Vegan Leather + Bio-Textiles

Leather shoes made from pineapple? Wallets made from apples? It’s 2020 friends, ripping the skin off an animal’s back isn’t the only way to make shoes and bags. Sustainable and cruelty-free alternatives to leather, and innovative biomaterials are revolutionising fashion.

Long gone are the days when your only vegan footwear option was a pair of Converse canvas hi-tops waterproofed with gaffer tape for the wet season, or stiff plasticky clogs that left your feet schvitzy and blistered in summer heat. Nowadays there’s a world of cruelty free leather shoe, bag and apparel alternatives, with many more textile innovations in the pipeline.

But leather alternatives are not just those who are concerned about animal welfare. Leather production also raises serious environmental concerns. The 2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report found cow leather to be the most polluting material used for clothing ranking above synthetic leathers and even polyester. This is due to the impact of cows on the land, including the emissions of greenhouse gases, contamination of surrounding bodies of water, and depletion of natural resources faster than they can be replenished. In fact, leather was found to still have the worst environmental impact, more than twice that of PU (polyurethane-based plastic) leather.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Materials Sustainability Index —which measures impact up to the point of fabrication — gives most leathers an impact of 159, compared with 44 for polyester and 98 for cotton, due to its high contribution to global warming and water use and pollution. It’s not just agricultural impact that is concerning. Yes, leather is a product natural in origin, but the chemical process leather undergoes for tanning and treatment renders it an environmental pollutant. Afterall, if leather (or fur) was really natural, it would decompose in your wardrobe. Many tanners use chromium, and in regions where leather production is popular but environmental-protection standards are not — like China, India, and Bangladesh — the chromium and other tanning chemicals often get dumped as liquid, sludge, or solid waste. As a result of all of this chemical treatment, leather takes about 40-50 years to biodegrade.

Then there is the massive and impact on human health. As most leather production occurs in developing countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it is out of sight out of mind for most western consumers and fashion brands. Leather raises many ethical concerns, from animal welfare to human rights. Most leather workers are not protected by any health and safety legislation or basic worker’s rights and they are usually paid below a minimum living wage; and child labour is common. In addition, they face severe health risks