Innovative Leather Alternatives: A Short-Lived Trend or the Future of Fashion?
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Climate change is one of the primary problems that the world currently faces and the fashion industry plays a prominent role in accelerating climate change. Within the fashion industry, the production of leather from animal skins is a large contributor to the industry’s environmental impact. This environmental impact needs to be reduced to meet sustainability targets. Major brands have provided leather alternatives to customers promoted as “vegan” leather. The main resource of these vegan leathers is plastic, which is produced from fossil fuels. These plastic-based leathers are not sustainable either. Efforts have gone into the creation of innovative leather alternatives (ILAs). This research investigates properties of these ILAs such as strength and flexibility to determine how well these ILAs could replace animal or plastic leather. Plant-based, yeast-based, lab-grown and bacterial leather are examined through a literature review. Values in literature reveal that one yeast-based leather called Reishi™ meets the requirements of leather for shoes. Piñatex®, a leather made from pineapple leaves, and Desserto®, a leather made from cactus leaves, were not strong enough to be used in shoes according to requirements, but could be used for applications in furniture. Interviews with stakeholders in the leather industry were conducted to retrieve more information on the qualitative side of these materials, such as their look and feel. These interviewees include two designers, the co-founder of an ILA producing company and the head of R&D at a leather-finishing company. All four interviewees confirmed the lower physical properties of ILAs compared to animal leather. Despite these lower properties, major brands have created prototype products containing yeast-based leather. Plant-based leathers are already used to create shoes and bags. These products have received positive reviews so far. A brief analysis shows that consumers are interested in these ILAs because of their lower environmental impact and their cruelty-free nature. Some consumers are also willing to pay more for these ILAs than for animal leather. Even though these ILAs will not replace animal leather in the fashion industry soon, they provide an alternative for conscious consumers and have the potential to grow larger once their properties are improved.