Fashion is obsessed with bio-leather. Will it work for the home?

Plant-based and mushroom-based alternatives to leather are a hot commodity in the fashion world, which means it’s only a matter of time before they make their way into the fashion industry. interior decoration. While vegan design enthusiasts have long endorsed the benefits of bio-leather, it wasn’t until recently that bio-material innovation companies began to focus their efforts on upholstery.

The race for the coolest leather alternative in fashion first gathered pace in March, when Hermès announced that it had tapped biotech brand MycoWorks to create a travel bag made from mycelium. which, of course, already has a waiting list. Days later Stella mccartney unveiled a line of clothing made from lab-grown Mylo mushroom leather, and suddenly mushroom-derived leathers were the material of choice for fashionistas around the world.

Some of the same companies that help fashion brands capitalize on this trend are looking to get into home design. “We are actively working with luxury fashion groups and the brands they integrate,” says Maurizio Montalti, founder of the Amsterdam-based design studio Officina Corpuscoli, which was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York to collaborate with the British shoe designer Liz Ciokajlo from OurOwnsKin on a pair of mycelium shoes called MarsBoots. “However, as we continue to explore the possibilities of biotextiles, we are working to position ourselves in interiors.”

The Volage EX-S sofa by Philippe Starck for Cassina is upholstered in Apple Ten Lork by Frumat, a leather-like material made from apples.Courtesy of Starck

While most faux leathers are derived from plastics (usually a polyester base with a PVC or polyurethane finish), the latest craze centers on biomaterials, particularly those produced from living cells and organisms that are grown in the lab and then chemically treated to create a durable material. , leather-like substance. The most popular of the biofabricated group, which includes everything from cactus-based tissues to pineapple-derived materials, is the mycelium, which is made up of the root structure of fungi. “Although not entirely free of chemicals, alternatives to bio-leather are still much safer and gentler than the real deal,” interior designer and founder of Deborah DiMaré recount Home affairs.

The appeal of alternatives to leather sits at the intersection of a myriad of ethical and environmental concerns regarding the leather production process, from animal rights and workers’ rights to heightened awareness of the impact of leather. livestock industry on global warming. (Cattle are the largest agricultural source of greenhouse gases in the world.) While leather companies have long billed their products as a by-product of meat production, designers like DiMare, who specialize in in vegan and “cruelty-free” interiors, claim that today “skin is more valuable than meat. The fact that biocuffs also bypass the chemical-intensive tanning process provides additional benefits. “Forget about ethics: over 250 chemicals are used in the tanning process, and less than one percent of them have been tested for safety,” says DiMare.

Fashion is obsessed with bio-leather.  Will it work for the home?

Natural Fiber Welding Mirum is a leather alternative made from all-natural materials including rice husks and coconut husks. Courtesy of the BMW Group

It is therefore not surprising that textile manufacturers have strived to create a better substitute for leather. “Faux leather saw a boom in the 2010s when the category was renamed ‘vegan leather’,” explains Luc Haverhals, CEO and founder of the Illinois-based biotextile company Natural Fiber Welding. “But whatever its name – ‘leather’ or ‘vegan leather’, plastic is neither a sustainable nor animal-friendly alternative to conventional leather. “

Biocuffs are replacing alternatives to leather derived from plastic and petroleum with alternatives made up of natural polymers and plant or fungal materials that are widely available and more eco-friendly. “Plants are inexhaustible in their abundance and their ability to meet the needs of the world’s population in a sustainable and circular way that reduces carbon dioxide emissions and material waste,” says Haverhals. “More new plant material grows in an average day on Earth than the total tonnage of all petroleum products produced by humans in a year, and more importantly, plants can be reused and recycled in a system. circular that does not start with energy. – intensive production and result in products in landfill.

However, bio-leather is not perfect. While it takes less time and fewer resources to cultivate material derived from plants and fungi, DiMare says that certain toxic chemicals are generally needed in the post-production process. “There is a lot of greenwashing with biomaterials,” she explains. “Although they are clean and ethical in their raw stage, for use in clothing and furniture, most plant-based materials are treated with planet-destroying petrochemicals.”

And despite all the talk about replacing leather, it’s worth noting that some leather manufacturers are taking strategic steps toward more sustainable production processes. According to the Leather and Hide Council of America, the majority of leather goods sold in the United States are imported from Asia. However, some luxury leather goods companies, including Edelman Leather, only source raw materials from Europe, where breeding and production protocols are much more stringent. “When you improve the animal’s quality of life, it produces a higher quality product,” explains Mark Skerik, president of Edelman Leather. “Good leather can last for generations, which makes it more durable in the long run. “

Fashion is obsessed with bio-leather.  Will it work for the home?

Philippe Starck used Apple Ten Lork in a 16-piece collection for Cassina.Courtesy of Starck

As the search for a truly ethical and eco-friendly leather substitute continues to intensify, DiMare says bio-based materials offer consumers an attractive and sustainable option in the meantime. “To date, biotextiles are the best alternative to genuine leather,” she says. “They are better for animals, workers, public health and the environment. “

The hottest indoor biocuffs today include the Apple Ten Lork from Italian company Frumat, an apple-based leather alternative that Philippe Starck used in a 16-piece collection for Cassina, and the Mirum from Natural Fiber Welding, a fully recyclable material made from rice husks and coconut husks and designed without petrochemicals. BMW and Porsche have recently used the latter for luxury car upholstery and trim. “Footwear and automobiles alone account for about two-thirds of the global leather market, according to the International Council of Tanners,” says Haverhals. “Not only is Mirum scalable, but it’s infinitely adjustable and customizable, a designer’s dream. “

Front page image: BMW recently invested in Mirum, the all-natural, fully recyclable leather alternative from Natural Fiber Welding. Courtesy of the BMW Group

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