Making ethical choices is at the forefront of customer decisions today. Vegan leather is cruelty-free and can be either synthetic or plant-based. It is also free from the negative environmental impact that genuine leather creates.
The global vegan leather market is booming. Did you know that the vegan leather market is forecasted to reach USD 66.2 billion by 2026? This showcases the rising popularity of vegan leather.
But using vegan leather that contains plastic is not exactly a sustainable answer. The fashion industry produces a large amount of faux or vegan leather. These are made of polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride and contribute to plastic in landfills.
Instead, many designers are now using eco-friendly materials to create sustainable fabrics. Innovative materials such as cork, cactus, and pineapple are some raw materials used for vegan leather. These form the first biodegradable, sustainable vegan leather alternative to real leather.
Designers are currently experimenting with partially and fully biodegradable materials. Manufacturers have creatively used plant-based products to create vegan leather. Examples of some manufacturers include,
Nupelle is a brand that prides itself on designing exclusive leather alternatives. As a PETA-certified brand, the manufacturer offers a wide variety of vegan leather. Currently, they have four different types of vegan leather.
Nupelle sources raw materials such as fruit waste, pineapple waste, and recycled plastic to create vegan leather. Of these, PANEX™ is vegan leather made from waste pineapple fiber and pulps. It is partially biodegradable.
Coflex™ is a non-toxic, suede substitute that is also eco-friendly. Recotec™ is made from 100% recycled material, and waste glass film. This manufacturer ships to brands such as Kenneth Cole and Puma.
Desserto is a vegan leather manufacturing brand that uses nopal cacti. The crop is grown abundantly in Mexico. It requires minimal water, making it a low-impact crop.
The leaves of the cactus are dried and processed to form sheet-like structures. During manufacturing, cactus leather is knitted onto an inorganic or organic fabric. The end result is a partially biodegradable material based on raw materials used.
The leather scores points on the sustainability scale as well. The cacti are left to grow and regenerate, with no chemical pesticides or fertilizers used. The leaves are dried in a solarium, reducing their carbon footprint by avoiding energy-intensive dryers.
The manufacturing process of cactus leather is less carbon-intensive and generates minimal waste. Desserto’s vegan leather is durable, making it ideal to be used in furniture and car interiors. Currently, the manufacturer sells to pro-ethical and sustainable brands across the globe.
Pinatex is a plant-based leather made of pineapple leaf fibers. The raw material comes from farmlands in the Philippines. By using these, the manufacturer supports farming communities in the country.
The discarded pineapple leaves from the fields are collected, and long fibers are extracted. The fibers are then washed, purified, and dried under the sun. It is then modified to form a mesh-like structure and a top layer of resin is added for durability.
Grado Zero Espace
Italian textile company Grado Zero Espace specializes in the manufacture of vegan leather from mushrooms. This is known as mycelium leather, under the brand name Muskin™. Mycelium is the root structure of fungi that spread and grow across the forest floor.
This mycelium is grown in labs under controlled conditions. It can be grown quickly and efficiently in different sizes, shapes, and widths. The production time and carbon footprint are less compared to genuine leather.
The waste products generated in the manufacturing process can be used as nutrients for the mycelium to grow. They can also be reused as organic crop fertilizers. Hence, Muskin or mycelium leather is an all-natural, sustainable alternative to genuine leather.
Mabel Industries is an Italian-based company that repurposes leftover food into innovative vegan apple leather. The raw material for apple leather is the leftover pulp from the mass manufacture of apple juice.
The vegan leather is only 20-30% biodegradable, as apple leather is mixed with polyester. The brand is said to work on a version with recycled polyester, for a more sustainable form of vegan leather.
Nova Milan is a brand based out of Costa Rica. It aims to create and supply petroleum-free, vegan leather at scale. Costa Rica is the world’s largest exporter of pineapples. The country produces up to 5 million tonnes of plant fiber waste every year.
This manufacturer aims to repurpose that waste to make 100% biodegradable vegan leather.
Malai is an eco-fashion manufacturer that works with local farmers to retrieve agricultural waste. These are the raw materials used for creating vegan leather. Examples include waste coconut, banana stem, hemp fiber, and coconut water.
The raw materials are fermented and refined to form sheets. They enrich the materials with natural fibers, gums, and resins for stability. The brand uses natural or plant-based dyes to color the material.
It is a user-friendly, 100% biodegradable material that lasts years when maintained the right way. Running on a small scale, Malai aims to ramp up the production of vegan leather in the days to come.
The vegan leather industry is undergoing a revolution. The industry is full of innovative ideas for vegan leather. Materials such as cork, apple, grape, mushroom, and paper are some examples being experimented on.
Global brands such as H&M, Louis Vuitton, and Stella McCartney are now pro-ethical and sustainable. They are investing in the research and development of newer materials in the vegan leather industry.
But, the challenge is the adaptation of vegan leather on a larger scale. Current practices of manufacturing are experimental. These result in smaller batches of production. Hence, vegan leather is not accessible to a larger population, yet.
Planet-friendly vegan alternatives are the need of the hour. The environmental consequences of manufacturing genuine leather are deadly. Knowing this, brands and consumers must look at sustainable alternatives.
As brands embrace the adaptation of vegan leather, it can become more accessible to the consumer. Buying and supporting vegan leather can be a mindful cause toward a sustainable lifestyle.
See also: What Is The Best Vegan Leather?
Main Image: courtesy of Nupelle