What are Biobased Leather Alternatives?

What are Biobased Leather Alternatives?

Biobased Leather Alternatives are Plant-Based and refer to leather-like material that is wholly or partly derived from biomass, such as plants or trees. iFarmaissance uses a variety of biomass sources such grape and apple residue, pineapple fibres and regeneratively grown cactus.

Biobased is a subset of Biomaterials [1] which can also include Biosynthetics and Biofabricated Materials (Biofabricated Ingredients and Bioassembled). Each of these alternatives have their own unique characteristics (good and bad).

Biobased materials include everything from conventional as well as non-animal “leathers” that contain fruit or vegetable waste combined with synthetic polymers, through to a pure cotton fabric or indeed a polyester cotton mix.

Biofabricated ingredients only include microbially produced building blocks for both “natural” and “synthetic” polymers; such as, respectively, silk and nylon.

Biosynthetic materials include the production of chemicals for “synthetic” polymers, such as precursors for nylon and polyester, obtained via catalytic conversion of biomass or biofabricated using living microbes in fermentation processes

Bioassembled materials include ‘leathers’ grown by mycelium, bacteria or mammalian cells..

No new technologies can yet really claim superiority to nature’s materials, particularly real leather. “Centuries of expertise and industrial and artisanal input means that real leather has developed what has been identified as a having the touch of a “noble material”[2] and certain economic benefits reflective of many, many years of adapted industrial engineering. They offer the natural needs and wants of users and consumers with respect to aesthetics, comfort, durability, and price.

In fashion, led by some of the biggest brands on the planet, significant funds have been invested into finding environmentally friendly new generation materials. Generally this investment has been for consortium ventures to further innovation in biomass from waste products such as fruit residues, fibres from pineapple leaves or regeneratively grown cactus, or laboratory grown fungus derivative mycelium.

Despite the millions of dollars spent on the research and development no transformative breakthrough has been achieved. At the same time, poorly managed self-regulation by the industry has meant that there is no consistent benchmarking of new material performance, a lack of control of “greenwashing” statements, and a lack of transparency that inhibits development.

As a consequence the new materials are slow to market, often contain pollutants that are as bad or worse than the fossil based content that they are trying to replace and are simply not a viable or attractive alternatives to natural leathers or synthetic fossil based materials.  

High performing manmade synthetics, based on cheap and polluting fossil fuels, have also raised our expectations of material innovation to encompass properties beyond those offered by nature; super stretch, colour saturation and fastness, performance finishes, extreme durability and so forth.

The challenge for innovators is in understanding deeply what the customer is looking for today and then how to move towards that, acknowledging that the first generation of innovated products will not necessarily be the best; each iteration will bring improvements. The challenge for brands is how to work with innovators on that journey, finding ways to support development so that technical gaps can be closed (or compromises found) in the short term in order to achieve greater success in the long term.[1]

The ultimate test for any of these innovations is a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to determine the actual end to end impacts.

For the present time iFarmaissance have chosen to use only the 4 different biobased leather alternatives in our collections, but we are continually exploring options for new generation materials, which includes our own Research & Development programme, with the aim of reconnecting with Nature through Innovation!

The biobased content percentage can vary from anywhere between 50 – 80% depending upon the biomass source and the processing technology used to create it. There is reduced environmental impact as they are derived from food waste or regenerative farming.

This exciting biomaterial innovation means we may soon be able to bring you a 100% biomaterial that provides a complete circular model from agricultural resources to consumer product to complete non-toxic end of life biodegradability.

References:

[1] BioFabricate & Fashion for Good – “Understanding “Bio” Material innovation”

[2] Meyer, M.; Dietrich, S.; Schulz, H.; Mondschein, A. Comparison of the Technical Performance of Leather, Artificial Leather and Trendy Alternatives. 2021.

[3] [McKinsey & Company & Global Fashion Agenda Fashion on Climate: How the fashion Industry can Urgently Act to reduce its Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

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