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Top 10 leather alternatives you need to know in eco fashion

Leather has been around since the dawn of humanity, sheltering our ancestors from inclement weather and providing cozy shelters. Fast forward thousands of years, and we are still raising animals for dairy, meat, and wool. Not only that though – half of leather produced today makes up our shoes, 25% – clothing, and 15% – upholstery. A capsule wardrobe is a marriage of two things. First is a Base wardrobe – a collection of a few (up to 30) essential items of clothing that are classic in style and color that do not go out of style. The second is an Accent wardrobe – all the fun stuff that makes up your unique style – from red lace dresses, oversized plaid jackets, embroidered jeans, leopard tops, to Gothic Victorian blouses and pink joggers.

So, what’s the problem?

The United Nations stated that raising livestock produces more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector – cars, planes, ships, – combined. Also, methane produced by livestock is 86 times more destructive for the environment than carbon dioxide released by cars we drive. And that’s just the beginning of the story. Most of the leather produced in the US and globally is tanned with hazardous chromium. The process of tanning prevents the leather from biodegrading because it stabilizes the collagen and protein fibers. Then there’s also all this toxic solid waste that chrome-tanning facilities generate.

You can learn more about it from the documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability secret.

 

Video сredit: COWSPIRACY: the sustainability secret on Youtube

But enough shock therapy – we are here to talk about how you can make your own unique contribution to the solution. All you need to know about leather is this:

Leather production is very harmful for the environment, but there are at least ten amazing leather alternatives made from cactuses, cork, recycled rubber, mushroom and pineapple leather, coconut and even apple.

So, the good news is that there are leather alternatives – made of pineapples, apples, recycled rubber, coconuts and even coffee. There are also innovative biotech companies like Ecovative Design that use fungi to create bio-friendly alternatives to polyester. Let’s look at some of them in detail.

Disclaimer: Sparkpick has affiliate partnerships and may receive a share of the revenue from your purchase at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting our work and sustainable fashion.

Vegan leather

A word about “traditional” vegan leather. For the most part, especially in the fast fashion world, vegan leather is produced with PVC and polyurethane. These are plastic and petroleum-based materials. While they are not directly harming animals in the production process, they can still take years to degrade, which is not the best news for the environment. Fortunately, emerging technologies allow polyurethane to be more eco-friendly. For example, it can be recycled.
 
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    sparkpick features veerah apple leather vegan sandals in sustainable fashionView
    VEERAH
    Apple leather sandals
    $169.00
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    sparkpick features veerah reversible leather vegan straps for shoe accessory in sustainable fashionView
    VEERAH
    Modular ankle straps
    $48.00
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    Sparkpick features Nicholas Kirkwood pre-loved nude pumps in sustainable fashion on Poshmark posted by SparkpickView
    Nicholas Kirkwood | Poshmark
    Pre-loved nude pumps (38)
    $250.00
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    Sparkpick features Gunas Safari red animal print vegan bag in sustainable fashionView
    GUNAS
    Print vegan bag
    $212.00 (On sale)
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    Sparkpick features VEERAH on Alltrueist Apple leather mules in sustainable fashionView
    VEERAH | Alltrueist
    Recycled glitter boots
    $510.00
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    sparkpick features sans beast vegan recycled pouch makeup in sustainable fashionView
    Sans Beast
    Recycled pouch
    $33.00 (On sale)
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    Sparkpick features SPARK + REBEL modular eco fashion brand Upcycled harness belt casual street style in sustainable fashion on EtsyView
    SPARK + REBEL | Etsy
    Upcycled harness belt
    $199.00
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    sparkpick features doshi vegan belt in sustainable fashionView
    Doshi
    Vegan belt
    $45.00
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    sparkpick features doshi vegan briefcase men women in sustainable fashionView
    Doshi
    Vegan briefcase
    $299.00
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    sparkpick features sans beast vegan card holder  in sustainable fashionView
    Sans Beast
    Vegan card holder
    $61.00 (On sale)
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    sparkpick features sans beast vegan leather yellow crossbody bag in sustainable fashionView
    Sans Beast
    Vegan crossbody bag
    $152.00
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    sparkpick features prologue shoes vegan boots in sustainable fashionView
    Prologue Shoes | Immaculate Vegan
    Vegan high boots
    $171.00
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    Sparkpick features Gunas vegan leather bag in sustainable fashionView
    GUNAS
    Vegan laptop bag
    $275.00
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    Sparkpick features GUNAS vegan leather satchel in sustainable fashionView
    GUNAS
    Vegan leather satchel
    $275.00
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    Sparkpick features NOAH vegan loafers classic in sustainable fashionView
    NOAH
    Vegan loafers
    $185.00
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    sparkpick features sans beast vegan phone bag in sustainable fashionView
    Sans Beast
    Vegan phone bag
    $80.00 (On sale)
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    Sparkpick features Gunas Safari animal print leather bag vegan in sustainable fashionView
    GUNAS
    Vegan print bag
    $245.00
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    Sparkpick features VEERAH Vegan pumps in sustainable fashionView
    VEERAH
    Vegan pumps
    $278.00
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    sparkpick features sans beast vegan handbag in sustainable fashionView
    Sans Beast
    Vegan satchel
    $139.00 (On sale)
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    sparkpick features veerah stiletto vegan pumps in sustainable fashionView
    VEERAH
    Vegan stiletto pumps
    $328.00
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    Sparkpick features Gunas circle tote bag from eco PU in sustainable fashionView
    GUNAS
    Vegan tote bag
    $236.00 (On sale)
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    Sans Beast
    Vegan tote bag
    $185.00 (On sale)
 

