Three Exciting New Organic Forms of Vegan Leather
It’s hard not to love leather. The durability, sheen, texture, and even scent of a new or well worn leather garment is hard to resist. Leather lovers and enthusiasts know who they are. Yet acquiring the material is no easy task — not only is the processing of leather highly detrimental to the environment but leather is, of course, made from cow hide. There are already a number of synthetic vegan alternatives to animal leather on the market such as polyurephane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) but more recently a few new and non-synthetic alternatives to animal based leather are entering the market. These alternatives are cruelty free, sustainable, vegan, and organic.
First of all, what is a scoby? It is a thick yet soft and mushy blob of bacteria and yeast formed during the creation of kombucha, a fermented tea drink. When at first a scoby, leftover from brewing a batch of the fizzy vinegary drink, would simply be handed over to someone else looking to start their own brew, it can now be stretched and dried out to form a fabric durable enough to make clothing.
Designer Suzanne Lee is creating a name for herself in the fashion industry doing just that. To have enough material to be used as a textile, a large amount of scoby is required. To achieve this, Lee brews a large batch of kombucha, around 30 litres at a time, in a large and wide container so that the scoby that forms on top is the proper width and length to be used as fabric. She then washes and flattens out the scoby on wooden boards and leaves it to dry in the sun.
As the scoby dries it compresses and the end result has the consistency of a strong vegetable leather that can be cut apart and sewn together. Alternatively, the still damp material can be formed against a hard base to create hats and shoes. The colouring of the plain fabric without dyes depends on the type of tea used in the original brewing. A green tea scoby can result in a fabric that looks eerily, and intriguingly, like human skin. Organic dyes from fruits and vegetables and even oxidization is used to colour the fabric and add dimension. Due to the highly porous nature of the scoby, dying the fabric is incredibly quick.
For that exact same reason, scoby leather is not water resistant and the porous nature of the fabric would make the garment absorb body sweat or fall apart in the rain. This is the main reason why scoby leather is not consumer accessible today. Currently, a natural water resistant fix is in the works.
‘Muskin’ is mushroom skin and this leather is made from exactly that. The top layer or ‘skin’ from mushroom caps is processed similarly to regular leather but without the toxic chemicals involved making muskin safe for prolonged skin contact.
Muskin is softer, water resistant, and more breathable — allowing it to both absorb and release moisture — than animal leather. Studies have shown that muskin prevents bacterial proliferation and it is entirely biodegradable.
Piñatex is a new textile created by the company Ananas Anam that is made from the tough fibres of pineapple leaves. Piñatex has been developed over a period of years and now the company is happy to work with farmers throughout the Philippines to create a sustainable industry. The pineapple leaves are the by-product of the pineapple harvest meaning no additional land, water, fertilizers, or pesticides were used to acquire them.
The fibres from the pineapple leaves are extracted in a process called decortication done by the farming community at the plantation. The fibres undergo an industrial process that fuses them together to form a nonwoven textile. After the material undergoes a finishing process, the resulting textile has the texture and appearance of a soft leather.
The Piñatex fabric has undergone rigorous testing to be resistant to wear and tear, colour fading, water spotting, and abrasion. The textile is now in use for furnishings, fashion and accessories, and car upholsteries.
Shirt made with scoby leather by Suzanne Lee in London, 2010
Muskin products by Grado Zero Espace
Handbag made with Piñatex textile