Animal-free options that are kinder for the planet, animals and us
Text: Rachel L
From biker jackets and trench coats to high heels and handbags, there’s no denying that leather has made up some of the most iconic fashion pieces over the last five decades. However, unbeknown to many, the leather industry is toxic and unethical, producing deadly waste, poor labour laws and cruel treatment of animals.
We spoke to Emma Hakansson, the Founder of Collective Fashion Justice. They campaign for a fully ethical fashion system which prioritises life and wellbeing for all, before profit and production. They are aiming to get fur banned globally in the next 12 months and also raise awareness of how clothes are made and what exactly had to be harmed and killed in the process.
Emma says: ‘The leather industry is set to be worth USD128.61 billion by next year. Far from a worthless by-product, leather strongly contributes to the financing of an industry built upon slaughtering animals, contributing substantial amounts of greenhouse gas emissions to our atmosphere and using unjust, sometimes even forced human labour. As a material, it is inextricably linked to violence and the commodification of sentient individuals. There are far superior materials available.’
Indeed, the tanning of the raw animal hide produces drastic amounts of hazardous chemicals that have a severe impact on the environment when disposed of irresponsibly. The startling high levels of energy consumption used for rearing livestock as well as the amount of waste produced in the process only make the situation worse. Apart from this, the animal slaughter and cruelty prevalent in the leather industry does not simply affect the livestock sacrificed in the process but the humans who are forced to carry out the acts constantly.
But despite the notorious nasties of the industry, leather’s widespread use makes giving it up a tough call for most - enter vegan leather. Innovators, such as Bolt Threads and Vegea are redefining the leather market by pivoting the market away from animal-derived materials to plant-based options. As the shift towards more sustainable alternatives continues, exciting discoveries that have been made are helping to revolutionise the fashion industry.
Italy’s famed wineries are no longer simply a source of good alcohol now that Vegea has stepped into the picture. The company has managed to utilise the grape’s core and shell, which are left as waste from the wine-making process, to develop a smooth and durable textile that is much more sustainable than its animal-derived counterpart. Vegea leather reduces waste production, does not involve any toxic chemicals in its production process, and has a lower environmental impact overall. It’s no small wonder that its popularity is growing in the fashion industry.
One of the more widely-known vegan leather options, Pinatex is synthesised from pineapple leaf fibre, a natural waste from existing agricultural activity. The material’s creation was inspired by its inventor’s, Dr Carmen Hijosa, visit to the Philippines where she was inspired by the country’s natural resources and the use of plant fibres to create the traditional Barong Tagalong garments. Like Vegea leather, Pinatex is obtained from natural waste products which would have originally been burned. This allows the production process to reduce CO2 production while also constructing a scalable commercial industry for farmers.
Pinatex has been used by multiple brands worldwide. Hugo Boss has used the material to create stylish limited edition footwear for both men and women. Apart from the vegan leather used, every shade available in each series is naturally dyed and has recycled TPU soles to reduce the environmental impact of its production.
Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, co-founders of the Mexican company Adriano Di Marti, have found yet another plant-based alternative to animal- derived leather. This time the star of the show is the Nopal cactus which they personally grow and harvest to produce their Desserto leather. The Nopal cactus in the plantation is a native to the region and helps contribute to the biodiversity of the surrounding flora and fauna. Furthermore, its nature reduces water consumption and acts as a carbon sink. The harvested leaves are also dried in the sun which means no additional energy is required unlike the high energy consumption required of animal-derived leather.
Another alternative for bags in all shapes, sizes and uses would be Miomojo, an Italian label which has centered its business around designing a kinder world. The company’s Prima Linea lineup originally contained classy and functional bucket bags, mini bags, totes and purses made from Appleskin, another form of vegan leather developed from apple waste to produce a soft, elegant material. Miomojo has recently added cactus leather purses and handbags to this lineup in two colour options - a dreamy soft pink and a rich dark green that pays homage to the plant it was made from.
White and black are stylistic options that can never go wrong and these colours take the spotlight in A_C’s Desserto cactus leather collection. Fans of the beloved sitcom F•R•I•E•N•D•S will be delighted by their Monica Pencil Clutch which serves as the ideal pairing for both a favourite denim outfit or a chic dress on a night out. Others might prefer the deceptively simple yet practical Peta Pouch or the sleek Heidi Slimline Wallet that makes the perfect home for cash cards and mobile phones. No matter what the piece, however, each one embodies A_C’s ethos of producing products of timeless elegance while safeguarding our future.
Clae has also opted for this plant-based option in order to pursue their commitment to sustainable and conscious fashion. The classy sneakers that they offer don’t only use Desserto leather but also consist of laces made from recycled nylon waste and a 100% natural rubber sole.
Many fruits have shown their potential as an alternative to animal leather and the apple is no exception. Frumat, an Italian company in Bolzano, recovers the mushy pulp left after making apple juice as well as other sources of apple waste and utilises the cellulose fibres to create a durable material, Appleskin, that is as luxurious as traditional leather.
Rumours of the newly derived “mushroom leather” have been floating about the fashion industry for a while. However, the real game changer is truly mycelium - the vegetative part of fungi that grows to produce mushrooms. It thrives in the soil and forests beds, a fine thread-like network of potential, waiting to be harvested. With the help of biotechnology, companies such as Bolt Threads and Mycoworks have used this to derive their own mycelium leather of luxurious and stable quality. This form of leather is animal and cruelty-free and also does not require the water and land needed for leather derived from livestock.
Since this alternative is fairly new to the game, not many products exist but that doesn’t mean that it’s being left in the dust in any way. Luxury leather titan Hermès has already joined hands with Mycoworks, announcing that its Victorian travel bag that is set to launch at the end of 2021 will be made from Sylvania, Mycoworks’ mycelium leather. Its artistic director, Pierre- Alexis Dumas, has promised that this new product will embody Hermès’ defining values, such as its quest for excellence, respect for natural, raw materials and commitment to maximising its products’ longevity and utility.
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As the fashion industry begins to take up its responsibility to reduce its carbon footprint and environmental impact, athleisure labels, both international and within Southeast Asia, are also developing greener processes and delivering a wider range of ethical and sustainable products.
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