More companies are creating cruelty-free alternatives for leather products due to the shift of awareness of the leather industry’s effects on the environment and on animals. Though companies are not solely focusing on cruelty-free alternatives, they are trying to produce vegan leather products that have a minimal impact on the environment while still keeping leather similarities.
Up until recently, most vegan leather was made from plastic-based materials, which is where the term ‘pleather’ comes from- plastic based leather. There is a large range of materials that can be used to make vegan leather which includes synthetics like plastic and natural materials such as cork.
The most common materials that are used for synthetic leathers are polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU), which are plastic-based materials. Since these materials are made from plastic, it means they face many disposal issues, thus contributing to harming the environment.
Almost every vegan leather out there is made from a plant but unfortunately, none of them are fully biodegradable yet. This is because each material is either made with a mix of plants and polyurethane or is plant-based and coated with a plastic-based resin. While there are a few brands already selling fully compostable sneakers, no one has been able to create compostable vegan leather shoes just yet. The good news, on the other hand, is that most brands are working towards perfecting their respective vegan leathers to make their shoes completely biodegradable.
Most of the time, vegan leather has a lower impact than traditional leather that comes from animals, whether it’s plant-based or made from 100% synthetic materials. Not only does vegan leather leave animals out of the process, but it also eliminates the process of harvesting (aka breeding, raising, and killing animals) and tanning leather. All of which has a severe environmental impact.
Leather and fur have taken over luxury fashion. Lately, many people have started to change their decisions as they are growing with more awareness about the cruelty of mass livestock rearing and the number of resources consumed and carbon emitted in the process. There has been an evident shift in social standards.
How Is Plant-Based Leather Made?
Over the past few years, brands have found many different ways to make vegan leather out of anything from pineapples to cactus leaves to flowers and even seafood shells. The vegan leather industry has grown so much from the days of just simply pleather.
There are also some great innovators out there who are making biodegradable plant-based leathers from natural. At the moment we find most of these pieces in high-end stores. Vegan leather is pricier to produce in comparison to making the leather out of plastic, making it harder for the average customer to obtain, but hopefully, we will eventually see it more affordable and widely used soon.
One main way that plant-based leather is made is through the use of mushrooms. In 2013, a Danish product designer, Jonas Edvard developed an organic textile using mushroom spores and plant fibers. The material was called MYX, made from mycelium. It was created using the waste material from commercial oyster mushroom production. After harvesting the mushrooms, Edvard discovered that the remaining material could be shaped and dried out.
To standardize the material and make it useful for multiple applications, Edvard tested growing the material on different substrates. In the end, he settled on using a fiber mat with a mix of hemp and linen fibers.
Mushroom leather is an environmentally friendly material because it can be treated without using polluting substances. At the end of its life, the material is completely biodegradable and compostable. It is very lightweight and flexible as well, which makes it effective for a wide range of products.
There are several ways to make mushroom leather and these techniques are still being improved drastically today. The potential of this material is far-reaching and could replace certain plastics and reduce the need for animals being used to supply leather.
Mushroom textiles certainly have a future in many industries. It can already be found in clothing and bags, and even durable furniture and building bricks. Mycelium is carbon-negative and can be naturally dyed any color.
Fabric created from mycelium is non-toxic, waterproof, as well as fire-resistant. It can be as thin as paper for dresses and lampshades, or incredibly thick for heavy-duty items. In both cases, the end product is typically remarkably flexible and strong.
The process of making mushroom leather can also reduce water usage in comparison to animal leather, by up to 99%, which includes the water used to grow and dye the final material.
With so much potential, it is no wonder that so many companies are now working to make this remarkable material part of our everyday life.
Other Innovative Materials
Mushroom leather is just one of many materials being developed to lower our environmental impact. Although few are fully biodegradable, many do contain a large percentage of organic material. For example, apple leather and corn leather which are both made with more than 50% organic material. Pinatex utilizes the waste material from the pineapple industry. It is made entirely from plant material, but its durability does limit how it can be used.
For now, designers must continue to balance the need for sustainability and a circular economy with the consumer demand for value and longevity. One thing is for certain though, with textile development moving at the current pace, it will not be long before many more organic-based materials will be fully biodegradable.