In the not-so-distant past, you had to choose between fashion and sustainability. The only options available for shoes and accessories could be divided into two categories: leather, and inadequate substitutes.
Traditional leather is one of the oldest and most durable clothing materials known to man. Cured leather is extremely durable, water-resistant, and heat-insulating. Leather can be used for soft, supple applications like gloves and slippers, or for strong waterproof boots. Articles of clothing for every part of your body can and have been made of leather over the years.
Removed of ethical and environmental concerns, traditional leather is a near-perfect material. Unfortunately, we live in a world where environmental and ethical concerns surrounding traditional leather abound.
It goes without saying that leather requires the death of an animal to produce. The raising of cattle for slaughter uses a huge amount of water, both for the animals and for the feed used for them. Cattle also produce a huge amount of methane, a major greenhouse gas.
The desire to live a vegan lifestyle has led people to seek alternatives to leather for a long time, as early as 1914. Early leather alternatives like Naughahyde were made from rubber, plastic, or PVC over a fabric substrate. The fabric provides some structural integrity, while the plastic overlay allows an embossed texture that mimics the appearance of leather.
These pseudo leathers, often called pleather, are water-resistant and resemble leather when new, but there are drawbacks. Pleather stretches and wears out. If it is scuffed, you can’t really bring it back to appearing new. Pleather also melts at a relatively low temperature, so many of the heat-resistant benefits of leather are lost on pleather.
Aside from other issues, leather substitutes made from fossil fuel-based plastics also can cause their own set of environmental issues.
In recent years, there have been several more environmentally friendly alternatives to leather that have reached the market. These leathers use modern science with natural fibers to produce products that are able to mimic more of the attributes of leather while maintaining the ethics of veganism.
There are currently leathers made out of seaweed, cork, and many other natural fibers. One of the most exciting new materials is a product known as mushroom leather.
Mushroom leather was first patented in 2015. When most people think of mushrooms, they think of the visible fruiting bodies, like the ones you might eat. Mushroom leather is made from mycelium, the tough fibers that grow beneath the surface of the soil. By pressing and bonding these fibers, manufacturers are able to make a product that, once embossed, looks and acts very much like true leather.
In order for a leather alternative to be really beneficial, it needs to be able to replace leather completely. Most leather alternatives can only be used in some applications. For example, cork leather makes an adequate substitute for shoes, but it is not great for applications that require flexibility.
Mushroom leather is able to overcome the shortcomings of most other leather alternatives. It is flexible like pleather while avoiding the negative environmental impact of fossil fuel-based plastic. It looks very much like real leather but does not require the six-month raising and slaughtering of a cow. As meat substitutes become more prevalent, there will be less cause for cattle to be raised for other purposes, and leather will become extraneous.
To summarize, Mushroom leather is a fantastic eco-friendly alternative because it is able to mimic true leather, without requiring fossil fuels or the environmentally damaging raising of cattle.