Pineapple leather (Pinatex)

 
Love pineapples? Pineapple leather is perhaps one of the most well-known leather alternatives. Made from pineapple leaf fibres in in the Philippines and created by an innovative textile maker Ananas Anam, Pinatex is famous for its durability, flexibility, and softness. In addition to being 100% eco-friendly material, it also supports local farming communities. Now they can make money from all that pineapple waste!
 
Dr. Carmen Hijosa, founder of Pinatex, pineapple leather
Dr. Carmen Hijosa, the founder of Pinatex, is holding a pineapple / Photo by David Stewart for Wired
 
Pinatex has already been picked up by the clothing industry, and companies like Nae and Bohema Clothing do wonders with it – their shiny heels are a symbol of the bright sustainable future. And yes, you can even get a pineapple watch from Votch.
 
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    Sparkpick features Svala Pinatex leather clutch in sustainable fashionView
    Svala
    Piñatex clutch
    $220.00
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    sparkpick features doshi pinatex crossbody bag clutch women in sustainable fashionView
    Doshi
    Pinatex crossbody
    $99.00
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    Sparkpick features PlantBasedBoutiqueCo on Etsy Pinatex leather pouch in sustainable fashionView
    PlantBasedBoutiqueCo | Etsy
    Piñatex pouch
    $25.00
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    Sparkpick features NAE Vegan Shoes classic vegan sandals from pineapple leather in sustainable fashionView
    NAE Vegan Shoes
    Vegan sandals
    $153.00

MuSkin mushroom leather

As you have guessed correctly, mushrooms also have skin – the skin that can and hopefully will serve as a leather equivalent some day. MuSkin is made from the caps of mushrooms with the sophisticated name Phellinus ellipsoideus. It’s environmentally friendly not only because it’s vegan and uses a safe and non-hazardous tanning process. These mushrooms live in subtropical forests and feed off the tree trunks they reside on.
 
Durable, biodegradable, waterproof, and non-toxic, MuSkin has started being widely used by the first fashion innovators. For example, the German team Nat2 manufactures their own fungus leather to create a famous Fungi sneakers line.
 
Even though MuSkin is flexible in a way that one can grow different fungus sizes depending on the required design, one of the cons is that the material is still relatively rare. The amount of quality mushroom leather that can be produced on a monthly basis is still pretty small. So, we still have a couple years to go before we adapt to the new mushroom fashion reality.
 
Learn about how one small Indonesian company – Mycotech – is overcoming critique and business challenges.
 
Video credit: CNA Insider on YouTube

Corn leather

Corn leather is also considered the next-generation material because it combines organic plant material and PU. Depending on the amount of plant content used, a garment can be used for different applications. For example, a corn-based material with 30% plant content is often used for small accessories such as wallets and card holders because it has the ideal thickness for folding. The corn-based material used to make handbags is thicker and often has up to 45% bio content which gives a bag more structure. With this in mind, corn-based materials are a great choice when compared to next-generation cactus leather (30% plant content) and apple leather (up to 27% plant content).
 
