings, and laser printing. It can be produced on demand as well, perfect for fashion designers who are looking for a personalised fabric supplier.
Despite having little digital presence, Frumat seems to be the leader when it comes to apple skin repurposing. 50% of the material produced by the company comes from apple waste, creating a fabric whose texture goes from paper to leather-like. Credit: courtesy of Frumat
Conventional Leather vs Vegan Leather
Conventional leather is technically biodegradable and some fashion designers like Brazilian Patrícia Motta, whose collection was shown on Minas Trend, use certified options to assure its transparency. However, the supply chain of conventional leather can involve polluting tanneries and chemical dyes that contaminate the water and can severely damage the health of workers, not to mention plastic-based finishes that transform the material into non-biodegradable anymore. That is one problem, the other is the ethical side of animal-welfare and the high carbon print of cattle farming.
Traditional vegan (i.e. not sourced from animals) leather -- also named faux leather or synthetic leather -- can be made with a wide range of materials, including some non-biodegradable ones like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU), which are oil-based, or plastic based materials. Plant-based alternatives present more exciting technology advances that instigate circular economy, being both sustainable and biodegradable.
These are only a few suggestions of an array of new materials you can work with. How can you make your collections more sustainable, reducing the impact fashion can have on the environment? Our platform gives voice to your fabric and material demands, reaching textile and material suppliers all over the world. Try it now!