The Future of Sustainable Materials

The vegan fashion industry is seeing huge growth and the vegan leather market is predicted to be worth a whopping $85 billion by 2025. With this growth has come an influx of innovation when it comes to finding vegan leather alternatives to use in fashion and beyond. From synthetic microfibers to natural leather-effect fabrics crafted from fruit, there are now more options than ever before to avoid cow leather and choose something more ethical.
Here, we have curated a list of all vegan leathers that are either widely used or are emerging within the industry. It’s never been easier to go vegan when it comes to your fashion choices. From certain synthetic and damaging materials that are harmful to the environment to completely natural and sustainable materials.

Cork Leather: Cork fabric, also known as cork skin or cork leather, is a high-quality, natural fabric produced from thin cork shavings obtained directly from the bark of the cork oak tree. Much of the production is handcrafted. Long used as a water-resistant, organic material in floor tiling, cork is widely regarded as being one of the most ecologically friendly materials around. It’s easily recycled, completely natural, and sourcing from cork oak forests for various industries helps prevent desertification and deforestation. With its naturally waterproof qualities and organic texture, no wonder it has been used by large brands like Chanel and Louboutin, as well as smaller, more eco-friendly ones, too. The cork fabric is extremely long-lasting. The cork fabric is treated with a fabric protection spray to keep it from staining. Cork cloth wears similarly to leather in terms of durability, so it’s commonly referred to as Cork Leather. Cork fabric is as tough as leather and as adaptable as any other fabric. This material is hypoallergenic, water and stain-resistant, and easy to clean and long-lasting. Cork fabric’s revolutionary properties are one-of-a-kind and original.

Cool Stone Leather: A brand new kind of eco-friendly vegan leather is made from sewable slate stone. It has a matte gray finish and actually looks and feels a bit like paper combined with rock. We love it for the old, battered-leather look it gives to these computer cases, bags, belts and jewelry, below. As it ages, little scratches form on it making it look like a well-worn stone, whilst softening the material even further. This is fairly new material, but we think it’s got a rock solid future! Just like the name suggests, it’s made from sewable thin slices of slate stone. Imagine a combination of paper and leather blended, then add a matte finish to it. Yes, the hand-feel of cool stone leather is similar to it. Even though it’s made out of slate stones, it has a supple and soft finish. In addition to that, its durability is on par with PU and PVC. The real beauty of this leather comes from the old and battered look of the leather. A vegan leather that gets better with age, as marks and scratches give it the look of worn stone. Not to mention the fact that cool stone leather positively impacts the environment. Isn’t that the real winner here? It’s definitely a more sustainable alternative leather to consider for your next leather accessory.

Apple Leather: When the apple falls from the tree, I bet you didn’t expect it to be turned into a leather bag? By now we’re used to some fruit based materials such as orange peels and banana skins being fashioned into clothing textiles. But apples? This is a new form of eco-friendly vegan leather, and we’re super thrilled that apple waste can make a textile that is so incredibly chic, whilst being cruelty free. The food waste produced by juice and cider operations has proven to be an unlikely resource for a new breed of sustainable faux leathers. Copenhagen-based company, The Apple Girl, have made a name for themselves by turning apples into leather. Pulp from the apple residue is treated, rolled out into strips, and heated resulting in a flexible, hardy material that is 100% biodegradable. Each meter of apple leather requires only 1 liter of water during production, which is a fraction of the water required to produce bovine leather. Philadelphia-based company, Veggani, also uses ‘apple peel leather’ to make a range of accessories. This material is derived from apple peels which are dried, converted to powder, and mixed with polyurethane before being processed into a faux leather.

Pinatex/Pineapple: This material is made from wasted parts of the pineapple bush, and is 100% vegan friendly and is also ethical in the sense that it gives pineapple farmers yet another source of income from their crops. The fabric feels like thick cowhide leather, is watertight and very durable. No wonder more and more shoe and bag brands are using it! In fact, H&M recently created a bunch of cowboy boots from the stuff. Pinatex is an innovative faux-leather made from pineapple leaf fibre. As pineapple leaves are normally discarded after pineapple harvesting, Pinatex requires no additional raw environmental resources to produce. It does, however, require a polyurethane coating during production, but this shouldn’t take away from the fact that Pinatex is chiefly made from waste harvesting matter. 

