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The Game-Changing Developments Taking Place In Vegan Fashion Right Now

by: Rosie Dalton | 3 years ago | Features

Image: A photograph of Kowtow, from our vegan campaign. 

With more than one billion animals slaughtered every year for their hides alone, the luxury leather industry seems less and less glamorous all the time. But unfortunately it can be difficult to find viable, high-quality alternatives to the age-old fabric — they are just so few and far between. It is especially difficult to find vegan alternatives that aren’t also terrible for the environment. PVC, for example, is non-biodegradable and ranks third in both global plastic output and consumption. Over 33 million tons of PVC is being produced each year and that figure is increasing annually.

Of course, as fashion instructor at the Parsons School of Design Joshua Katcher points out, livestock production is one of the most polluting and resource intensive industries in the world. So it’s important that we move away from this model if we hope to help save the planet and promote more sustainable living overall. Fortunately, there are a number of innovators currently working hard to ensure that alternative options are becoming more attractive than ever. In general, these efforts tend to fall into three major categories: designers working with what’s currently available in progressive new ways; designers replicating leather through technology; and designers finding new sources of ‘leather-like’ materials. We break each of these down a little further for you below.

1) Designers working with what’s currently available in progressive new ways
Sometimes it’s important to work with what we’ve got in terms of developing non-animal alternatives to traditional leather. This approach not only saves time and precious research dollars, but it can also help to repurpose some of the negative fibres currently clogging up our environment. Waxed cotton offers a traditional example of designers working with what’s out there to create vegan leather alternatives, for instance. But today brands like Matt and Nat or Veja are pushing this envelope even further. Canadian label Matt and Nat, for example, produces beautiful handbags that are 100% vegan. In addition to this, the linings of all their bags are made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. Meanwhile French footwear company Veja also tries to minimise its impact wherever possible. When they do use leather, it is always tanned with low levels of chemicals, but the brand is also marked for its vegan canvas shoes crafted from 100% organic cotton. What we're particularly impressed by is the fact that Veja sources wild rubber from the Amazonian rainforest for all of its soles.


2) Designers replicating leather through technology
Suzanne Lee is a former research fellow at the School of Fashion & Textiles at Central Saint Martin's and the creative director or Modern Meadow Inc, which produces a leather alternative that’s probably closest to actual leather. This is because Modern Meadow’s New York-based team of scientists, engineers, designers and artisans develop cultured animal products in a laboratory. This involves sourcing cells from animals, turning them into sheets in a lab and then fusing those sheets together to create leather. Yes, there are certain other ethical questions that could arise around this particular alternative, but similar to Joshua Katcher’s argument about the environmental impact of livestock production, it is sometimes important for us to pick our battles. And furthermore, Modern Meadow’s approach not only avoids killing animals, but also the chemical-laden dyeing and treating processes involved. Oh and it is virtually waste-free to boot.

3) Designers finding new sources of ‘leather-like’ materials
We’ve spoken about Piñatex before, but just to refresh your memory, this is basically a non-animal leather with a beautiful grainy texture that’s actually sourced from the waste plant fibres of pineapple. Originally developed by Spanish designer and founder/CEO of socially-conscious textile company Ananas Anam, Carmen Hijosa, this company is still very new to the market but now offers a Business 2 Business product range. According to Women’s Wear Daily, designers like Susi Studio’s Bianca Moran are currently initiating research and development into Piñatex as a supplement to the recycled plastic she uses in her shoes. Another company that’s also proving revolutionary in this space is Smart Materials by Okinawa, an Italian company that has introduced non-animal leathers like Microki, which is a high-performing vegan leather. To do this, Fibre2Fashion points out that the company sources cellulose from FSC certified forests, legal forests and plantations and/or paper mills recovering liquids during the process to produce electricity. With so many new options now on the table then, we're feeling pretty optimistic about the future of vegan fashion. 

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