The Future of Vegan Leather Is Plant-Based

If you like the look of leather but also want a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry, you haven't really had many options. While real leather obviously doesn't fit with an ethical lifestyle, many vegetarian and vegan leather alternatives are made from plastic, adding to the already vast amount of waste filling our oceans. But while innovation has been slow, there are more sustainable options being developed around the world and becoming available to consumers. The one thing these new leather alternatives have in common? They're all being created from plants.

Pleather is a portmanteau for "plastic leather," whereas vegan or vegetarian leather suggests that the fabric is more sustainably and ethically made — but that's not always the case. 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.

We admire Stella McCartney's transparency and commitment to using vegetarian leather, but we're still keen on finding a leather alternative that's not made from plastic. While a completely plant-based leather is yet to be available on the market, we found a few brands that are developing eco-leathers made from a mix of plants — cactus (Desserto), pineapple (Piñatex), mushroom (Mylo), or apple (Frumat), to name a few — and recycled materials.

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. It was inspired by traditional Barong Tagalog garments, which is a national dress of the Philippines that are often made from piña (a Philippine silk-like fibre made from pineapple leaves). Although Piñatex has a very low environmental footprint, it is not currently biodegradable because it's mixed with a petroleum-based resin and bioplastic.

Mylo is another plant leather made from mushrooms that got us very excited. It's made from lab-grown mycelium, which is the underground, interconnected structure of mushrooms. The textile, developed by its parent company Bolt Threads, teamed up with Stella McCartney in 2018 to create a prototype of the brand's Falabella bag using Mylo — which was featured in the Fashioned from Nature exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. After offering the first Mylo-created Driver tote bag to early financial backers in 2018, Bolt Threads has since gone quiet on when Mylo will be available to buy for consumers. The brand is currently filling orders from December 2019 and is "undergoing a full lifecycle analysis of Mylo prior to large scale commercial rollout."