Vegan leather bags from Australian label Ahimsa Collective who use Pinatex and washable paper.
This alternative material requires less water and raw material to produce. It’s a non-plastic, non-petroleum, made without chlorine material. Silicone in its raw form is quartz sand, and this is the material they build on. Coined ‘freedom leather’ by its creator Alexandra K, no other brand has worked out how to create this material so well yet. I don’t completely get how this one works, in part because the brand doesn’t disclose the whole process so as to keep it unique to them. I totally get it from a business perspective, but from a ‘save the world’ perspective I wish they’d dish.
Washable paper is paper that is made and waxed so that it is water-resistant and tear-proof – I’m a skeptic and I’ve really tried to rip some of this in the past, it’s legit. Washable paper is used to create some beautiful products and is sustainable, so long as the paper is sourced responsibly, rather than created from some beautiful ancient forest that’s been hacked down for my bag (side note, most of the deforestation in the Amazon is due to animal agriculture).
The paper which comes from Forest Stewardship Council certified sources, means paper which is tracked all the way back to the tree it came from. The certification protects against illegal use and construction of forest areas, as well as protecting the rights of indigenous people, local communities and endangered animals who live on land. FSC bans the use of new plantations at the expense of natural forests.
This material is great as it is natural and will biodegrade. It doesn’t feel supple in the same way some other materials do, but I think when the goal is a non-blown-up world, things that look beautiful but are a bit different are perfectly good.
Gunas New York has created plastic-free bags from mulberry leaf pulp, using techniques that first began centuries ago in Korea, in the creation of lampshades. MulbTex has a cotton base and the leaf pulp has a natural shine rendering it splash-proof. This material is also biodegradable! This is a material I would love to see being used more, but it’s still pretty new (to fashion at least, Korea has known what’s up for a long time with this resource).
More and more designers are realising that with limited resources, we ought to start working with what we already have. Tires manufactured for bikes, trucks, and cars that are otherwise sent to landfill can be repurposed into bags and shoes. I have a belt made from a bike tire and I always feel like a grunge Ms. Eco when I wear it.
These, of course, won’t biodegrade, but if the products are loved, hopefully, they won’t be in the ground any time soon – and always less soon than they were destined to be.
One important thing to note, is that when there is such huge variety in what ‘vegan leather’ is, it’s irresponsible for brands to label a product as just that, without going into any detail as to what that actually means. Does it mean PVC? Does it mean PU? What kind of PU? Tell me more! If you email brands and ask more about what materials they use and their sustainable credentials, often they’ll reply – and especially if they’re proud of what they’re using!
With so many alternatives to leather, it is important we look deeply into each material and question which is best in terms of production, the closed-loop system (can it be recycled again, can it biodegrade?), as well as longevity and of course style (you won’t see me wearing jandals anytime soon).
So long as we are supporting innovation and sustainable development, the fashion world is moving forward in the best way.
There isn’t one holy alternative solution, there are lots of exciting ones and there will be more to come! It’s exciting to see all the ways we can dress without killing, and the alternatives are only going to get better from here. It’s just about committing to doing better, buying better (also buying less). Every time we learn, we can act based on that new information and try.