Communicate without cheating: the boom of “vegan leathers”, alternative materials to animal skin

Apple sneakers, grape boots, corn shoes... these original alternatives to animal leather have bloomed among vegan shoe brands over the past two years. We ourselves are pretty proud to offer Piñatex shoes, especially our Tapir derby or our black Tarantule ankle boot.


Aside from Piñatex, all of the materials listed below share the same manufacturing principle. A base (either cotton, polyester or viscose) is covered with a mixture (the top, or coating) composed of more or less bio-based polyurethane (PU). It’s in this mixture that we find the fruit! It is the same manufacturing principle as a "faux-leather", except that the latter is 100% made of petrochemicals. Usually, the goal here is to have the highest amount of bio-based PU in the final material all the while ensuring its longevity.


The forbidden fruit • Ours are made from pineapple leaves, but no way we were buying a pineapple just to take a picture!

Ananas Anam first got the ball rolling in 2016 with Piñatex – a pineapple leather hitherto unmatched in terms of composition, as it is made out of 72% vegetable fibers. Quite an achievement! Since then, companies have started experimenting with different kinds of fruit waste, like apple or grape in Europe. But names can be misleading! Indeed, the composition of these materials is sometimes very far from what their marketing announces. For example, Vegea’s“grape leather” is made of only 12% fruit (oil and grape), the rest being cotton (62%) and PU (26%).


Fabric manufacturers are themselves quite secretive on this issue. For instance, the company that distributes Desserto, a cactus leather, doesn’t communicate the real amount of cactus fiber present in the end product. The general public (that’s you!) won’t find any information regarding its actual composition on its site.


Of course, our concern above all is to ban animal products from our clothing. Thus, we obviously encourage the development of these materials, and we support both their manufacturers and the brands that use them. But let’s talk about marketing here. Ethics are chic, but we should be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past. A brand that proudly announces that its sneakers are “made of apple”? That’s just another sales pitch in the wonderful world of marketing! It is true that said sneakers contain apple fiber in their composition, but why must we absolutely make reality seem glossier than it is? Are we afraid that otherwise our products wouldn’t be sufficiently... popular? Sexy? Original? Green?


To understand these materials better, the GURU has put together a wonderful chart detailing the compositions and advantages of the major materials currently available on the market.


Lexicon

Bio-based: material intentionally made from substances derived from living (or once-living) organisms. Examples include: cellulose fibers — fibers made from reconstituted cellulose and bioplastics — among which we can nowadays find a soy oil based plastic. (source: Wikipedia)

PU or polyurethane: plastic material existing in various forms, whose components are made from petrochemicals.

Polylactic acid or PLA: thermoplastic polyester which has become a popular material due to it being cheaply produced from renewable resources.

Rayon (also known as viscose or artificial silk): originally a plant-based fiber, now produced artificially. Although viscose is biodegradable, it makes up a significant part of the microplastics found in the deep sea.

PE or polyethylene: the most common plastic material, representing, with 100 million tonnes, around a third of all plastics produced in 2018, and half of the worlds packagings.

Polyester: a polymer mainly used to manufacture synthetic textile fibers, among which the best known are Tergal and Dacron. It’s the most widely produced synthetic fiber in the world. It represents around 70% of synthetic fibers used in clothing (sportswear, swimsuits, outfits).



Encouraging these materials means above all enabling them to improve! The more we use these materials, the more manufacturers will be able to thrive and therefore offer increasingly innovative and eco-responsible ones.

This is why we must continue to demand transparency (and not only in fashion)! The more brands have to communicate about the composition and manufacturing conditions of their products, the more they will be pushed to improve them.


We expect a big change in ethical fashion, which in our opinion has to come first and foremost from distributors. Brands have a duty to be transparent and they have ignored it for many years. We must not repeat the same practices that we criticise!


Let's stop taking customers for clots and give them the truth they deserve.