Leaves, Mushrooms, Bark and More: 6 Innovative Eco-Friendly Leather Alternatives

By September 9, 2017Fashion, Material Guides
Woman Floating in Water with Flowers_Credit_Averie-Woodard-111834

From the horrors of factory farming to the health issues affecting workers, to the leather industry’s high carbon footprint, it really begs the question: is all of this worth a pair of shoes? If buying leather just doesn’t sit right with you, there are plenty of amazing, natural alternatives out there! 

There’s no denying that leather is a classic, durable material. For thousands of years, humans have benefited from animal hide as a by-product of hunting, using it for clothing, shelter, and tools. But for consumers who are concerned about the impact of their fabric choices on animals, workers and the environment, leather is a questionable investment. 

The good news is that innovators the world over are producing gorgeous vegan alternatives that are just as hardy as leather, and don’t cost the earth. From boots made out of pineapples to recycled hose-pipe belts, check out these exciting new fabrics that are giving the leather industry a run for their money!

Piñatex

pinatexPiñana Bags made from pineapple leaves

Piñatex is a leather alternative made from pineapple leaf fibres. This innovative material manufactured by Ananas Anam, featured in Vogue this year, is taking the eco-fashion world by storm. Not only is it a natural and sustainable material – it also supports local farming communities by providing extra income from something that was previously being discarded as waste! Portuguese label Nae GoY-Ratings_4  are big fans and use the fabric in a number of their stylish shoes. We sense an exciting future for this funky fruit leather – and pineapple isn’t the only food you can wear

Waxed Canvas and (Organic) Cotton

The Wings Heavy Waxed Moto with Combo Sleeve in Black The Wings Waxed Canvas Jacket in Black by Vaute GoY-Ratings_5

Traditionally used for jeans and bags, this stylish, diverse material is growing in popularity and expanding to other clothing items. The wax is environmentally friendly and protects you from the elements like leather does. On top of being pliable and waterproof, waxed cotton or canvas is much easier to clean than animal leather, which means you cut down on dry cleaning costs and the hazardous chemicals that go along with it!

Note: Waxed cotton is used by many brands as a leather alternative, but not all of them use organic cotton, so make sure you double check before purchasing.

Leaf Leather

3 wallets made from leaf leatherThamon make Foldover Wallets out of the Indian Sal Tree leaf

When you think of durable fabrics, tree leaves probably don’t come to mind – but that’s changing! A relatively rare material on the market, leaf leather is a unique cruelty-free option. They’re made by applying a polymer to preserve the leaves into fibre sheets. The leaves are easily sourced, and no toxic treatments or dyes are needed for the production process. 

Cork

cork handbag next to the base of a treeKintla cork satchel by Matt & Nat GoY-Ratings_4

If you are looking for a quirky, sturdy and waterproof leather alternative, look no further. Cork has recently skyrocketed in popularity as a forward-thinking fashion material. Not only is cork water resistant, renewable and completely recyclable, it is durable, light, and easy to keep looking good as new.

Cork is a natural fibre that comes from cork oak trees. With a lifespan of around 300 years, cork oak trees are harvested for their bark each decade, but the trees continue to live and grow, going on to produce more cork! By wearing cork, you are helping to prevent the desertification of cork oak forests, which numerous endangered species call home.


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Recycled Rubber

man wearing elvis and kresse recycled rubber beltWest End Belt made from recycled fire hose by Elvis and Kresse GoY-Ratings_4

If you’re after hardy leather accessories, without the animal cruelty, recycled rubber could be right up your alley! While it’s durable and easy to care for, it is important to note that this material takes a long time to break down, meaning you need to know you’ll be using it forever. A lot of commercially available rubber doesn’t even come from rubber trees anymore – it is entirely synthetic! That aside, we recommend recycled rubber products. You’ll give new life to objects like tyres and even fire hoses.

MuSkin

muskin bag against a white backgroundA clutch made from mushroom leather

Believe it or not, mushroom leather may be the next big thing in sustainable materials! This organic textile, dubbed MuSkin, comes from a type of fungus. The fungi can be grown to the specific size and shape required for designs. Waterproofing is necessary but can be done without harmful chemicals, making this a biodegradable, eco-friendly alternative to leather. Softer than suede and antibacterial, this is one clever innovation to look out for in the near future.

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We first explored innovative leather alternatives back in 2015, it’s great to see how far the industry has come in a few years!


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Featured image via Averie Woodard. Images via the brands mentioned and @vaute_nyc, @matt_and_nat, Thamon.

Isobella Wolfe

Author Isobella Wolfe

Isobella is an ethical vegan, globetrotter, and perpetual student who spends her free time curled up with a book and her cat, Lentil. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @The_Red_Wolfe.

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