An age-old material that stands the test of time, it’s little wonder leather has become a permanent part of wardrobes all over the world. Yet, hidden behind loafers and biker jackets is a mix of environmental and ethical problems. But that doesn’t mean we need to give up leather altogether – now there are plant-based alternatives to leather that are just as glamorous as the ‘real’ thing’.
The Environmental Impact Of Leather
The Animal Leather Industry
Plant-Based Alternatives To Leather
Turning Waste Into Sustainable Leather
Named Piñatex, it’s an eco-friendly and natural leather made from pineapple leaf fibres. Breathable, mouldable and soft to touch, Piñatex, made by Ananas Anam, has been around for a few years and was used by H&M in their 2019 Conscious Exclusive Collection.
Pineapple leather contains 72% pineapple waste, doesn’t need extra land, water or resources to grow (it’s a byproduct of the food industry), and provides farming communities with an opportunity to earn extra income. It’s no wonder that pineapple leather is a great sustainable material.
Have you worn a soft and silky bamboo shirt before? It’s soft and smooth! Now, this plant is transformed into a leather-like material. Natural, breathable and lightweight, bamboo leather is made entirely from bamboo.
As the fastest-growing plant on the planet, and one of the least thirsty, it’s an excellent choice for sustainable leather bags and footwear. Check out the timeless Banbū Leather collection from Von Holzhausen.
Coconut leather is a nature-friendly plant based alternative to leather. The natural leather is grown entirely from agricultural waste from the coconut industry. What starts as a jelly-like substance (made of wastewater and natural fibres) is combined with resin to form a flexible sheet of material. It’s still pretty new, and only a few eco-conscious designers like Eva Klabalova and Lucie Trejtnarova have used it, but we believe that coconut leather will become a top contender in the ethical leather market.
It looks a lot like the real thing, more than other leather alternatives, but the paper-like texture of apple leather gives it an unusual feel.
Manufactured by Frumat, apple leather is a byproduct of the food industry. It’s made by turning apple waste, from industrial juicers, into a dried powder which is then mixed with Polyurethane (PU) – a plastic bonding material – before being treated with non-toxic dyes and turned into AppleSkin.
Perfect for backings and surface decorations on clothes, it’s breathable, easy to colour and comes in a range of thicknesses. Take a look at Happy Genie and Veggani for some eco-friendly apple leather bags.
Birkenstock owners will already know this material. Found in the soles of sandals, this sustainable raw material is now being turned into apparel and accessories. Moldable, breathable and durable, this natural leather alternative is entirely recyclable and is made by removing, air drying, and boiling cork oak tree bark before flattening it into a sheet.
Cork leather is one of the most eco-friendly leather alternatives available.
Made from mycelium, fungi’s underground root structure, this lab-grown leather is transformed into clothes, shoes and accessories.
Made by Bolt Threads and MycoWorks, mushroom leather, is one of the most talked-about leather alternatives. Companies such as adidas, lululemon, and Hermes are already trialling it in some of their products.
Stella McCartney sent the first-ever Mylo mushroom leather handbag down the Summer 22 catwalk during Paris Fashion Week. With its breathable, flexible and water-resistant characteristics – it’s an excellent substitute for leather!
With scrumptious tones of burgundy, rust and ruby – wine leather appears just as decadent as it sounds. By combining by-products such as seeds, stalks and skins from wine grapes, Italian company Vegea turns waste products into a sustainable and durable material. Even though it’s not entirely biodegradable yet, we see many sneakers and bags made from wine leather. Still, it’s only a matter of time until the product offering expands into apparel.
Invented by Desserto, cactus leather is made from nopal cactus (also known as prickly pear) leaves. These are abundant in Mexico (where it’s grown), making Desserto Leather easy to grow and cost-effective to produce.
Cactus leather is (mostly) compostable, very flexible and soft enough to use in clothing and home decor.
Technically it’s not a plant, but we wanted to include it anyway. Coolstone leather is made from sewable slate stone and feels like a mix of paper and rock. The distinct matte grey look gives it a grungy aesthetic, and like any good leather, it develops a rustic, worn-in look over time. It may be new, but we think this leather substitute is one to watch!
Fish skin leather
Fish skin leather is a luxurious leather alternative; even though it’s not vegan, it is more durable and ethical than animal leather.
Unlike cattle-bred leather, which is responsible for deforestation, fish skin leather requires ten times less surface area to produce and is also a bonus revenue stream for farmers. It has a similar look and feel to snake leather but is made entirely from fish waste, by the company Nova Kaeru, in Brazil. Check out these fish skin leather handbags from Osklen.
Ground coffee beans are putting waste back into the production cycle while turning into a unique new material; coffee leather. Soft and supple to touch and smelling like caffeine, it’s promoting a circular economy by giving a second life to coffee beans.
To see some coffee leather products, take a look at the German high-end sneaker brand NAT-2‘s Coffee Line.
Take your pick
There are so many great reasons for choosing plant-based alternatives to leather – they’re friendlier on the environment, don’t harm animals, and are ethically produced.
We’ve shared our favourite plant leathers with you, but they’re not the only ones. Some other materials to look out for are; bio-fabric leather, banana leather, tea leather, tree leaf leather, recycled rubber and orange leather.
Now that you’re better acquainted with ‘good’ leather, which has you most excited?