Faux Leathers Are Gaining Ground in the Fashion Industry

Vegan leathers made of cactus, pineapple and coconut are going mainstream.

Apr 8, 2020

Fashion is becoming a lot eco-friendlier. At least in the leather department. That's because vegan faux leathers are becoming a popular alternative. They are durable, creative and made from a variety of materials including pineapple leaves, coconut waste, mushrooms, palm leaves and now from cacti.

These innovative sustainable leather alternatives are being used to create belts, handbags, jackets, shoes and hats and the skies seem to be the limit.

Faux Leather made From Cacti
This is one of the newest vegan leathers to hit the market. Developed  by Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, two Mexican nationals, this vegan leather is made with nopal – a cacti that grows locally.

Both me worked in industries that used fabrics and they were very concerned about the environmental impact of animal leather. So concerned, that they left their jobs and founded Adriano Di Marti,  to create a sustainable replacement. 

They created Desserto, a fabric that has competitive features to animal or synthetic leather like elasticity, breathability, and being customizable according to the company. And the cacti are grown sustainably on a plantation in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. They harvest mature leaves every six-to-eight months. The cacti grow organically just from rainwater and the leaves are naturally dried in the sun. There is no need for additional energy.

 The end result is a natural biodegradable product that is completely free of toxins. The men spent two years researching and developing their product so that it could be commercially manufactured. The material was just unveiled to the fashion world in Milan Italy in the fall of 2019.

Now the fabric is available in a variety of colors produced by using only natural dyes and has been used to produce bags, automotive upholstery, jackets, and shoes.

Leather From Pineapple Leaves
The fashion house Hugo Boss launched a line of vegan men's shoes made from a faux leather material that consists of pineapple leaves called Piñatex. The shoes that Dezeen calls cruelty free have uppers made from the leaves, uses only plant-based dyes and the soles are made from recycled thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU).

Piñatex is produced as a by-product of the pineapple industry and allows farmers to earn income from a material that was considered waste. The material was developed over a seven-year research period by Dr. Carmen Hijosa, a former consultant to the leather goods industry, initially as part of the Royal College of Art in London's incubator program called InnovationRCA.

The shoes are not only vegan, they are designed to have as minimal an impact on the planet as possible.  Even the box they come in is recyclable and manufactured from 100 percent recovered fiber. This is part of Hugo Boss's commitment to sustainability.

"The project is part of an ongoing commitment to innovation across the company's offering as well as a continuous search for more sustainable ways to design, source, produce and finish its products," the company told Dezeen. 

Leather From Mushrooms
While it seems almost impossible that something as strong as leather can come out of something as soft as mushrooms, but MusKin is made from phellinus ellipsoideus mushrooms that you can't eat. MusKin's Italian originator Grado Zero said that the mushroom leather is sustainable, water-repellant, nontoxic, as well as durable.

In fact, Good Trade said that not only is the faux leather manufactured in a sustainable manner, but using this fungus  that actually feeds on tree trunks and causes them to rot is beneficial to the subtropical forests they grow in. The only downside is that only 430 to 530 square feet of the fungi leather can be produced a month which is enough for a small collection but is not scalable.

A German company ZVNDER is making vegan leather from mushrooms they hand-harvest from forests in Romania according to Live Kindly. The material is soft, almost like suede and it is made into wallets, hats, and sneakers.

There is also mycelium-based leather being made by a new brand called Reishi which has made a very realistic substitute. It took Reishi's founder Philip Ross two decades to perfect the formula.

While vegan leather is just becoming a viable commercial solution, it's one that people should support.  After all, plant-made leather could save the lives of millions of animals around the globe and keep the planet happy too.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.