Words by Antti Rimminen | English editor Julie Uusinarkaus | Main image: Mylo mushroom leather by Bolt Threads.

The world is hungry for cruelty-free design.

Animal-free “leather” has been available for ages, but thus far they have mostly been oil-based materials such as polyurethane or nylon – and even when made from fully recycled sources they are not the sustainable way forward in the long term.

According to PETA, more than a billion animals are slaughtered every year by the global leather industry, and modern tanning processes are still using chemicals that are harmful to both humans and the environment.

This part of the Material Age series focuses on some recent innovations and possible alternatives to leather. We feature materials made from fruit, mushrooms and even leather grown in the laboratory.

MYLO Mycelium Leather

Mycelium is the underground root structure of mushrooms. It grows as tiny threads that form vast networks under the forest floor.

Bolt Threads is a materials innovation company creating the next generation of performance fibers and fabrics using proprietary breakthroughs in industrial biotechnology. Their first material was a biofabricated spider silk (also featured in our “Fashioned from Nature” article), and they launched their second material Mylo in 2018.

Mylo is developed from mycelium cells by creating optimal growing conditions for it to self-assemble into a supple, sustainable material that looks and feels remarkably like animal leather. Mylo can be produced in days versus years and without the material waste of using animal hides.

Falabella bag prototype made from Mylo, designed by Stella McCartney.

Bolt Threads currently works with brands such as Stella McCartney and Patagonia to bring Mylo to consumers.

Piñatex by Ananas Anam

Photos by Jacob Maentz.

Piñatex by Ananas Anam is a natural, non-woven material made from pineapple leaf fibre which can be used as an alternative to leather and petroleum based textiles. There is approximately 13 million tonnes of waste from global pineapple agriculture every year. The leaves are the byproduct of existing agriculture, and their use could create an additional income stream for farming communities.

Dr Carmen Hijosa is the Founder and Chief Creative & Innovation Officer of Ananas Anam (photo by David Stewart). Piñatex can be coated in many ways: the standard color range includes natural, charcoal, brown, paprika and both wrinkled and flat versions of silver and gold.

Pineapple fibres for textiles are not a new invention, as they are an important part of the Filipino heritage, but this sustainable non-woven by Ananas Anam has true commercial potential for utilizing something that today is considered waste.

Photo by Jacob Maentz.

The leaves (of the pineapple plant, not the fruit) are processed to extract the fibres, and these are manufactured into a non-woven substrate. Sixteen pineapple plants or 480 leaves are needed to produce 1 square meter of Piñatex. Using the waste of the top 10 pineapple growing countries, we could theoretically replace over 50% of the global leather production without planting a single pineapple!

ZOA – Lab-grown leather

Photo by Modern Meadow

Zoa by Modern Meadow is a biofabricated material inspired by leather, grown in the laboratory. It is made of actual collagen, the main structural ingredient in natural animal skin, only this comes from genetically engineered yeast.

The company’s senior materials designer Amy Congdon states that “Zoa is animal-free, but it is built from the same building blocks as leather.”

Video by Modern Meadow

VEGEA: Leather-like textile from grapes

Photo by David Köhler.

The Vegea textile project was born in 2016 for the production of bio-based technical textiles and non-wovens from vegetal raw materials and winemaking by-products: grape marc, a fully vegetal raw material consisting of grape skins, seeds and stalks that remain after crushing the grapes during wine production.

Vegea is a start-up developing and engineering technologies and processes based on biomass and in particular on the valorization of agroindusry by-products by fostering the use of renewable sources as an alternative to fossil sources.

The aim is to produce bio-based materials to be used in fashion & design, automotive & transportation, and packaging.

VEGEA alternative leather

The Material Age is an ongoing series of articles here on Around that focuses on innovative and interesting materials and trends within material design. The aim of this series is to challenge our readers to re-think the materials surrounding them. Click here for previous stories in the series.