By Ellie Peach
Vegan leather is a term used to describe leather materials that contain no animal products; this is from the fabric itself to the glues and binding agents used in the production process. Genuine leather uses animal and synthetic materials; it is an environmentally damaging production process releasing greenhouse gases and other toxins. What is worse is that animal-derived cowhide is subject to an intense dying process using chromium which is poisonous and causes cancer. Especially susceptible are the workers involved in dyeing and processing the animal skin. This is why when buying leather products such as handbags and shoes, you should always make sure you're buying vegan so that your carbon footprint doesn't increase due to your purchase. Fortunately, with recent technological advances, there are plenty of vegan leather alternatives; here are some of our favourites this year.
1. Apple leather;
Apple waste can produce apple leather; the waste includes the pulp, skin and core. We source the apples from Tyrol, a region in Italy with a sizable juicing industry and a bountiful harvest of fruit for our new range of products, including Apple Leather Shoes. Naturally, this industry created a lot of waste products, and the pulp, skin and core were often discarded, having no other usage. This is not the case anymore. We can now make vegan leather by recovering this waste product and transforming it into a sustainable material combined with other recycled fabrics and polyurethane to produce a textured fabric that looks and feels like genuine leather.
Making the leather involves dehydrating the apple waste and turning it into powder. The powder is then mixed with natural ingredients and a binder and spread onto a sheet until it naturally becomes a flexible leather material. Finally, it is mixed with polyurethane to create more durability and become PETA approved vegan leather. The few virgin materials used means fewer natural resources are extracted from the planet, creating lower emissions and lower energy consumption across the entire production.
LaBante's new line of unisex shoes are primarily made from this apple skin leather, the laces are made from recycled plastic bottles, and the sole is made from a recyclable plant-based rubber. Thus, making the entire shoe not only vegan and sustainable but breathable and comfortable for your feet. It is also UV resistant and hypoallergenic! The sustainability message embroidered onto the back of the shoe showcases your commitment to the environment, and LaBante will plant ten trees for each purchase making the purchase itself carbon-negative- a fab step in the right direction for sustainable consumerism! As an exciting addition, there is also an option to customise your LaBante bags and shoes with a hand-painted design. Head over to the website's bespoke page for more information and preorder your new apple leather shoes now in Black, White and Nude!
2. Leaf leather (teak leather) ;
To make the teak leather, leaves are collected after falling from trees, soaked in water and dyed in different colours. They are then laid flat on top of one another to dry, and this process bonds the leaves. After it has dried, the leather material is strong but needs to be protected, so a non-toxic BOPP film is laid over the leaves to make it more durable and waterproof. The film is thin, allowing the design and texture to be seen and felt. This process originated in Thailand and has since become a worldwide process; it is a favourite among people who love the environment and all things natural!
3. Pineapple leather (Pinatex)
Pinatex leather is made from pineapple leaves from the upper part of the tree instead of the leaves on top of the fruit; these leaves were often discarded once they fell from the tree as previously there was no use for them. The leaves are pulled apart and dried out before being woven together. The pineapple fibres are then coated with a thermoplastic derived from renewable biomass. Pinatex is great for the environment as annually, the pineapple industry generates around 13 million tonnes of waste, including the leaves. Hence, creating a sustainable product from some waste enables the industry to become more environmentally friendly. Like other vegan leather alternatives, it also actively competes against the harmful animal leather industries, releasing toxins such as carcinogens and fossil fuels. Not only is it a great way to reduce waste and keep consumers sustainable, but the industry also enables pineapple farmers worldwide to make more of a profit from their farming by selling the fruit and the leaves.
4. Cactus leather
Cactus leather originated in Mexico by the company 'Desserto'; it is made from prickly pear cactus, which grows in abundance in warmer climates. The leather is organic, partially biodegradable, durable, and soft in texture. The cactus is harvested every 6-8 months by removing mature leaves and leaving the cactus plant itself so that it can grow back again and again. To make the process more environmentally friendly, the company doesn't use an irrigation system to water the plants. The rainwater suffices, and the plants can survive without chemical fertilisers or pesticides. The process of making the leather is drying the cactus leaves in the sun for 3 days until they are dehydrated. No energy or electricity is used in the process.
5. Cork leather
This type of leather originates from the cork oak; the oak can be harvested once the tree is at least 25 years old. After this, it can be harvested every nine years. This harvesting process is beneficial to the tree, and it stimulates growth and regeneration, making it a non-harmful process. Once the cork has been harvested, it is left to dry for six months, boiled and then flattened onto sheets like many vegan types of leather. Bonding agent suberin is a natural adhesive found in cork; it holds together the fabric backing to the cork leather and allows the material to be flexible and durable. It can then be more easily manipulated into a uniform fabric. Cork Leather is lightweight, waterproof and hypoallergenic, making it another perfect alternative to genuine leather. What's more, cork's natural elasticity also allows easy manufacturing of items like bags and wallets.