From grapes to hemp, discover the varied and often surprising materials that are replacing leather
Fur has been banished by fashion giants such as Versace, Prada, Gucci, and Burberry for some time now. But even as consumers demand an end to animal cruelty and greater sustainability, the fashion industry has found it harder to wean itself off leather. And this is a problem. Beyond the ethical concerns about using animal skins for clothing, leather production has a costly impact on the environment.
Raising animals requires vast quantities of water and land for pasture. During the last 50 years it is estimated that 70 per cent of the Amazon rainforest has been stripped of trees to make way for pastures. Further down the leather supply chain, there are concerns about labour practices at tanneries where leather is treated. For example, tanneries have been flagged for using arsenic and other notoriously toxic chemicals. In Sweden and Italy, studies have found that leather-tannery workers face an increased risk of cancer of between 20 and 50 per cent.
Now may be the time to replace leather for good. But how can the fashion industry do this? Today, there remains uncertainty about whether the most common plastic alternatives are, in fact, better for the environment when the whole product lifespan is taken into account. And bio-based leathers haven’t, so far, been produced on a truly commercial scale. Faux leather also tends to be less durable than the real thing. And perhaps the biggest problem is the fact that leather has become synonymous with quality in an industry defined by luxury.
It is clear that leather is an area in need of innovation and, at Springwise, we have kept our eyes peeled for the most promising solutions.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, around 14 million tonnes of pomace (grape waste) is produced each year. In response, Chinese designer Meng Du has released a new collection of bags made with an alternative leather produced from leftover grape skins. The bags have been created in partnership with OddBird, a non–alcoholic wine producer based in Sweden. For her Unwasted collection, Du sourced material from Planet of the Grapes, a French producer of grape-based materials and natural dyes. Read more.
Many faux-leather products are made from plastics, such as polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that themselves have a negative environmental impact. Bio-based leathers have the potential to solve this problem. German startup LOVR has added hemp to the list of unlikely leather alternatives. Agricultural residues from farms that grow the crop for CBD products form the basis of the LOVR material, which is billed as the world’s first 100 per cent plant-based, and completely plastic-free leather alternative. In addition to being free from fossil fuels and harmful chemicals, LOVR claims its faux leather is completely biodegradable. Read more.
Dnish company Beyond Leather has created a plant-based leather alternative made by combining the leftovers from apple juice and cider production with natural rubber. The leather alternative, known as Leap, consists of three layers, which can be disassembled for better recycling. The structure consists of an apple-rubber blend derived from discarded apple leftovers (skins, cores, stems and seeds). The blend is then applied to a cotton and wood fibre textile backing. A finishing coat is made from a combination of bio-based and fossil fuel-derived ingredients. The result is a plant-based leather product made from 80 per cent bio-based ingredients. Read More.
With patent-pending technology, Israeli startup Remeant converts single-use plastics into sustainable vegan leathers. Each textile is unique, produced as it is from a particular set of waste products. The finishes on the leather-like pieces range from marbled and bubble wrap to crinkly, shiny aluminium. The technology is capable of upcycling some of the most difficult to reuse waste plastics, including bubble wrap, and the durable fabrics are lightweight, waterproof and washable. Read more.
New York-based Vietnamese designer Uyen Tran has developed a leather alternative made from food waste. The flexible bio-material, named Tômtex, is durable while remaining soft enough to be hand-stitched or machine-sewn. It can also be embossed with a variety of patterns to replicate animal leathers. The product was named after a type of shrimp, in reference to the discarded seafood shells that are mixed with coffee grounds to create the textile. Read More.
Words: Katrina Lane
12th May 2022