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SAVING SKINS: Good prospects for alternative leathers

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The quest for sustainability is getting stronger, and as alternative leathers improve their performance, disruption of the existing industry is becoming more than imaginary.

DIEDERIK VAN DER HOVEN: Leather production has important negative environmental and social consequences. Animals often live in harsh conditions; the sector uses much land and emits a lot of greenhouse gases. Preparing the skins causes a lot of chemical waste and endangers many workers. There is a growing demand for alternative leathers that don’t carry with them such negative effects.

The global leather goods market amounts to $ 400 billion, so there’s a lot of room for alternatives. Lux Research, the Boston-based consultancy company, devoted a report to the rising industries that could fulfil this promise. With the growing importance of sustainability, they write, there is a need for leather materials that are sustainable but do not sacrifice performance. Lux Research classifies emerging alternative leathers into four segments:

Cell-based/cultured leathers – Collagen-based leather from yeast fermentation; bacterial cellulose; stem cell and tissue engineering

– Mycelium-based leathers – Pressing mycelium (fibrous root structure of mushrooms) into a mat; can -alter growth conditions to yield different qualities

– By-product-based leathers – By-products from the food industry, e.g., grapes, pineapples, mangos, or fish; grown feedstocks like cacti

– Other leather innovations – Miscellaneous leather technologies, including CO2-derived, bio-based, and recycled leather

Of these, cell-based leathers hold promise for substituting conventional leather in high-end applications. But so far, they are mainly lab-scale products. Nevertheless, in the long run they and mycelium-based leathers hold a promise for being able to disrupt the incumbent leather industry…

But it will take some time for these products to come to the market at good prices… On the other hand, the quest for sustainability is getting stronger. As alternative leathers improve their performance, disruption of the existing industry is becoming more than imaginary. SOURCE…

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