Muskin/Mushroom: One of the coolest forms of eco-friendly vegan leather comes from mushrooms. You can actually grow this mushroom leather to the size and shape you need for any given design. How cool is that? It needs to be waterproofed, but this can be done in a simple, non-chemical way, making Muskin completely biodegradable and eco-friendly. Who wouldn’t love to have bags and shoes made from this vegan alternative to leather? A 100% vegetable-based leather alternative, Muskin is made from a fungusOnce harvested, the caps of the mushrooms are processed and treated with natural substances like eco-friendly wax. This completely natural process results in a highly textured material that boasts an interesting grain similar to some animal leathers. Muskin is also a thermal insulator that absorbs damp and releases it immediately, thus limiting bacterial proliferation.

Coffee Leather: What feels a bit like cork and suede had a baby, and smells like a freshly made latte? It’s coffee leather, of course! Nat2 is one brand that is already using this material to create unisex sneakers that are in high demand. And no wonder, just look at that natural brown hue, and all the different textures coffee leather can achieve! I can’t wait until they start making handbags from this eco-friendly vegan leather! Say what? Yes. You can now wear shoes made from coffee. A German company,  has developed a vegan leather made from recycled coffee, beans, and coffee plants. The coffee product makes up about 50 percent of the materials in the finished shoe, which also uses recycled plastic, natural rubber, and cork. The finished product does smell like coffee, but we think that’s a good thing.

Wine (Grape) Leather: What’s the only thing that may smell better than coffee leather? Wine leather! Vegea Company is already producing another kind of eco-friendly vegan leather from winemaking by-products like grape peels and seeds. Of course, it comes in the natural hues of wine: blush, bordeaux, burgundy and so on. I love the fact that it can be printed to look like any kind of animal skin you like, from ostrich and cow to snake. But the best part? This material will soon be available on a mass scale! In fact, H&M is making a bunch of gorgeous vegans handbags and shoes from the stuff, in partnership with Vegea. The eco-friendly collections will also feature a new dye made from coffee grounds. Vegea sources winemaking leftovers, specifically grape skins, stalks, and seeds to make its products. The company does not allow the use of toxic chemicals or heavy metals in its production. Bentley used Vegea’s vegan leather in the interior of its 2019 electric concept car.

Banana: Yes, banana leather. Bananas do not grow on trees but the world’s largest perennial herb, known as the banana plant. Unlike fruit trees, which continue fruiting every season, the banana plant provides only one crop of bananas. More plants can send out suckers from the underground stem, but the actual stem that produced bananas will never fruit again. So what to do with these past-their-prime plants? Why, make banana leather, of course! Banana leather manages to be biodegradable, water-resistant, and durable all at once.

Malai: Yes, you can make vegan leather from coconut water! Malai – (noun) a newly developed material made from entirely organic and sustainable bacterial cellulose, grown on agricultural waste sourced from the coconut industry in Southern India. Malai Design and Materials makes a vegan leather out of bacterial cellulose from coconut water. The water they use is a by-product that they then discard. This vegan leather has a papery appearance, not unlike snakeskin. Fabric producers work with local farmers and processing units, collecting their waste coconut water (which would otherwise be dumped, causing damage to the soil) and repurposing it. Malai is a flexible, durable material comparable to leather or paper. It is water resistant and because it contains absolutely no artificial ‘nasties’ it will not cause any allergies, intolerances or illness. It is a completely vegan product. Malai is available in a range of colors achieved through the use of mordant-free natural dyes, and it can develop a soft sheen or patina over time. A product made from Malai will last many years if properly cared for, however should you wish to have a clear-out, it can simply be placed in with your compostable rubbish and it will naturally break down. If properly cared for a product from Malai it shall last anything from 4-8 years.