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In the last few years, we’ve truly opened our eyes to where our clothing comes from and what it’s made of. Conscious consumers are curious about the journey of their garments before they end up in their wardrobes – and what exactly each fabric entails.
There can be a whole world of secrets lurking in our clothing – from toxic chemicals to environmentally harmful substances and processes, the journey of making fabric is a complex one, especially if we’re talking about animal-derived materials. Aside from being connected to animal abuse and cruelty, fur and leather can be connected to environmental damage (the leather tanning process contains chemicals such as chromium which pollutes soil and waterways, and heavily poisons both workers and people living in nearby areas) and toxicity (to keep from rotting, fur is treated with chemicals such as formaldehyde, which can be harmful to the wearer).
But man-made, cheaper synthetics are rarely the answer. Materials such as PVC have their own environmental implications, as do most petroleum-based products used in fashion. But this should not send you reaching for the real leather jacket – in 2018, a new dawn is coming for natural materials that are cruelty-free, vegan and kind to the environment.
Some of these are available for purchase right now (yay!), while others are still very much works in progress. But all of these materials are likely to be part of your vegan wardrobe in years to come.
If you’re a loyal reader of Vilda, you’ve definitely heard of Pinatex before – and if not, learn more about this innovative material here and here. Pinatex, invented by Dr Carmen Hijosa at Ananas Anam, is made from pineapple leaf fibres which are a by-product of the pineapple harvest. It can be made into a leather-like material and is used by brands such as Bourgeois Boheme, Nae Vegan Shoes, Alexandra K and Votch for bags, shoes and watches.
We’ve previously introduced you to Nemanti Milano, the shoe brand that creates shoes from apple-derived leather. A few brands are now experimenting with this innovative fabric, which is produced by re-working leftovers from harvested apples – meaning apple seeds, cores and peel that are dehydrated, cooled and ground to create a cellulose material that can be used in accessories.
Already commonly used by brands like People Tree and Outsider, Tencel is a great eco-friendly replacement for wool and silk. Tencel is created from cellulose fibres from wood sources, so this is a natural fabric that has been processed into a material suitable for fashion production. It’s durable and breathable, and very versatile. The most frequent use for Tencel is dresses, jumpsuits and tops.
The winner of H&M’s prestigious Global Change award, Vegea is an Italian company making leather from…wait for it…wine grapes. Yes, really. Using by-products and waste from the winemaking process, Vegea have developed a leather-like fabric that is set to take the fashion world by storm.
We may have to wait a while before we can actually buy it – but Kombucha leather is still a very exciting development. If you’ve ever tried Kombucha, the fermented Asian superfood drink, you might be aware of the fact that it’s made from tea bacterial cultures. Well, some brands have found ways to transform these bacterial cultures into a cellulose material that with time can be made into a form of “leather”. And the process is truly fascinating.
This is another one that’s in the works and may not be in your wardrobe for a while – but once it gets here, lab-grown leather has the potential to completely transform the way we view animal farming for fashion. Bio-leather company Modern Meadow are developing a new material grown in labs from living cells that produce collagen – an animal-free process that results in actual leather. It’s still a long way until you will be able to shop lab-grown bags, but it’s a reality – and it’s coming.
If you’re too impatient to wait for all these new innovations, you can wear cork today, in the form of brands like Nina Bernice, Corkor and Jentil – and you would be doing the planet a favour, as cork is one of the most eco-friendly materials around. Taken off the cork oak tree without having to cut the tree down, cork is a renewable material like no other, and it’s also resistant, durable and flexible. The challenge of the industry has for many years been to make cork chic, but these days, cork bags can look every bit as on-trend as their leather counterparts.
Wool has been a challenge to replace for a long time – but eucalyptus is here to save the day. Wool retailer Wool and the Gang are among those offering a vegan-friendly yarn made from eucalyptus cellulose. The resulting yarn, called Tina Tape, is technically Tencel, but in yarn form. Vegan hobby-knitters, rejoice!
Leather made from mushrooms is an exciting innovation that has been experimented with by several enterprises. MycoWorks creates leather from mycelium, the vegetative part of mushrooms, and has already offered its leather products to several brands. Another mushroom fabric, Muskin, created by Florentine company Zero Grado Espace, is essentially a leather replacement made from the caps of mushrooms. Watch this space – mushroom leather is set to become a true revelation.
There is no excuse to wear down-padded jackets – fillers such as Thermal R, PrimaLoft, OmniHeat and Cocona ensure that feathers plucked from birds are obsolete. But Flocus is special because it taps into the potential of a truly remarkable natural resource – the kapok tree, which grows in Asia. By harnessing the water-repellent, warming powers of the kapok fibre, Flocus have created a filler that is superior to animal-derived fillers and completely sustainable.
Joshua Katcher, creator of vegan menswear brand Brave GentleMan, refers to the wool and leather his brand uses as “future leather” and “future wool” – and we couldn’t agree more. Most of the brand’s collection is made in New York City’s historic garment district using Brazilian tweeds and twills made from recycled cotton and recycled polyester and Turkish future-silk made from recycled water bottles. Fellow New Yorker Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart echoes this in her VAUTE collections, which often use organic fibers and recycled fibers, including recycled plastic bottles pulled out of Italian rivers, and recycled cotton fibers leftover from large corporations’ lines. And every vegan fashionista’s favourite brand, Matt and Nat, uses recycled plastic bottles in the linings of their bags.
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Header photo by Remy Loz via Unsplash. Other photos by Bourgeois Boheme, Vegea and Nina Bernice