Alternative leather options proliferate as fashion seeks to shake negative image

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In New York, Glamour magazine and PETA have compiled a list of diverse leather alternatives being pursued amid critical response to the industry’s environmental and human cost.

Leather production requires large amounts of water, petroleum, and land, and causes significant methane gas emissions from animal husbandry. It also requires the use of many toxic chemicals including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and cyanide-based dyes, and is blamed for shockingly high premature deaths among Bangladeshi workers.

Alternatives include leather being produced by Polish company Alexandra K from dehydrated apple cores, seeds, and peels. The apple leather has been utilized by Italian label Nemanti and France’s Poétique Paris. Companies such as Corkor and Nina Bernice are using cork to produce vegan leather. Cork grows quickly, and the harvest does not require the tree be cut down, the producers say.

Peru’s Le Qara produces leather using fruit and flower waste. The materials can be adapted to mimic several types of animal leather.  Other alternatives include leather made from kombucha as well as lab-grown leather. Modern Meadow is pursuing the latter by genetically engineering yeast. Several companies, including Bolt Threads, MycoWorks, and MuSkin, are researching ways to produce vegan leather materials from mushrooms. In Brazil, Piñatex has invented a vegan leather from waste pineapple leaves, a process that also creates a new revenue stream for local farmers. In Italy, Vegea is producing leather using waste materials from winemaking, including skins, seeds and stalks.