The corn used for making corn leather is a non-food grade crop, which offers a peace of mind: it doesn’t divert food resources from human or animal supply chains. After corn is harvested, it undergoes a fermentation process to extract dextrose, which doesn’t require the use of petrochemicals. The extracted dextrose is then used to create a polymer, and the polymer is later formed into “pellets” that can be extruded and used to make fabrics. The result is a smooth material with a feel like that of traditional goat skin leather that is used to produce beautifully crafted garments and accessories for our everyday wear.
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    sparkpick features corn leather bag from mashu in sustainable fashionView
    Mashu
    Corn bag
    $380.00
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    sparkpick features corn leather bag from mashu in sustainable fashionView
    Mashu
    Corn bucket bag
    $567.00
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    sparkpick features v.gan cross body bag in sustainable fashion corn leather veganView
    V.GAN | Immaculate Vegan
    Corn leather bag
    $185.00 (On sale)
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    Sparkpick features organic tote bag from Alexandra K on Alltrueist in sustainable fashionView
    Alexandra K. | Alltrueist
    Corn shoulder bag
    $428.00
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    sparkpick features solari milano immaculate vegan oxford shoes in sustainable fashionView
    Solari Milano | Immaculate Vegan
    Vegan Oxford shoes
    $211.00 (On sale)

Apple and grape leather

An apple wasn’t just the inspiration for Sir Isaac Newton or Steve Jobs. It was an inspiration for another brilliant idea that landed in the minds of the creators of Happy Genie company in 2017. What do you do with the apple waste left from harvesting? You make bags! Some other companies nailing it are Nuuwai and Veggani while others are exploring grape leather. Apple and grape leather look similar to real leather but feel a bit like paper, which gives manufacturers more flexibility when it comes to designing products.
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    sparkpick features apple leather bag from mashu in sustainable fashionView
    Mashu
    Apple leather bag
    $398.00
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    sparkpick features sans beast apple leather bag  in sustainable fashionView
    Sans Beast
    Apple leather bag
    $186.00 (On sale)
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    sparkpick features nae vegan shoes cross body bag in sustainable fashionView
    NAE Vegan Shoes
    Apple leather bag
    $155.00 (On sale)
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    sparkpick features veerah apple leather vegan sandals in sustainable fashionView
    VEERAH
    Apple leather sandals
    $169.00
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    Sparkpick features Good Guys vegan apple leather boots military utilitarian in sustainable fashionView
    Good Guys
    Apple leather utility boots
    $190.00
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    sparkpick features good guys vegan apple skin clogs in sustainable fashionView
    Good Guys
    Apple skin clogs
    $172.00
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    sparkpick features pangaia grape leather sneakers in sustainable fashionView
    PANGAIA
    Grape leather sneakers
    $110.00
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    Sparkpick features NAE Vegan Shoes classic tall boots from apple leather in sustainable fashionView
    NAE Vegan Shoes
    Vegan boots
    $248.00
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    sparkpick features veerah vegan flate mule in sustainable fashionView
    VEERAH
    Vegan flate mule
    $278.00 (On sale)
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    sparkpick features bloom on immaculate vegan heel apple leather boots in sustainable fashionView
    BLOOM | Immaculate Vegan
    Vegan heeled boots
    $334.00

Coffee leather

Coffee has the magic to not only keep us mentally active but also physically. If you want your shoes to smell like a freshly brewed cup of roasted coffee, consider coffee leather. The German company Nat2, a pioneer in eco-friendly luxury footwear since 2007, is definitely up to something great with their coffee sneakers. A full half of the 100% vegan shoe is made of recycled coffee, coffee beans and coffee plant; the insoles – from antibacterial cork, and the outsoles – from rubber.
vegan shoes, recycled coffee, coffee sneakers
These 100% vegan unisex sneakers from Nat-2 are partially made from real sustainable recycled coffee / Image by: by Nat-2
vegan shoes, recycled coffee, coffee sneakers
Image credit: Nat-2

Cactus leather

The story of cactus leather began with Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez who left their jobs in fashion and automotive industries to make a meaningful impact. In October 2019, in Milan they showcased Desserto – vegan leather made of nopal, or cactus. This material is elastic, flexible, breathable, and partially biodegradable. It’s already available through their website for use in handbags, footwear, and garments.
 
Video credit: Adriano Di Marti on YouTube
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    sparkpick features sans beast cactus leather bag in sustainable fashionView
    Sans Beast
    Cactus leather bag
    $151.00 (On sale)
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    sparkpick features bohema immaculate vegan cactus leather sandals in sustainable fashionView
    BOHEMA | Immaculate Vegan
    Cactus leather sandals
    $199.00 (On sale)
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    sparkpick features urbankissed cactus leather stilettos  in sustainable fashionView
    BOHEMA | Urbankissed
    Cactus leather stilettos
    $165.00 (On sale)
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    Sparkpick features SPARK + REBEL modular eco fashion brand vegan hand-painted belt in sustainable fashion on EtsyView
    SPARK + REBEL | Etsy
    Unique vegan belt
    $150.00
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    Sparkpick features SPARK + REBEL modular eco fashion brand Upcycled shoe accessory cactus leather casual street style in sustainable fashion on EtsyView
    SPARK + REBEL | Etsy
    Upcycled shoe accessory
    $110.00
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    Sparkpick features SPARK + REBEL modular eco fashion brand vegan hand-painted corset harness in sustainable fashion on EtsyView
    SPARK + REBEL | Etsy
    Vegan floral corset
    $250.00

