Tanning leather is a toxic endeavor and also quite fatal for animals, but a new alternative bio-based leather promises to be more environmentally friendly. Richard Wool, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Delaware has been working on an eco-leather alternative made from natural fibers and oils. Flax or cotton and plant oils are laminated together in layers to create a breathable, leather-like material. Companies like Puma, Adidas and Nike are working with samples and with Wool to begin using the product and offer more vegan options.
Wool began working on the leather alternative about four years ago to create a more eco-friendly material and to lower the carbon footprint of the textile. The product is made by mixing either flax or cotton fibers with palm, corn, soybean and other plant oils. This mixture is laminated together in layers to create something that feels and acts like animal leather. “The designers love it because it gives them a whole element of design that they didn’t have before when they were trying to work with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as an artificial leather substitute,” Wool said. “And it’s breathable. It’s not like a plastic that would make your foot sweaty if you wore it.”
This non-plastic, vegan option is all bio based and doesn’t harm any animals in the process or release toxic tanning chemicals into the environment. Major sportswear brands, Puma, Adidas and Nike have all gotten samples from Wool and Puma has even made a pair of test shoes with the material. Wool and his researchers are currently working out some kinks of the material, like the stiffness and making it so the stitching doesn’t break, but there is hope that soon it will become a much better option than PVC “pleather”.