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  • Claire Kalikman


Image via Desserto

HAVEN’T YOU HEARD? LEATHER IS OUT. WHETHER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL REASONS, ANIMAL RIGHTS ISSUES, OR BECAUSE IT’S JUST PLAIN COOL, BRANDS ARE EXPERIMENTING WITH LEATHER ALTERNATIVES, AND THIS NEW GENERATION OF MATERIALS IS MOVING PAST THE OLD “VEGAN LEATHER” THAT WAS JUST A CODE WORD FOR PLASTIC. Claire Kalikman rounds them up. Julian Romer, co-founder of vegan sneaker maker Virón wrote to us: “We want to be accessible and desirable for everyone. In the same way a vegan restaurant needs to please non-vegans with taste, we believe we will have the biggest impact only if our design appeals to everyone, and kind of goes against the stereotypes that many people associate with veganism. We don’t show green colours and happy people. Our background stems from techno and avant-garde fashion.” Keep reading to find out about some of the wackiest, most innovative materials Virón and other brands are using instead.


In Mexico, Desserto has found a way to make a leather-like product from the nopal cactus (also known as prickly pear cactus), and its production is highly sustainable. The plants are perennials, and a plantation lasts for about eight years. The cacti grow with rain water, so little extra inputs are needed. Desserto’s ranch is fully organic, so there are no herbicides or pesticides used. And, “All the remaining organic cactus material not used in our process is exported and sold nationally in the food industry.” Desserto recently collaborated with LA sneaker brand Clae to create a cactus leather sneaker, while in Australia, Melbourne-based accessories brand A_C is debuting a range of pouches, bags and wallets for pre-order, made from Desserto.


Frenchman Julian Romer of Virón is proving that sustainability doesn’t mean uncool. He makes club kid sneakers and boots out of apple and corn waste. “In 2020, there is no reason why we need to kill animals anymore for clothing,” he says. “The time has long gone where we needed animal skin and fur to survive cold winters. Secondly, the animal agriculture industry is the second largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emissions after the fossil industry, so there is no question that in order to produce an environmental-friendly shoe, you need to go vegan.”

But, he notes, not all vegan materials are equal. Romer wrote to us: “Conventional ‘vegan’ leather is nothing but plastic.”

“So for us it was very important to choose to work with progressive materials which meet our sustainability standards. One of the pillars of our sustainability commitment is to produce and source locally. There are amazing leather alternatives made from pineapples, cactus etcetera, but they are not from Europe.” His solution? “We found two great manufacturers from Italy who offer corn- and apple waste based leather substitutes, which look and feel amazing.”

Image from Virón

3. CACTUS LEATHER AND APPLE SKIN Meanwhile, in Italy, cruelty-free label Miomojo has just released a new “premium” collection produced from cactus leather and AppleSkin. The brand based in Bergamo, Italy focuses on handbags and accessories that are made without fur, wool, silk, feathers, leather or any other animal products. Ten percent of all profits are donated to animal rights’ groups.

Founder Claudia Pievani felt called to make a more sustainable line following the Covid-19 pandemic that hit Italy particularly hard at the beginning. The new colourful bags and handbags are either made out of nopal cactus leather or AppleSkin, an innovative leather alternative with a high content of natural waste, from the skin and core apple waste of the food industry. And they’re really quite chic!

Image via Miomojo

4. MUSHROOMS Bolt Threads is no stranger to fabric innovation. They first came on the scene with their Microsilk that mimics the proteins found in spider webs. Now, they’re shaking up the leather world with their Mylo material made from mushrooms. And don’t think this is niche: starting in 2021, products made with Mylo will be available at Adidas, Kering, Lululemon, and Stella McCartney - who have come together as a consortium to bring the first products to market.

On podcast episode 126, founder David Breslauer noted that we can look to nature for many innovative solutions. “When you consider what nature does elegantly, I think it’s pretty humbling,” Breslauer said.

Image via Bolt Threads

+ Bonus! SEQUINS And finally, while it’s outside the leather realm, we couldn’t resist spotlighting Elissa Brunato, who is on a quest to make eco friendly sequins. Brunato has created the Bio Iridescent Sequin, a shimmering bead made from natural cellulose that is more sustainable than regular plastic sequins. Instead of using petroleum-based plastic, Brunato has developed a way of making glittering disc-shaped beads from bioplastic based on cellulose extracted from trees.

Image via Elissa Brunato

Want to find out more about fashion’s latest innovations? Check out our article on top tech innovations.

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