By Chere Di Boscio
At Eluxe, we were horrified to learn that some of the bags and shoes we thought were eco-friendly due to their ‘vegan’ credentials, were actually the worst kind of greenwashing: petroleum-based, heavily polluting and toxic. Vegan accessories promoted by the likes of apparently ‘eco friendly’ Stella McCartney and Natalie Portman were actually no better for the environment than a pair of plastic flip flops from Walmart. Depressing!
But then we discovered some genuinely eco friendly vegan leathers, and now we simply can’t promote them enough–and guess what? Some of the world’s most prestigious fashion brands are using them.
Curious to see what they are? Keep reading!
First up may surprise you: it’s paper. While it may be hard to believe that paper can be as strong as leather, don’t forget that we have featured paper furniture before. So if you can sit on it, it can certainly be strong enough for a handbag, as Bottega Veneta realised when it created their gorgeous paper Carta Giapponese bag last year.
This elegant clutch is made of tightly woven washi, a delicate paper derived from the bark of the fast-growing kozo tree (a Japanese relative of the common mulberry). Once made, the washi is cut, its edges left raw, then carefully woven. Bottega Veneta lined the finished bag with silk and topped it off with blackened brass hardware.
But other designers, such as Paper Handbags by Ilvy Jacobs and Engage Green have also made incredible use of paper in their designs.
Long used as a water-resistant, organic material in floor tiling, cork is widely regarded as being one of the most ecologically friendly materials around.It’s easily recycled, completely natural, and using Cork Oak forests for industry helps prevent desertification and deforestation. Mainly harvested from Southern Europe, there is a particular Cork forest in the Iberian Peninsula that is essential to the protection of endangered species in the region.
No wonder it has been used by large brands like Chanel and Louboutin, as well as smaller, more eco-friendly ones, too. Bonus: its water-resistant quality even allows it to be fashioned into umbrellas!
Waxed Cotton, preferably organic, is a perfect substitute for leather, especially (the normally chemically intensive) patent. Big brands, such as 7 for all Mankind and Marc Jacobs have long used this for jeans and bags, respectively.
The material is also pliable, waterproof, and unlike leather, easily washable, cutting down on specialist textile cleaning bills, and also saving the environment from more dry cleaning chemicals.
A brand new kind of ‘leather’ made from sewable slate stone, this has a matte grey finish and actually looks and feels a bit like paper combined with stone. We love it for the old, battered-leather look it gives to computer cases, bags, belts and jewellery. As it ages, little scratches form on it, making it look like a well-worn stone, whilst softening the material even further. This is a fairly new material, but we think it’s got a rock solid future!
Tree Bark Leather
Similar to cork but made from sustainable timber, wood leather is durable, strong and one piece is never like another, due to the varied natural grains of the product. It can even be made as fine and thin as real leather, to create coats and trousers.
The best tree bark leather is made from fast growing, renewable wood, and is treated with non-toxic chemicals to make it durable, well preserved and flexible enough to sew. Dolce and Gabbana used this material (in the form of Flesswood) to amazing effect in their bags and platform shoes as seen in their catwalk collection last year.