This post contains a list of vegan, cruelty-free and sustainable fabrics you can look out for as alternatives to leather, silk, animal-sourced yarn and down. Cruelty-free fabrics have a reputation for being unsustainable and while all the fabrics on this list are not perfect in terms of sustainability, this post will aim to provide some solutions that reconcile the two factors.
Pineapple Leather | Pineapple leather made by Pinatex is the in-the-know alternative fabric to leather. It has a beautiful crumpled like finish and comes in a variety of shades including metallic gold and silver! The only caveat is that everyone wants this bloody stuff and Ananas Anam the supplier of Pinatex are often met with very high demand. Some cool brands that frequently use Pinatex include Bourgeois Boheme, Ahimsa Collective and Maniwala.
Polyurethane (PU) | PU is known for being less sustainable than leather, but I'm not convinced this is always the case unless you're talking about vegetable-tanned organic leather. I discovered Ultrafabrics a PU supplier who have a range of five-hundred PU fabrics. Ultrafabrics meet the Green Guard Certification, a chemical emissions standard—helping reduce indoor air pollution and the risk of chemical exposure. However, we also have to consider the environmental impact of PU seeing as it's not biodegradable.
Apple Leather | Apple skin made by Frumat is obtained through processing of the leftover skins of apples! Apple skin can be used for the production of clothes, shoes, luggage and leather goods. The output of Frumat is considered to be of low environmental impact, as at least fifty per cent of the total fabric composition is apple fibre, obtained through the recycling of organic industrial waste.
Recycled Car Tires | Vulcana makes woven and non-woven sheet rubber material incorporating recycled post-consumer tires into a material that is suitable for a variety of uses. It comes in a range of colours and thickness and can be further customised to meet specific colour, thickness, and texture requirements.
Recycled Rubber | In 2005 Elvis and Kresse had a chance encounter with the London Fire Brigade. When they learned that London's used fire hoses were heading to landfill sites, they set up Elvis & Kresse to save them from reaching this unfulfilled destiny. For over a decade, none of London's fire-hoses have gone to landfill and over one-hundred-and-seventy tons of material has been reclaimed.
Mushroom Leather | This stuff made by MuSkin is still in the development stages and I have not yet seen a product made out of mushroom leather on the market. Mushroom leather has a very thick uneven finish, which makes it hard for me to see how it could be used in footwear/accessories production, at least for the time being. Nonetheless, it is interesting to see such a creative approaches to material innovation!
Waxed Organic Cotton | Waxed organic cotton is such a beautiful leather alternative! I have a black zip-up pencil skirt that I got from All Saints, which I feel so sexy in and has harmed no animals in the process. I mean how can you feel good when you are wearing dead animals skin? The wax on cotton certainly has a different texture to leather, but it still feels authentic, unlike many synthetics, and mimics the low-gloss look of genuine leather.
Leaf Leather | The only fashion accessories brand I am aware of that is using leaf leather is Thamon. Thamon's designs seem to have developed massively as the company moved from a hippie to more of a contemporary-chic aesthetic. I do not know how sustainable this material is as a resin is used as a process the leaves, but if a sustainable process can be developed this material has huge potential!
Fruit Leather | Look out for this one. Fruitleather Rotterdam is currently developing a process that turns leftover fruits into a durable leather-like material. The material is being further developed so that it will be strong enough to be used for shoes, handbags and other products in the future.
Grape Leather | Vegea makes leather out of waste materials comprising of the skins, seeds and stalks of wine grapes, which are left over after winemaking. Vegea thus offers an eco-friendly alternative and economically sustainable solution to the use of animal or fossil-derived materials. Grape leather can be created in a variety of colours to meet designers needs.
Recycled PET (RPET) | Plastic bottles made from PET are one of the most common forms of plastic waste. Recycling bottles therefore, seems like a plausible solution to deal with landfill waste and ocean plastic pollution. Unfortunately, synthetics such as RPET release thousands of microplastics in the laundering process. However, RPET could be a sustainable solution if we use recycled plastics for items we don't tend to put in the wash.
