Global climate change and the aftermath of the fast-fashion boom have left many concerned consumers looking for environmentally friendly alternatives for traditional fabrics, especially leather. There are tons of alternative fabrics but we explore first those that can be made to resemble leather in feel and durability, then some additional alternatives.
First, let’s take a look at the most sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives to leather. These are groundbreaking processes that will be of special interest to consumers who are concerned about their carbon footprint and how their products are made but want the look and feel of traditional leather.
The latest breakthrough in the fashion industry involves turning mycelium, the root system of fungus, into mushroom leather. Fully biodegradable, this new fiber could be a game-changer. It requires far less land and water to produce than traditional leather. It’s also vegan, no animals are harmed, which in turn cuts greenhouse gasses as well.
This leather goes from spore to ready for production in a matter of weeks. While not yet widely available, this exciting new technology shows a lot of promise in that it maintains the durability and texture of traditional leather, without the environmental and ethical drawbacks. Expect to see wallets, purses, handbags, watch bands, and shoes made out of this fascinating material start to become available within the next year.
Pineapple leather is another little known alternative making waves in the fashion industry. It is especially interesting because it is taking the leaves and other parts of the pineapple bush which would otherwise be thrown away and using them to create a leatherlike fiber.
Pineapple leather is produced with polylactic acid and petroleum-based resins, so it’s not quite as environmentally friendly as mushroom leather, but it’s a step in the right direction. It still uses fewer resources and harms no animals, compared to traditional leather.
Its ability to biodegrade is a little more complex. The pineapple leaves, of course, are a natural biodegradable substance. Polylactic acid is a plastic that, while technically biodegradable, takes years to disintegrate naturally and requires a complex process to break it down for reuse. The petroleum-based resins used for surface finish are not biodegradable.
Another kind of leather alternative is being explored coming from the ocean. Kelp, a type of seaweed, is in ample supply and is sustainable. Kelp seaweed is combined with algae fibers to produce this remarkable fabric. The fabric has a similar look and feel to leather and may even have some additional benefits. It is possible that beneficial nutrients found in kelp could be absorbed by the skin.
Definitely not leather
Every alternative fabric is not created equal, some don’t have the same look or feel, but can still be used reliably in place of traditional leather. Handbags and shoe soles are some great examples. Other alternatives don’t have the staying power or sustainability and should be reconsidered before purchasing.
Cork is water-resistant and highly durable. It comes from the bark of cork oak trees. This is a sustainable process because only the bark is used, meaning trees are safe from deforestation worries. It is a bit of a slower turn around time than other options because the bark takes a few years to grow back. It is harvested around every nine years, but a benefit is that it actually prolongs the life of trees used in this process.
Cork itself is biodegradable and easily recyclable but it will depend on the processes used to produce products, how efficient and accurate these statements are.
Nearly identical, cheaper, and available almost everywhere make this an extremely popular alternative to leather. However, if you are concerned about durability much less the environment, it’s best to stay away. Try one of the other options above!