How Faux Fur and Leather Are Going Mainstream

How public opinion is changing fashion’s approach to fur and leather

The Queen made headlines last year when her dresser, Angela Kelly, revealed in her memoir that the monarch switched from animal fur to faux fur for any new outfits added to her wardrobe.

It feels like a royal nod to the changing attitudes people have about fur. A recent report for Vogue Business showed that 66% of adults in the UK and 47% in the US said the use of fur in clothing was inappropriate.

There are signs that attitudes about leather may go the same way.

Man in leather coat

The Times Are Changing

Vogue Business indicates that luxury fashion brands are still expecting ‘leather goods to grow faster than the luxury goods sector as a whole’. But the price for leather has been dropping steadily from around 2014/2015.

And as our attitudes about what we wear and where it comes from change, brands will have to respond in kind.
Consumers want to wear sustainable clothes that don’t deplete natural resources or cause toxic waste during production.
They want to buy clothes from brands with a transparent supply chain that protect the rights of garment workers. And they still want to look good and express themselves through fashion – but not at the expense of another life, be that human or animal.

The same report for Vogue Business showed that ‘37% of people in the UK and 23% in the US think that leather is either a “somewhat or very inappropriate material” to use in clothing.’

That sentiment is fuelling our desire for a more sustainable way to dress, as reflected in search data from Lyst showing that searches for vegan leather are up 54% just in the last quarter.

The list of fashion houses that have stopped using fur is only getting longer: Gucci, Prada, Burberry, Coach, Versace. And Stella McCartney is leading the field when it comes to leather alternatives for her clothes and accessories.

Stella McCartney

However, the traditional way to swap leather for non-leather has been to use polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane (PU). Both of these materials are derived from oil-based plastics. Good for animals, but not good for the planet.

And with global projections for the synthetic leather market to reach $45.41 billion by 2025, the search is on for plant-based material that can replace leather without the water waste, chemical run-off and carbon emissions of synthetic material.

Innovations and Leather Alternatives

Innovations in this space include apple leather from Italian startup Frumat, pineapple leaf fibre from London-based Ananas Anam and 100% natural plant fibre Mirum from US-based NWF.

Ananas Anam produces Piñatex, the sustainably-sourced natural fibre that comes from pineapple leaf. The leaf is leftover from pineapple harvesting. It is normally discarded or burned.

Pineapple Leaf Decortication. Photo by Jacob Maentz
Pineapple Leaf Decortication. Photo by Jacob Maentz

Because it’s a by-product of existing agriculture, there is no additional water, pesticides or fertilisers necessary to produce it. The leftover biomass is used as a natural fertiliser and biofuel. Nothing is wasted once the fibre is harvested.

US-based NFW, makers of Mirum, is another company in this space.

Mirum is a high-performance plant-based material reliant on 100% natural inputs. It is completely free of petroleum-based plastics, including PU and PVC.

High Fashion, Low Impact

High-fashion designers Felder Felder debuted Mirum in their latest collection at London Fashion Week. The sisters were excited to use Mirum because it far exceeds the capabilities of traditional leather sourced from animal hides and can outperform synthetics. It is the first plant-based, 100% plastic-free leather that meets widespread consumer demand and is durable enough to compete with traditional and synthetic leather materials.

“Fashion has a rich history of innovation and problem-solving. NFW understands the fashion industry’s desire for change, and we are working with key industry partners that want to see challenges solved with a scalable solution. It is wonderful to see our partners embracing Mirum,” says Luke Haverhals, Mirum’s CEO.

And because Mirum is a natural material, it’s biodegradable and compostable. It can also be recycled back into new Mirum.

There are even experiments from Modern Meadow with bio-engineered yeast to create collagen that looks and feels like animal leather. The first product is called Zoa.

The fashion industry has lagged behind the food industry when it comes to finding cruelty-free and planet-friendly products and practices.

With everyone from the royal family down to you and I signalling our support of alternatives, it finally feels like they’re catching up.

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