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Plastic-free vegan leather actually exists - here's how to buy it

If—like me—you thought vegan leather meant ‘plastic’ (eek) - think again.

Gone are the days when the only alternative to animal leather was PVC (unless that’s still your thing…). The material is known to releases hazardous toxins during the manufacturing process as well as when exposed to high temperatures. The more modern and slightly less damaging plastic is polyurethane (PU), which is what you'll mostly find when browsing the aisles. However the oil-based polymers it’s made with make use of fossil fuels making it another no-go for those of us concerned with sustainability and the environment.

The good news is that the market for eco-friendly, sustainable, non-toxic vegan leather is growing, with some not-so-obvious materials offering innovative solutions.


MuSkin is a 100% biodegradable material derived from Phellinus ellipsoideus—an abundant, parasitic fungus that attacks tree trunks in subtropical forests making them putrefy. When the fibre is extracted from the mushroom, it’s treated with non-toxic, eco-friendly products and finished to become MuSkin leather.

The lightweight material is soft to the touch resembling suede with its marbled, velvety surface. It performs like any animal leather and is a thermal insulator, highly absorbent and has antibacterial and antiseptic properties.

Grape leather 
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Designed by Tiziani Guardiani, as part of biomaterial developer brand Vegea’s first fashion collection.The Vegea Leather dress made from leftovers from wine production - stalks, seeds and skins - are being used as a sustainable alternative to make leather on show at the V&A museum now. This exhibit is very timely: major fashion industry players placing sustainability at the top of their agenda to reduce their environmental footprint, Fashioned from Nature is a culturally-relevant exhibition that dissects how the fashion industry can use the past and present, to become empowered to think for the future of the planet. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Last chance to see the exhibition in its final weeks, on display until the 27th of January at @vamuseum⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ :⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ :⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ :⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ :� ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ (?: V&A museum; dress made from Vegea company VEGEA® TECHNICAL TEXTILE technology for the production of biobased technical textiles from wine industry biomass #fashioned #from #nature #vamuseum #exhibition #london #vegealeather #restartfashion #innovation #materials #climatechange #sustainability The seminal exhibition "Fashioned from Nature" at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is coming to an end soon. It is inspiring, thought provoking and has materials and clothes on display that are just breathtaking. Do not miss out if you still haven’t been!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This is the first UK exhibition to explore the complex relationship between fashion and nature from 1600 to present day: it presents fashionable dress alongside natural history specimens, innovative new fabrics and dyeing processes, inviting visitors to think about the materials of fashion. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Repost @thesustainableangle

A post shared by Conscious Earthwear (@consciousearthwear) on

Vegea, is an innovative Milan-based Biotech company transforming grapes into a cruelty-free alternative to leather. When grapes are squeezed during the production process of wine, the pulp, skin, seeds and stalks (or as the industry calls it—grape pomace) is discarded by the ton each year, and it's this substance which is refined and process to make the leather. 

If Vegea were to have access to just 1% of the waste produced from the 26 billion litres of wine produced each year, they could potentially produce about 30 million square metres of wine leather. Woah! 

Pineapple leaf
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Introducing our first ever vegan sneaker: "The W3RD Vegan Pineapple". Made in collaboration with Piñatex®, a leather alternative made from the leaves of the pineapple plant, a natural and sustainably-sourced, cruelty free material. Mercer Amsterdam is the first brand in the luxury sneaker segment utilising this specific type of leather-alternative, looking to further expand its options in the future. Piñatex® is made from the fibre from the leaves of the pineapple plant. These leaves are discarded from the pineapple harvest, so the raw material requires no additional environmental resources to produce.The leaves are bought from farmers in the Philippines, supporting local economies and strengthening their exports. Additionally the tanning of Piñatex® consumes low water use and low production waste, containing no harmful chemicals or animal products. The lining used for "The W3RD Vegan Pineapple" is made with OnSteam® textile, a microfiber textile which gives the sensation of real leather but is in fact a microfiber that is 100% breathable, giving total dryness with thermal control for optimal comfort. OnSteam® is made from a fully durable and environmental point of view using no real leather and/or damaging chemicals in the process. Available now for pre-order, tap on the post to purchase. #merceramsterdam

A post shared by MERCER AMSTERDAM (@merceramsterdam) on

Piñatex is another innovative leather-alternative and boasts additional ethical and eco-friendly credentials. It starts life as pineapple leaves—which are usually discarded by farmers after harvesting their fruits. Now that there is a demand for this waste product, they are able to receive an additional source of income whilst the leaves are put to good use to make products.

The long fibres are extracted from the leaves through a process called decortication, and anything left over can be used as a nutrient-rich natural fertiliser or a biofuel—so absolutely nothing is wasted.

Coconut water

Just when you thought all the hype around coconuts being a superfood, a skincare hero, a tooth whitener (and the list goes on…) was over, here comes the news it can be used to make leather!

Malai is an eco-conscious material made from cellulose that has been produced by bacteria. In order to sustain the bacteria whilst, they are producing cellulose, they are fed coconut water.  The coconut water is actually a by-product of harvesting the flesh of the nut, and would otherwise be dumped causing damage to the soil. Coming up with the right solution was not an easy process to crack for manufacturers who were relentless in trialling around 150 different formulations before they created the perfect leather.

As a fabric Malai has physical characteristics similar to leather or paper, it's water-resistant and because it contains absolutely no artificial ‘nasties’ it will not cause any allergies, intolerances or illness. 

Would you buy products made one of these alternative leathers?