Stella Mccartney “Noma” faux Leather shoulder bag, $1078.00 from Net-a-porter.com.
Oh, leather. You look so good. But from buttery cowhide to chic alligator skin, you’re just not eco- or animal-friendly. Once you know what’s up, it’s hard to look away from the poorly treated animals and leather workers made sick from notoriously toxic chemicals (that also get into groundwater). Sure, there are leather alternatives like vinyl (PVC) “pleather,” but they never look the same. (Not to mention, petroleum-based synthetics aren’t good for the environment or the people who make it, either.)
Chin up! There’s hope on the horizon! The future looks bright!
A handful of people—artists, design students, green chemists—are creating new alternative leathers from unexpected sources. And no, this doesn’t mean Modern Meadow’s lab leather grown via animal cells in petri dishes. These are truly sustainable materials taken from nature. One day they might just take over the market. Check them out.
These used to be pineapples. Pineapple leaves have proven to be a durable alternative leather product. Photo: Piñatex.
Leather made from pineapples is a real thing you can get.
Piñatex, a non-woven textile made from the fibers of pineapple leaves, is a sustainable byproduct of the pineapple harvest. While consulting in the Phillipines, the founder of Ananas Anam learned how strong pineapple leaf fibers are and came up with the idea to turn it into a leather-like fabric. Puma and Camper have already developed pineapple leather shoe prototypes.
An alternative leather that comes from the sea. What to do with the overpopulation of jellyfish? Turn the stinging creatures into the next fashionable faux leather good. Photo: Courtesy.
Leather made from Jellyfish? It exists!
Though not suitable for vegans, jellyfish leather is a smart way to do something constructive with an overabundant resource.
Designer Yurii Kasao’s Royal College of Art project was inspired by overfishing and climate change. Blooms of jellyfish have been harming the Japanese fishing industry (masses of them can overload gear and equipment, kill off farmed fish, and become vectors for fish parasites), and while some cultures eat jellyfish, it’s not enough to solve the problem, so wasteful dumping and shredding have become the norm. Instead, Kasao uses them to create biodegradable leather that can be cut, sewn, and used for accessories and small goods. Unfortunately this school project is not for sale—yet.
Apples can be eaten and these days even worn. All those old apple cores can now be turned into fashionable fruit leather. Photo: Courtesy.
Fruit leather doesn’t just taste good.
A Rotterdam based collective of designers fed up with food waste came up with a solution for this social issue: Turn the outrageous amount of rotten or unsellable produce that winds up in the trash weekly into Original Rotterdam Fruitleather. It’s basically like thick fruit roll up. They use kitchen techniques to mash, cook, and dry the less-than-perfect produce. They’re currently fast at work bettering the “candy-like” leather. The project is more about creating awareness about repurposing waste than mass producing cute bags—for now.
Leather Alternatives is for the birds. A trendy Tretorn sneaker is actually derived from chicken feathers. Photo: Courtesy.
Turns out agricultural byproduct makes a great leather alternative.
The green chemist Richard Wool, a professor of chemical and bimolecular engineering and the director of the Affordable Composites from Renewable Sources lab at the University of Delaware, passed away earlier this year. His legacy? A breathable eco-leather made with chicken feathers (waste from poultry processing companies), natural fibers, and plant oils and without toxic chemicals so promising that it won an EPA award. Prototype collaborations with Nike and Puma exist.