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The rise in plant-based leather alternatives

By Kristopher Fraser

29 Jul 2022

Fashion

Image: Ganni x Mylo, mushroom leather bag

To this day, leather is one of the most coveted and standard brand materials in fashion. Leather is also the material behind some of the most coveted luxury brands in the world from the Hermès Birkin to the Chanel 2.55. Leather shoes, like virtually any men’s loafer from Salvatore Ferragamo, are also a status symbol.

Leather has long had its place in the fashion pantheon of materials, but as companies work on providing more animal product alternatives, leather alternatives are on the rise. Mycelium, or mushroom leather, is one of the most popular animal leather alternatives on the rise. Companies, like MycoWorks, have made mushroom leather so popular, that Hermès adopted mushroom leather for their classic Victoria travel bag.

Mushroom leather is becoming increasingly popular

Stella McCartney, whose entire brand ethos is real leather-free, debuted a mushroom leather handbag at her October 2021 runway show. VegNews dubbed this the world’s first vegan mushroom leather handbag, and it was no surprise Stella McCartney would be the catalyst in the leather alternative movement.

MycoWorks isn’t the only company at the forefront of mushroom leather. New York-based material innovation company New Evocative is also a company to watch, and they were also the company behind Bolt Threads’ Mylo mushroom leather, which Stella McCartney used to create mushroom leather handbags.

Both MycoWorks and new Evocative have seen substantial seed funding rounds and now have multi-million dollar valuations. Competition is growing in the leather category, although demand for leather doesn’t appear to be waning anytime soon. However, consumers who want real leather alternatives are on the rise.

Mushroom leather might be one of the most popular leather alternatives right now, but it isn’t the only one out there. Cactus, apple skin, and mango leather are growing in popularity as well. The term “bio-based leather” refers to these types of leathers.

Searches for vegan leathers are also on the rise, nearly tripling between 2020 and 2021, indicating a potential demand for leather alternatives. On the flip side, luxury leather goods are still expected to grow annually by a percentage of 4.32 percent.

There is concern about what will happen to traditional leather goods manufacturers and producers, but in a post-COVID-19 lockdown world, they appear to be faring well. Luxury brands, like Chanel, whose bread and butter are luxury leather handbags, are doing better than ever. The brand recently reported 15 billion dollars in revenue, and the Chanel Classic Flap Bag is one of the most coveted handbags on the market, fetching an 8200 dollar starting price tag.

The argument made by some in the fashion industry is that leather alternatives aren’t as good or long-lasting quality as genuine leather. This makes it questionable as to if leather goods alternatives are as sustainable as they seem. Leather alternatives are also seen as expensive, and for companies to completely shift their supply chain would be costly. It’s one thing to put out a couple pieces, but to switch a supply chain to full leather alternatives wouldn’t come with a small price tag.

Still, today, it’s important to give consumers choices. Leather alternatives will continue to trend as consumers demand animal-free materials, but the customer who wants traditional quality animal leathers is still a steady demographic.

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