The recent explosion in material innovation is starting to bear fruit (pardon the pun) with the development of viable leather alternatives made from pineapples, apples, mushrooms and even prickly pear! In todays post we will take a look at 3 promising plant based leathers made by companies that are striving to use more of what mother nature gave them.
Vegan leather is nothing new. It has been around for decades in the form of PVC or PU (polyurethane). Unfortunately, this kind of vegan leather comes with a high environmental and health cost as it is derived from fossil fuels and treated with harmful chemicals. Thankfully, there has been a lot of innovation in the last few decades and there is promise of a new, more environmentally friendly type of vegan leather. Textile scientists have been experimenting with natural products such as mushrooms, pineapple, apples and cactus to produce new bio-based leathers. They aren't entirely perfect, as they still require blending and coating with synthetic fibers to ensure performance and durability, but they are a vast improvement on the vegan leathers of the past. Let's take a look at 3 of these bio-based leathers below:
1|. Mylo Mushroom Leather
Mylo is one of a range of innovative new materials (including microsilk and B-silk) made by Bolt Threads, a Californian materials solutions company. Mylo is made from mycelium which is essentially the root system of fungi and blended with synthetic fibers to create a soft and supple vegan leather.
The main fiber used to make Mylo (Mycelium) has a low environmental impact requiring just air, mulch and water to grow. It requires little land as it can be farmed vertically in specialized facilities that are powered entirely by renewable energy. It is highly regenerative growing in just two weeks and once harvested is processed, tanned and dyed using Green Chemistry principles in facilities that meet top sustainability certifications. Mycelium itself is completely biodegradable and compostable.
At present, Mylo is 50-85% bio–based, meaning that the majority of its fibers come from nature, however it needs to be blended and coated with synthetic fibers to enhance its properties. As such it is not entirely petroleum free and therefore not fully biodegradable.
Mylo is not currently available beyond its consortium partners (Adidas, Luluemon, & Stella McCartney), however Bolt Threads is working to scale up production and make it available for commercial use. Stella McCartney just launched the world’s first-ever garments made from Mylo Leather.
2 | Piñatex Pineapple Leather
Piñatex is made by UK based company Ananas Anam from the fibers of pineapple leaf. The pineapple leaf is sourced from pineapple farms in the Philippines and the material is finished in Italy and Spain. It is made from a blend of 80% pineapple leaf and 20% corn-based polylactic acid and finished with a polyurethane (PU) coating to enhance flexibility, strength and durability.
The pineapple leaf used to make Piñatex is sourced as a byproduct from harvesting pineapple fruit. This not only diverts the leaves from landfill but also provides farmers with an additional source of income from their crops. Piñatex is dyed using GOTS certified pigments and coated with REACH certified PU. Annas Anam is a Certified B Corporation meaning that it is committed to ethical and sustainable production throughout its supply chain.
Piñatex is not 100% biodegradable as it is blended with polylactic acid and coated with PU. Ananas Anam is committed to sustainability however and is looking for ways to reduce the content of petroleum based fibers in its PU coating while maintaining the quality and performance of the material.
Piñatex is commercially available and has been used by brands including H&M, Hugo Boss, Sézane and many more.
3 | Desserto Cactus Leather
Desserto is a soft and durable leather alternative made in Mexico from cactus leaf. It is 68% natural fibers blended with cotton and recycled polyester to enhance strength and durability.
Desserto is made from cactus that is farmed in Mexico. Not only are cactus great CO2 absorbers - removing carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the soil - but they also can be farmed organically (without pesticides or herbicides) on existing rainfall (requiring no additional water). The mature leaves are harvested every 6-8 months leaving the rest of the plant to regrow for the next harvest. Any byproduct is sold to the food industry which reduces waste and generates additional income for the local farmers. Once harvested the leaves are sun dried , tanned without any toxic chemicals, dyed using GOTs certified pigments and finished with a bio-based PU.
The PU used in Desserto is partially made from renewable bio-based substances however still requires some petroleum based fibers. As such it is not yet 100% biodegradable. It is recyclable though, and Desserto is working to reduce the petroleum content of their fibers to enhance biodegradability.
Desserto is commercially available and has been used by brands such as H&M, Karl-Lagerfeld and House of Fluff.
* If you're interested in learning more about the complexities of vegan leather be sure to check out our recent post -
Is Vegan Leather Sustainable? - where we interviewed Salma Merchant Rahmathulla - founder of a vegan leather accessories brand, The Essentials Story and Creative Director of Pelicans Group, one of Europe's largest design and manufacturing companies of customized items in leather and man-made materials.
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