Vegan or cruelty-free leathers, responding to a request from a number of consumers willing not to cause suffering to animals, are a growing niche in those various materials that aim at replacing traditional leathers.
But what exactly does “vegan leather” mean?
First of all, it must be said that according to Italian legislation it is forbidden to market under the names «cuoio (hide)» «pelle (leather)» and their derivatives or synonyms, or under the generic names of «pellame» and «pelletteria (leather goods)», Italian products that are not obtained exclusively from animal remains.
Furthermore, to define a material as "vegan", it is not sufficient that it does not directly derive from animals, but it must be guaranteed, preferably through certification, that it contains no component, in all stages of production, coming from animals. However: "non-animal" does not necessarily mean plant-based. In fact, many synthetic leatherettes, 100% of petrochemical origin, can be considered "vegan".
What are the main types of vegan leathers available on the market?
The first fully synthetic leathers and furs were made famous by Stella McCartney from the early 2000s, and became icons of her collections under the name "Fur-Free Fur". Today Stella McCartney is planning the introduction of new materials, always synthetic, but from renewable or recycled sources, such as Koba®, developed in partnership with DuPont®.
There are several manufacturers of synthetic leatherettes, such as PVC or PU-based coated materials, which are introducing raw materials from renewable sources, starting from the substrate layer, which can be made of cotton or other natural fibers such as hemp. Partially bio-based polymers are used for the coating, often with the addition of natural materials deriving from cactus, orange, rice husk, pomace, or other micronized fibers, with the function of reducing the oil content and in many cases also improving the mechanical resistances, in particular abrasion, of the material.
Courtesy: Verabuccia by Francesca Nori
There are also different types of materials totally (or almost) of vegetable origin, which have unique characteristics in terms of composition and manufacturing methods. Very thin laser-cut wood, pineapple fibers, bark, industrial residues from apple processing, up to sheet materials obtained by bacterial fermentation of cellulose and sugars. Experiments include the use of unique raw materials such as pineapple peel, fruit, agricultural waste from cocoa plantations. However, these are materials developed by startups and not yet industrially scaled.
Esistono poi diverse tipologie di materiali totalmente (o quasi) di origine vegetale, che presentano caratteristiche uniche in quanto a composizione e a modalità di fabbricazione. Legno sottilissimo tagliato a laser, fibre di ananas, corteccia, residui industriali della lavorazione delle mele, fino a materiali in foglio ottenuti tramite fermentazione batterica di cellulosa e zuccheri. Le sperimentazioni includono l’utilizzo di materie prime originali come la buccia d’ananas, frutta, scarti agricoli della pianta del cacao. Si tratta tuttavia di materiali sviluppati da startup e non ancora scalati industrialmente.
It is a family of alternative materials to leather deriving from the development of the mycelium, the vegetative stage of mushrooms. Mushrooms belong neither to the plant nor to the animal kingdom, but to fungi, a kingdom of their own; for this reason not all vegans consider them entirely compliant with a cruelty-free philosophy. However, it is a type of material around which considerable interest has developed, also due to the low overall impact in production in terms of carbon footprint.
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