Aparna Sharma outlines why plant-based leather is sustainable.
Animal based leather is a popular material used in the fashion industry and recent reports show that not only does leather production cause deforestation and biodiversity loss, but 77 percent of agricultural land around the world is used for animal slaughter. While slaughterhouses don’t typically come to people’s minds when they look at a leather bag, reports show that tanneries dump as many as 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, toxic sludge and other chemicals into water bodies. This is why plant-based leather is becoming increasingly popular as an innovative, cruelty-free option, with far less environmental impact than leather.
WHAT IS PLANT-BASED LEATHER?
Plant-based leather is a material made from plants designed to replicate the look and feel of animal leather, minus the slaughter and cruelty. As the name suggests, it is commonly made from plant waste such as banana crop waste, pineapple leaves, apple peels, cork, etc.
THE BENEFITS OF PLANT-BASED LEATHER
CRUELTY-FREE :Plant leather does not require the killing of any animal which makes it a cruelty free and ethical choice.
ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY : Plant-based leather is not dependent on factory-farmed animals, which is associated with high levels of land use and water consumption. Most plant leather is made from waste, and does not cause issues like deforestation, biodiversity loss, etc. In some cases, it can actually help bring back waste into the economy.
INNOVATIVE MATERIALS :Plant leather utilises a variety of innovative materials like mushrooms, banana crop waste, pineapple leaves and other agricultural waste. These creative and sustainable materials have immense potential to redefine the landscape of fashion.
CUSTOMISATION: The manufacturing process of plant-based leather can be customised based on the requirement of color, texture and appearance.
HYPOALLERGENIC : Some plant-based leather alternatives are naturally hypoallergenic and are therefore the ideal choice for consumers who are sensitive to animal leather.
LOWER CARBON FOOTPRINT: The production process of plant-based leather tends to generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional animal leather.
BIODEGRADABILITY: Most plant-based leather is biodegradable and they can break down naturally over time. It is important to remember that all plant based leather may not be biodegradable, some have recycled plastic in them.
WATER EFFICIENCY: Traditional leather manufacturing uses a lot of water during the tanning process. According to an article by collective fashion justice, DESSERTO’s water footprint is 1,647 percent less than some bovine leather; Modern Meadow’sbio-leather claims to reduce water consumption impact by over 95 percent compared to conventional leather; and MIRUM is produced with no water input besides what’s included within natural ingredients.
RENEWABLE RESOURCES: Plant-based leather is usually derived from renewable sources, unlike synthetic vegan leather, which uses non-renewable sources like crude oil. However, if and when you decide to purchase a plant-based leather product, it is important to check more details from the brand. The feel and texture of each plant-based leather is different – some, like Malai, which is made from coconut waste, is fully natural and biodegradable. Banofi, which is made from banana crop waste, uses 20 percent primarily-recycled polymers. There are multiple factors which play a role in creating a sustainable plant leather product, and biodegradability is only one of those factors.
I prefer evaluating a brand based on circularity rather than biodegradability, and based on my understanding, the plant leather industry is being built on the circular economy model.
POPULAR PLANT LEATHER ALTERNATIVES AVAILABLE TODAY:
CORK: This is a sustainable and renewable material that can be harvested from the tree without damaging it.
BANOFI: Discovered in India, Banofi is made from banana waste and this discovery has helped farmers earn additional income by bringing waste back into the economy.
MALAI: Also discovered in India, Malai is 100 percent biodegradable and is made by fermenting waste coconut water.
PIÑATEX: This is made from leaves of the pineapple plant. Brands like Gucci have already made bags from Piñatex.
MYLO: Made from mushroom stems.
VEJA: Made by processing the fibres of corn stalks.
DESSERTO: Made from cactus plants.
MIRUM: Made with plants and minerals, MIRUM is not coated in polyurethane or PVC.
Aparna Sharma (Instagram: @stylishsuitcase) is a non-conformist who believes that fashion must become a force for good and style must meet sustainability. She breaks down the nuances of slow fashion and how we can stay stylish without being trendy.