Traditionally farmed and tanned leather is one of the most resource-hungry processes out there. 80-90% of leather today is chrome tanned, a process using chemicals and acids to turn the animal skin into leather. When done at scale this causes large quantities of toxic water waste, which when poorly managed, can dangerously impact the local environment.
But innovation that’s launched in the last few years, gives us hope that there’s a lower-impact solution to the future of leather. Here we give a run down of some of the most exciting and promising alternatives out there; from cactus made ‘leather’ to one grown in a lab.
This organic and environmentally friendly leather alternative comes from none other than cactus leaves. The cacti can be harvested every 6-8 months, and with only the mature leaves needed to create Desserto, the plants are able to live on unharmed. The cacti grow with incredibly limited resources; in fact rainwater and the earth's natural nutrients are all they need to thrive.
The mature leaves are dried in the sun and the raw material is then processed and combined with non-toxic chemicals to create the material that’s ready for use.
The beauty of cacti doesn’t stop there - they act as carbon sinks, which means that they absorb more carbon than they release. Who knew these prickly plants could be so clever?
Launched in 2019, Desserto is in its infancy, but with its similar properties to leather and an expanding range of colours and textures, we think it has a big future ahead.
You’ll find Desserto in some of our favourite pieces by Mashu.
This incredible vegan leather is created from - you guessed it - pineapples. The long fibres from pineapple leaves collated as a byproduct of the fruit industry, are dried and purified to form the basis of Piñatex.
The pineapple industry generates 76 million tonnes of pineapple leaves globally per year (!). Not only does the process give new life to the wasted leaves that would otherwise be burnt, but the creation of Piñatex has given extra income to farmers outside of the standard harvest season, and it uses less water, chemicals and land to produce than traditional leather.
Currently Piñatex isn’t 100% biodegradable, due to the 20% polylactic acid used in it’s production. But it’s founding company is currently working on a solution to make it biodegradable, so it can become a truly circular material.
This incredible material can be used exactly like traditional animal leather - it’s sturdy, supple, soft and can be any colour or texture. Yet it is designed and made from the roots of the humble mushroom.
The fabric is made by Bolt Fabric, who create innovative and market leading materials. They created Mylo alongside Stella McCartney, Adidas and Lululemon, who invested in the innovation and from this year will be using the material within their product ranges.
It’s made from artificially grown mycelium, which is lab grown in a vertical farming facility in just two weeks. All it needs to grow is mulch, air and water, meaning it’s more efficient than traditional leather in terms of speed, resources, space and environmental impact.