Is NATURAL LEATHER the best possible material for shoes? For sure is not an ecological one. Why? Well, mostly because of the animal breeding process in which leather is not always a by-product but usually it is the final product. Especially if you would like to have shoes or cloths form exotic leather or fur. Moreover the leather industry is one of the most water-intensive across the globe. From the water used to raise animals to the water used in tanning and finishing processes. Leather tanning process requires highly toxic chemicals which cause very heavy diseases. A first phase of this process, the most polluting, is often carried out in developing countries. Again, you could ask why? The answer is very simple. The environmental laws in developed countries are stricter and such activity is simply prohibited. This industry is also notable for wastewater it produces, sometimes with a heavy pollutant load.
Let us show you alternative materials which can be used to produce your favorite pair of shoes. Materials which are vegan, ecological and believe us they can be much durable than natural leather. Just have a look!
Microfiber leather is a synthetic leather formed from a mix of polyester and nylon. Its fibers are very thin, 30 times thinner than cotton and 100 times thinner than a human hair! A shape, size and fiber’s composition may be varied. Microfiber leather imitating a suede contains an admixture of cotton which makes it softer and has a different texture.
Microfiber used in the shoes production process is high-class synthetic leather. It perfectly replicates features of real leather such as the hand feeling, breathability and moisture absorption. Its performance including e.g. chemical and abrasion resistance, anti-crease, aging resistance are better than natural leather. The quality of microfiber is very stable. What is also very important, it is recyclable!
Some microfiber, unlike leather, can be washed in the washing machine. Microfiber products maintenance process is very easy. What you need is only water and a cloth/brush, sometimes impregnate – if the material is not one of these completely waterproof. This is why microfiber became one of the most popular materials used in the vegan footwear production process.
Organic cotton is grown organically in subtropical countries such as India, Turkey, China, and parts of the USA. It must be grown from non-genetically modified plants and without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides (aside from the ones allowed by the certified organic labeling). Organic cotton constitute only 1-2% of global cotton production. The biggest producers of this kind of cotton are India (>50%), China and Turkey. Even more popular brands from FAST FASHION trade incorporate organic cotton as part of their supply chains.
In vegan footwear industry organic cotton is mostly use to produce classic trainers. This breathable material provides comfort in the warm and dry season.
Polyethylene terephthalate is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family. Is mostly used to produce cloths fibers, bottles, containers, thermoform packaging, etc. Most of the the world’s PET production is for synthetic fibers called polyester (60%), but bottles production accounting for about 30% of global demand. The acronym PET is generally used in relation to packaging. Polyester makes up about 18% of world polymer production and is the fourth-most-produced polymer.
PET is commonly recycled and used to manufacture new products like bottles, containers, thermoform packaging, etc. It is also used in fiber applications such as carpet and apparel. During recycling PET goes through a cleaning, grinding, and melting process in result giving a new life to plastic and reducing rubbish around us. As it is very durable material it become more and more popular in the footwear industry as well. With its felt-like structure it can be transformed in a pair of very stylish shoes.
Piñatex is a natural leather made from cellulose fibers, extracted from pineapple leaves. It substitutes leather and brings new income streams to subsistence farmers. Its properties are almost identical to the natural leather, but it not contains toxic substances used during the leather tanning process. It is breathable and, if impregnated regularly, water resistant. Produced in different thicknesses and various colors Piñatex become a very nice alternative material for the footwear industry. A very important fact about Piñatex is that its producing process is harmless for the environment. Pineapple leaves are not a byproduct of crops. There is no need for additional land, water, fertilizers or pesticides. After obtaining the fibers form leaves a remaining product can be used as an organic fertilizer. It is a fully environment friendly and ethical product!
Desserto it is a cactus vegan leather developed by Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez. It is made from cacti grown in Mexico. The cactus is known for its rugged, thick skin, which makes it the perfect texture to simulate animal leather. This plant does not need any water to grow, and there is plenty of it throughout the Mexican Republic. Mature leaves are cut from organically grown cactus plants, cleaned, mashed, and then left out in the sun to dry for three days prior to processing. It can then be dyed naturally using methods. This makes for vegan leather that is certified organic and can hold up to regular usage for nearly a decade. Cactus leather is breathable, flexible, soft, nice in touch and can be colorful. Is also biodegradable and doesn’t contain any plastic.
MuSkin is a 100 % vegan alternative to animal leather. Produced from the cap of Phellinus ellipsoideus, a gigantic parasitic fungus that attack tree trunks in subtropical forests. Under appropriate, optimal conditions fruiting body is being transformed into MuSkin. It can be grown in different shapes, sizes and width. Thanks to cellulose which feeds the fungus in only two weeks we can grow as much material as we would receive from killing an adult cow. The material is treated in a similar way to animal leather but with the use of natural techniques. These include also using eco-friendly eco-wax, which adds special characteristics to the leather. The total absence of toxic substance makes Muskin ideal for the use in close-to-skin applications. It is 100% biodegradable, very high quality, stretchy, durable, waterproof, breathable and does not cause any allergic reactions.
A grape pomace is ideal for producing a textile very similar to leather. It doesn’t need any water to produce it and it doesn’t require a complex and toxic tanning process. Wine leather is soft, smooth, stable, 100% vegan, 100% sustainable and 100% recyclable. It almost feels like leather, have similar properties and can also be processed adequately. The main ingredient of wine leather are waste products of Italian wine production. Core and shell form the basis of this material. In the first part of production process the grape marc is dried. The fibers contained in the bio-oil, obtained from the seeds, in combination with an innovative manufacturing process and the addition of chemical substances create a material very similar to natural leather. Its production process uses no oil, is 100% sustainable and contains minimal nontoxic chemical reagents. From 10 liters of wine we can obtain 2,5kg of grape marc which give us around 1 square meter of leather.
After making apple juice the pomace is usually thrown away. But it can be used to create something useful. Currently scientists developed several methods of obtaining apple leather. The apple pomace is first homogenized and mixed with natural resin. So prepared paste is applied on the textile and left to dry. This material is 100% eco, as its production process does not cause any pollutions. It is biodegradable, as the base comes from organic wastes and it does not contain any potentially toxic substances.
Cork is a natural and renewable raw material extracted from cork oak with respect to the natural development of the tree. The harvesting process is completely harmless to the trees. The tree is devoid of the cortical pieces layer without damaging the inner part, which regenerates the cork. The bark can be removed for the first time when the tree reaches 25–30 years of age and about 60 cm in circumference. Each tree is harvested every 9-12 years which give us about 12 harvests during one oak’s lifetime. The trees live for about 300 years.
The biggest producers of cork are Portugal (50%), Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, and France.
Cork because of its impermeable, elastic, and fire-retardant properties, is used in a variety of products, the most common is wine stoppers. But not only! It is also a quite common material used in the footwear industry. Cork shoes are comfortable, very light and create a healthy walking environment for your feet. They are odor resistant, totally waterproof and they adapt to the shape of your feet.
There is still plenty of recycled materials which can be used by footwear industry. Rubber, rope or recycled air bags and tires are good examples of them. The production process of air bags shoes is eco-friendly and do not cause CO2 release into the atmosphere. Thanks to the material used, they are very durable and waterproof. Those materials are environmental and animal friendly. By giving a new life to a material that is no longer useful we can create a pair of stylish vegan, ecological and ethical shoes.