There was a time when any question around “future fashion” would bring up sci-fi-esque images of The Fifth Element’s Leeloo in her thermal bandage outfit or Marty McFly’s self-drying jacket without an “eco-friendly” detail in sight. Recently, the development of a number of bio-technology start-ups seeking to provide leather alternatives – as well as sustainable alternatives to other materials including diamonds, cotton, silk and fur – look to disrupt the industry landscape as it stands, providing new, higher-performing alternatives that seek to innovate the way fashion is conceived of, created and consumed.
As one of the most widely-traded commodities in the modern world, the leather industry is a powerful player in the global economy. With an estimated value of approximately US$100 billion per year, the raw material leather trade has long been left unrivaled – until now. Several start-ups globally are finding innovative ways of using natural materials to create leather substitutes. Milan-based company Vegea has developed a way to make leather out of the skins, stalks and seeds of grapes as by-products of the wine industry. US-based MycoWorks is using a mushroom mycelium alternative that’s strong, water-resistant and entirely biodegradable. Green Banana Paper of Micronesia make sturdy, water-resistant leather from the banana leaves that otherwise go to waste following banana harvest and similarly, Ananas Anam in the UK is taking another tropical fruit – this time, the fibers of pineapple leaves – to create Piñatex; the basis for yet another alternative for leather for which even the by-product of the fiber extraction process is then recycled into fertilizer and bio-fuel.
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