Rubber

If you like accessories with sturdy leather, rubber in general and recycled rubber might match leather in terms of texture and density. It’s produced with zero animal cruelty and no longer requires cutting trees. Because it’s mostly synthetic, keep in mind that it will not biograde easily, so make sure not to part with your cute accessories from Laura Zabo made of recycled tires, and rubber flip flops from Indosole for a while. Checkout Elvis & Kresse, a small British craftsmanship team who has been rescuing abandoned and decommissioned fire hoses from landfill since 2005 and using them in various lifestyle accessories.
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    Sparkpick features PaguroUpcycle on Etsy recycled rubber necklace in sustainable fashionView
    PaguroUpcycle | Etsy
    Rubber necklace
    $53.00

Waxed cotton

Waxed cotton – another great alternative to leather – is not a newbie on the textile market. It became popular in the 1920-1950s with sailors of England and Scotland who used it as a waterproofing tool. Here cotton is mixed with a paraffin or natural beeswax that are woven into the material. This material is waterproof, is easy to wash and hard to tear, while one of the few cons is that it’s not very breathable. Denim companies 7 for all Mankind and G-Star Raw have been using it for years making their goal to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2025.
waxed denim
High waist ankle jeans from 7 For All Mankind made from waxed denim / Image credit: 7 For All Mankind
waxed denim jeans
A deep black denim from G-Star Raw treated with a sustainable dry wax finish / Image credit: G-Star Raw

Cork

Cork has been used for a long time – cork stoppers were discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs dating thousands of years, when people were likely also wearing cork sandals, another invention of that remote time. Why cork? Cork is water resistant, durable, light and easy to maintain. Not that our ancestors cared much but it’s also recyclable and renewable. What’s also great about cork trees is that you don’t have to destroy the tree to get the goodies. A cork tree continues to live and prosper for 300 years while being harvested for its bark.
 
Fashion picked up cork very gladly, and now you can see cork footwear, backpacks, wallets, and belts all around.
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    Sparkpick features Corkor Cork backpack in sustainable fashionView
    Corkor
    Cork backpack
    $139.00 (On sale)
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    Sparkpick features GrowFromNature on Etsy Cork bracelet in sustainable fashionView
    GrowFromNature | Etsy
    Cork bracelet
    $34.00
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    Sparkpick features YOKCORK on Etsy Cork bracelet in sustainable fashionView
    YOKCORK | Etsy
    Cork bracelet
    $34.00
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    Sparkpick features Corkor on Etsy  Cork briefcase in sustainable fashionView
    Corkor | Etsy
    Cork briefcase
    $199.00
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    Sparkpick features GrowFromNature on Etsy Cork cap in sustainable fashionView
    GrowFromNature | Etsy
    Cork cap
    $56.00
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    Sparkpick features GrowFromNature on Etsy Cork heart clutch in sustainable fashionView
    GrowFromNature | Etsy
    Cork clutch
    $42.00 (On sale)
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    Sparkpick features Svala cork tote in in sustainable fashionView
    Svala
    Cork tote
    $195.00
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    Sparkpick features Watson & Wolfe cork belt vegan on Immaculate vegan in sustainable fashionView
    Watson & Wolfe | Immaculate Vegan
    Cork vegan belt
    $54.00
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    Sparkpick features EatingTheGoober on Etsy Upcycled versatile sandals in sustainable fashionView
    EatingTheGoober | Etsy
    Upcycled sandals
    $101.00

Bio-fabricated Zoa leather (bonus)

Zoa leather is a very promising leather substitute brought to us by a team of scientists and designers, a company called Modern Meadow. Did you know that animal leather consists of collagen? The challenge Modern Meadow undertook is based on engineering a strain of yeast to produce collagen through fermentation. Pretty cool, right? No wonder the company uses the term “The Biofabrication Age” to refer to this new take on innovative leather production. The coolest thing is this: Zoa, like a skillful magician, is in the form of liquid leather; it can take any shape and is compatible with any material.
 
Zoa leather is not on the market just yet, but stay tuned – it does sound promising.
 
Video credit: Fast Company on YouTube
 
Those are just some of the new leather alternatives that have been rapidly emerging in the past years. We hope you are left with the thought that sustainable fashion can be fun and innovative. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll feel adventurous enough to try those apple bags or mushroom sneakers!

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