COVID-19 has — by necessity — ushered in a new era of phygital fashion shows, with major brands such as Gucci, Prada and Marques Almeida all eschewing the traditional show format in order to abide by guidelines.
The slimmed-down schedule has meant far fewer editors and buyers have had to fly around the world for fashion month – a practice which, according to one report, usually contributes a staggering 241,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
A welcome move in the fashion industry – a sector often heralded as the worst offender when it comes to carbon footprints – the global pandemic has ushered in a new era for thinking outside the box for eco-friendly answers. And about time, too.
One of the most interesting ways this is happening is by way of vegan leather. Eco-conscious luxury brand Stella McCartney, for example, uses vegetarian leather and "alter-nappa" instead of animal-derived materials.
The brand explains that its vegetarian leather and alter-nappa is made from recycled polyester and in some cases mixed with polyurethane. Recycled polyester is a type of recycled plastic, and although it's certainly better than using new polyester, the plastics and microplastics from recycled polyester are still harmful to the environment.
While McCartney's commitment is admirable, the quest for a plastic-free leather alternative still continues. Plant-based leather is still in its infancy – a completely plant-based leather is yet to be available on the market – but, we found a few brands that are developing eco-leathers made from a mix of plants — apple (Frumat) pineapple (Piñatex), mushroom (Mylo), or cactus (Desserto), to name a few.
Frumat makes use of apple cores and skins that have been discarded from industrial processes, purées them and spreads on a solid sheet to dehydrate them until almost all of the moisture has been removed and then finally combines them with Polyurethane to create vegan leather. The material is ecological, breathable, waterproof, durable, vegan and first made available commercially in 2015.
Piñatex is a plant-based leather made from pineapple leaves, bioplastic, and petroleum resin that was developed in the 1990s by Dr Carmen Hijosa and introduced to the market in 2015. A seemingly game-changing product, Piñatex, unfortunately, lets the side down by way of not currently bring biodegradable due to its petroleum-based resin and bioplastic.
Mylo, however, is made from lab-grown mycelium, which is the underground, interconnected structure of mushrooms. Developed by Bolt Threads, Mylo is certified bio-based, meaning it’s made from predominantly renewable ingredients that can be found in nature.
Desserto is a highly sustainable plant-based vegan-leather made from cactus, often distinguishable by its soft touch. Developed by Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, who used to work in the automotive and fashion industries, this vegan leather aims to offer a cruel-free and sustainable alternative, without toxic chemicals, phthalates and PVC.
According to their website, Velarde and Cázarez realised that the Barbary Fig cactus (opuntia ficus-indica) was the perfect candidate to be made into artificial leather given its abundance, resilience and strength.
It is cultivated in a completely organic way – the ranch on which both men work totally eschews irrigation systems, pesticides, herbicides, or fertiliser – and takes about six to eight months to mature. Once it is ready to be harvested, the mature leaves are selected, sun-dried, and mixed with other additives to create a bio-resin that is paired with a recycled fabric packing (recycled cotton or recycled polyester) — and the end result is Desserto.
"We have fashion designers telling us that is has great potential for luxury products because it feels so soft and yet it’s so durable," Marte recently told Metro.
"If you’re not an expert you might not even realize that it isn’t animal leather."
Might your next statement bag have originated as a prickly desert plant or perhaps a shitake? Time will only tell.
Main image by @mylo_unleather