The most sustainable leather alternatives made from plants
Leather is one of the most commonly used materials. However, it is not sustainable. The best alternatives.
Leather is an indispensable part of fashion: In shoes, clothing, accessories – almost everything is made of the material. According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs Around eight million square meters of leather are produced in Germany alone. Worldwide it should be more than two billion square meters. More than half of this goes into the shoe and clothing industry – but that’s not sustainable.
A major problem in leather production is the mostly chemical tanning, and there is also the high water consumption: One ton of leather requires between 20,000 and 80,000 liters of water. Pollutants such as polyurethane are also emitted during production. More and more designers, such as Stella McCartney (50), are doing without animal leather. In recent years, numerous sustainable leather alternatives made from plant-based materials have come onto the market: an overview.
Leather can be made from apples. More precisely from the marc, which is produced during apple juice production. These are mainly the stems, pips and pods of the processed fruit. The pomace is dried, made into powder and then applied in layers to a canvas. A subsequent embossing creates the leather look. The material is water-repellent and can withstand a lot.
Piñatex, often referred to as pineapple leather, is already being used by many brands as a leather substitute. The raw material for the leather alternative is the fiber of the pineapple leaves, a waste product that is created during harvest. The fiber is washed, dried and relieved and then tanned. Piñatex is very hard-wearing and durable, but at the same time soft and breathable.
An alternative to leather can also be made from the fibers of eucalyptus plants. Fibers, called “Tencel”, are also left over from the harvest, which can then be processed into leather or other materials.
Cork is usually associated with hard bottle corks, but the material is actually quite soft and can therefore be processed wonderfully. In order to be able to use the cork bark, it is cut into thin sheets and glued to a textile reinforcement. In terms of feel, the leather alternative most closely resembles suede. Particularly practical: cork is water-repellent.
Leather from the laboratory
In-vitro meat has been researched for a long time, but leather is also expected to be produced in the laboratory. Brooklyn-based Modern Meadow is already working on it. The “in vitro leather” is made from a type of yeast that produces collagen cells.
A substance called mycelium, contained in the root structure of mushrooms, is similar to animal leather in its properties. A US company wants to bring the material onto the market under the name “Mylo” in 2022 and is working with the Adidas brand on a sustainable shoe. Small leather goods such as purses or belts made of mushroom leather are also already on the market.
Paper leather is particularly tough and also waterproof. It is made from recycled paper and is already widely used in the fashion industry. In terms of feel, look and resistance, paper leather is in no way inferior to animal leather.
Not only drinks can be made from grapes. Fruit residues left over from the production of wine can be processed into leather. An Italian company has set itself the task of producing a vegetable leather alternative from the shells, seeds and stems. Some well-known brands have already used the product.