Vegan Leather Alternatives
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
An increasing interest in sustainable and cruelty free lifestyle products are leading to many companies moving away from traditional leather materials and the development of exciting new Vegan alternatives.
We’ve been using leather to make anything from footwear and car seats to clothing and furniture for as long as we can remember. The earliest recorded use of leather dates back to 2200BC, so no wonder a material that we’ve used for over 4000 years is difficult to displace. Its cheap and our factories are efficient at using it at an industrial scale. So why are we looking at alternatives to this product more closely than ever. Well, a few reasons, apart from the obvious animal cruelty considerations:
Leather of course requires the rearing of cattle which arguably these days has one of the largest carbon footprints. Vast amounts of land and water are required for cattle and the little stinkers produce a lot of methane.
The process of tanning uses some nasty chemicals including chromium, a toxic heavy metal, which can seep into the ground, water and air, and Anthracene, a tanning agent, is a carcinogen which can cause serious problems in the kidneys and liver.
The use of these chemicals make tanneries a pretty hazardous place to work. Leukemia rates around a tannery in Kentucky, USA were 5 times higher among its residents and lung cancer in tannery workers is often associated with their exposure to arsenic amongst other chemicals.
Basically, not to start this post off on too much of a downer, the leather industry certainly has some room for improvement!
So, what can we do about it? Enter, the ‘Alternatives’ (they sound like a bunch of superheroes, and to be fair some of them have some pretty impressive powers!)
Pineapple Leather (Piñatex)
One of the older kids on the block, relatively speaking, made from pineapple leaves which are the byproduct of existing agriculture. Its durable, watertight, vegan friendly and also ethical as it provides more income for pineapple farming communities. Check out Ananas-Anam for more details.
100% biodegradable and produced using all the leftovers from harvested apples i.e. seeds, peels and cores. What's not to like? This vegan friendly leather is sustainable, non toxic to the environment and very durable.
This very cool material is similar to suede in touch and can be grown to fit a desired shape and size. It's made solely from one type of gigantic, inedible mushroom species native to subtropical forests and is eco-friendly and hypoallergenic. According to Lifegate though, unfortunately at the moment it’s only produced in small quantities but hopefully this can change.
If cork and suede had a child this is apparently what you’d get! And it really smells like coffee too! Made from sustainably recycled coffee beans and plant this new material and has been patented by a very innovative chap in Germany, Sebastian Thies. Have a look at Nat-2.
At The Bondi Shoe Club we’re particularly interested in this material as mad ocean lovers. Kelp is such an abundant and sustainable resource that it would be an extremely sound ecological choice to use as an alternative to leather. SeaCell is one brand of ocean leather that has been developed by mixing kelp with cellulose, however at present this product is in the early stages of development and seldom used but watch this space!
Come again, leather made from wine you say. Stop it! This divine sounding material is produced from grape peels and seeds, by-products of making wine, and is apparently very soon going to be produced at scale. Very exciting indeed! H&M are currently making a range of shoes and handbags in collaboration with this great company, Vegea.
This ‘totally tropical’ material is flexible, breathable, durable and water-resistant. It was invented just a couple of years ago by two entrepreneurs, Susmith Suseelan and Zuzana Gombosvaand, and is produced using the cell wall of coconut water to make a bacterial cellulose. Applause for the ingenuity and inventiveness! You can learn more at Made in Malai.
Modern Meadow have created this cruelty-free and vegan leather with a bioengineered form of yeast, producing collagen through fermentation. A similar process to brewing beer. We love the alcoholic theme with some of these wonderful vegan materials! ; ). Keep an eye out for this one as it develops over the next few years.
So, in conclusion, there are a variety of very promising alternatives to leather which we can't wait to get our hands on at The Bondi Shoe Club. These are exciting times for people who hope to see the world transition to a more sustainable and cruelty free one. But whichever material makes it as a widely accepted and truly commercial alternative to leather will, like its animal cousin, need to be strong, breathable, durable, look great and be able to be produced cost effectively on a large scale.
Thanks for stopping by and having a read. Live life in colour!
The Bondi Shoe Club