Peace (Ashima) Silk | Peace silk is a cruelty-free silk that prevents suffering for silkworms. Silkworms are usually boiled alive to prevent breakage of the thread once the moth wishes to break out of it's cocoon. Peace silk is traditionally woven on a handloom giving it a rough finish, which can be a downfall for designers looking for a more refined aesthetic. However, I was very excited to come across Kitty Ferreira, a brand that uses cruelty-free silk, but spins the fibre on a machine loom giving the silk a smoother finish that is suitable for contemporary garments.
Orange Fiber | Orange Fiber is a material made from citrus juice by-products. Orange Fiber forms from a silk-like cellulose yarn that can be blended with other materials to create different finishes. In its purest form, the citrus textile is exceptionally light-weight and has a soft and silky texture that can be opaque or translucent depending on the desired finish. A bloody awesome invention if you ask me!
Hemp Silk | When hemp fibre is added to cruelty-free silk it gives the fabric additional strength and durability. Hemp is, in fact, stronger and more durable than any other natural fabric, which means that fabric has a longer lifespan than the vast majority of natural fibres. When If you are interested in learning more about hemp, Patagonia has published studies on the fabric's great potential.
Linen | Linen has a rich history in fashion production and like hemp has been recognised for its strength and durability. Furthermore, the fabric, made from the flax plant, is moth resistant, and when untreated (e.g. not dyed) it is fully biodegradable! Linen can withstand high temperatures and absorbs moisture without holding bacteria making the fabric perfect for lounging about in on a beautiful tropical island ;)
Cactus Silk | Sometimes called Sabra silk, cactus silk is a fabric made from the Aloe Vera Cacti, which is grown in the Sahara Desert. The material is usually hand-loomed in Morocco giving the finished fabric more of a natural and textural feel. The fabric can be dyed in many vibrant colours and is often used for creating cushions and rugs. I don't know of anyone using this fabric in garment production, but it would certainly be interesting to research!
Reclaimed Parachute Silk | Parachute silk can contain minute flaws that are not visible to the naked eye so, for obvious reasons, these pieces are not turned into parachutes! However, with some tactful cutting, the material is ideal for lining accessories. In fact, Elvis & Kresse use reclaimed parachute silk to line all their bags and wallets.
Recycled Fibre Yarn | Recycled fibre yarn could potentially be made from hundreds of different fibres. I have even seen yarn made from recycled Indian newspapers! However, Wool and the Gang's recycled denim yarn seems pretty rad to me (and it was one of the best examples I could find on the internet). Billie Jean is made using upcycled pre-consumer denim waste, which is ground back into fibre and woven into yarn. Using no chemicals or dyes, Wool and the Gang claim to save twenty-thousand litres of water per KG of upcycled material.
Organic Cotton Yarn | Many different brands are selling organic cotton yarn, but I was particularly drawn to STOF & STIL's beautiful organic range available in a range of shades. STOF & STIL's yarn is certified by GOTS, an internationally recognised certification, which guarantees environmentally sustainable production. GOTS ensures that every step - from harvesting to processing and finishing - justifies the labelling of each and every product with a unique ecological certification.
Tencel Yarn | Tina Tape Yarn is a vegan yarn that uses no harmful chemicals and saves water in the process. Wool and the Gang's flat tape is softer than silk and cooler than linen. Furthermore, the yarn uses renewable energy and is made of fibre sustainably sourced from eucalyptus trees. The yarn made out of Lyocell is manufactured by Lenzing in a closed-loop system, which means resources like water and solvents get reused instead of ending up as waste.
Organic Wool | If you're here for the cruelty-free rather than the vegan side of things, organic wool might be an option you are interested in exploring. Garthenor buy raw fleeces from around the UK directly from the farmer with no middleman involved, meaning that all Garthenor wool is fully traceable from sheep to hank. Garthenor's artisan yarns are produced from wool sourced from organic certified flocks in the UK and are blended to create heathery shades in an unrivalled undyed palette.
Recycled Polyester | Instead of using down or new insulation it is now possible to opt for wadding that prevents plastic waste from entering the ocean or landfill. For instance, in their Nano-Puff Jacket Patagonia use PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco, with fifty-five per cent post-consumer recycled content. This insulation is water-repellent, highly compressible and maintains ninety-eight per cent of warmth even when wet.
Note: Fur alternatives have not been included in this list as at the moment, I do not know any cruelty-free alternatives to fur that are not extremely polluting. Please let me know of any if you do!