The Unleathering of Leather

Investors take note: the global vegan leather industry is forecasted to be worth nearly USD $90 billion by 2025! To put that in perspective, the global sports footwear market is currently valued at USD $90.4 billion. Wait a second, what exactly is vegan leather? Some of you may have heard of or even own faux fur. Well, like faux fur, vegan leather doesn’t use any animal skins or animal-derived materials.


We have to thank our eco-warriors for vegan leather’s meteoric rise in popularity. Today’s consumers are becoming more conscious about the environmental footprint of not just what they eat but what they wear and their dollars are speaking. In addition to issues of animal cruelty, traditional leather production is linked to some serious environmental hazards. 

90% of animal leather is made by tanning the hide (skin) of animals (most often cows, but also goats, kangaroos, crocodiles, fish) with chromium sulfate and other chromium salts. These are toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that often make their way into soil, waterways, and farmlands, and have caused respiratory problems, infections, infertility and birth defects among animals and humans.

More companies are hearing customers’ demands for planet friendly leather options, recognizing that their failure to innovate will cost them losses in market share; sadly that’s what drives most companies, but the tides of change are upon us. 


It’s important to note however that most vegan leather is still made of or contains some form of plastic. As we highlight in “plastic is not so fantastic”, plastics are made of fossil fuels and do not biodegrade. Fortunately, researchers, scientists, and innovators have been hard at work creating vegan leather that is actually sustainable. Check out our list of eight bio-materials that we were shocked yet excited to find in the booming vegan leather industry. 


There is Mushroom in Our Hearts 

Bolt Threadsis a startup company that’s specialized in growing next generation fibers that are inspired by nature. Although the startup is best known for creating Microsilk, a polymer bioengineered to mimic spider silk, the company has recently debuted a handbag made from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms.


Always Strive for Grapeness 

Vegea is an Italian company that has developed vegan leather made entirely from grapes and waste products of the wine industry. Last year, H&M launched an entire collection with Vegea, and Bentley has even used grape leather to line the interior of its 100th anniversary car.


Let’s Live Apple-y Ever After 

Frumat is an Italian company that is based in the north of Italy, a region known for the production of apples. The company has engineered a bio-based leather alternative using the apple industry’s food waste, including the peel and the core of apples.


You’re Berry Special 

Gunas is an American handbag company that uses 100% vegan leather in all of its designs. Recently, they launched Moby, the first unisex bag that was made by artisans in South Korea using layers of handmade paper coated with Mulberry tree leaf pulp.  


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I’m Coconuts about You 

Malai is an Indian company started by product designers, mechanical engineers and fashion designers. Partnering with local coconut farmers, the company collects their waste coconut water that would otherwise be dumped and has transformed it into a bio-composite material with a leather feel.


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Don’t pine for me 

Piñatex is a natural, non-woven leather alternative that is made from the cellulose fibres extracted from pineapple leaves. Piñatex is certainly a fan favorite and has been featured in the product lines of Puma, Hugo Boss and even Chanel! Also, #womanboss alert: Dr. Carmen Hijosa developed Piñatex at the age of 62, while undertaking her PhD at the Royal College of Art in London. She is a trailblazing entrepreneur that has won numerous innovation awards. You can find her Ted Talk here.


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Always shake your boochy 

Bulgarian-born fashion designer Galina Mihaleva has recently created vegan leather using kombucha, the fizzy probiotic drink that all of us love.


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Be-Leaf in Yourself 

Nuvi Nomad is a Frankfurt company that sells vegan leather products that are made from teak leaves sustainably sourced and handpicked by farmers in Chiang Mai.

Can you believe that disgards of everyday fruits, vegetables and other plants are at the frontier of eco-friendly innovation? It’s true that luxury designers have been slower to embrace leather alternatives, understandably so because leather is considered an item of luxury. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that the most successful companies are those that dared to pioneer, those that were disruptive, and those that didn’t always take the well trodden path. 

Did you know that Tesla’s Luxury Model 3 interior is 100% vegan? From its seats to the steering wheel, the entire car is leather free! Kudos, Elon. 

Now, it’s your turn to demand all this creative change to be accessible to everyone, especially from the fashion industry.