Biodegradable Vegan Leather? Yes, It Exists!

Want to know a secret? Here it is: the leather industry is terrified. As plant-based alternatives are gaining ground with designers and consumers, traditional leather is scared of being phased out, which is why it is so quick to attempt to discredit vegan fashion by spreading claims that it's all just “plastic” and bad for the planet. One of its most frequent claims is that vegan leather isn't biodegradable.

By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert. 

In this piece, we will find out the following:

  • What does "biodegradable" mean?
  • Is vegan leather biodegradable?
  • What is MIRUM® biodegradable vegan leather made from?
  • Which brands use MIRUM® biodegradable vegan leather?

You can see our full MIRUM® vegan leather collection here.

What does "biodegradable" mean?

Let's look into what biodegrading means. Put quite simply, “biodegrading” is just a fancy word for “rotting” – a natural process that goes on with many natural ingredients, from fruit and plants to leather. As soon as the skin is taken off a dead animal, it begins to biodegrade. But as the leather industry wouldn't wish for their products to biodegrade in the wearer's wardrobe, it treats the skins with toxic substances such as aluminium, chromium, and coal-tar derivatives in order to, well, keep it from biodegrading. So animal leather is biodegradable in its natural state, but the very unnatural process of tanning alters this.

Is vegan leather biodegradable?

When it comes to the biodegradability of vegan leather, it's true that until recently, most vegan leathers were made from petroleum-derived plastics. Today we have plant-based alternatives such as leather made from apples, wine grapes, cactus and cork to name a few. Many of these, however, are at the moment still not biodegradable – to that point it must be said that they are very new on the market and new developments are still being done to make them as sustainable as possible, including exploring options for biodegradability. 

But what is even more exciting is that the “is it biodegradable?” question is about to be eliminated thanks to new technology and production processes that contribute to creating plant-based, animal-free solutions that are indeed entirely biodegradable.

What is biodegradable vegan leather made from?

One such invention is Treekind, ideated by natural materials company Biophilica. This leaf-based material is still in the development stages and research is still being done to ensure that the material is the best it can be. Treekind is made from urban plant waste, as well as agricultural and forestry waste. It uses only 1% of the water that leather production would use and is entirely vegan. No formaldehyde or pesticides are used in its production, making it even more planet-friendly. The material was developed by former art director Mira Nameth during her MA at the Royal College of Art, and takes about 8 months to biodegrade if submerged in a large body of water.

Another company breaking norms when it comes to vegan leather is MIRUM®. Created by Natural Fiber Welding, this material completely eliminates any plastic-based ingredients, making it a game changer both when compared to animal skins and traditional vegan leathers. The “plants, not plastic” ethos adopted by Natural Fiber Welding means that circularity and biodegradability are at the top of the agenda: MIRUM® is in fact made from plant waste, welded together. Its main components are biodegradable polymers and it contains no synthetic binders. Unlike many conventional vegan leathers, it has no polyurethane coating.

Which brands use biodegradable vegan leather?

MIRUM®'s unique qualities are attracting designers who habitually work with animal-derived leather, including Immaculate brands SENTIENT and Svala.

Svala tell us "We chose to use MIRUM® in the Svala line as it is a beautiful, durable material that has a very low carbon footprint. MIRUM® is currently the only vegan leather alternative on the market that is USDA certified 100% biobased and does not contain any plastic or synthetics. We have been searching for a plastic-free vegan material that resembles luxury leather for a long time and were unable to find exactly what we were looking for until we discovered MIRUM®. We love that MIRUM® does not require any water during the manufacturing and dyeing process and at the end of its life, it can be recycled into new MIRUM® or ground up and returned safely to the earth."

While for SENTIENT, "MIRUM® truly represents ethical and sustainable innovation for SENTIENT, perfectly aligning to our core values and mission statement. It is a material that shows beyond doubt that science can effectively bring solutions to replace animals in the value chain for fashion brands, and that natural materials can perform ideally, without exploiting and slaughtering sentient non-human animals for their skin. This state of the art material proves that humans have the capacity to build compassionate systems and industries.

MIRUM® is 100% natural, 100% bio-based & bioneutral. MIRUM® is the first material of its kind designed to be 100% naturally circular: it can return to the earth as nutrients for future growth at the end of its life. It is made of cork, charcoal, coconut husk, soybean oil and natural rubber, ingredients that are then combined and shaped into sheets and pressed onto a natural fabric backer out of GOTS-certified cotton. It completely avoids any use of plastics, and emits 10x less CO2  than traditional chrome tanned leather."

Another brand that loves MIRUM® is Melina Bucher. This vegan label's sleek, office-appropriate Bailey bag is the perfect example of how far vegan fashion has come – it would be impossible to even imagine that this upscale accessory is, in fact, made from waste. "I found this company over two years ago,” recalls the brand's founder, eponymous Melina Bucher. “At that time, there was nothing more than small samples of a material and a very strong vision: a material that is 100% bio-based, with only natural inputs. Plants, not plastics. I was immediately smiling, as this was exactly what I was looking for!”

You can see our full MIRUM® vegan leather collection here.

Melina Bucher Mirum bag

Bucher also reminds that the term 'biodegradable' is a bit fuzzy, depending on location. “The term is defined very different from country to country. In California, biodegradable means it would need to biodegrade to a large degree in ten days (which would not make sense for any textile material). MIRUM® is bio-neutral, meaning that as it only uses natural raw materials, the material will biodegrade in nature without doing any harm to the environment, and putting nutrients back to the nature itself.”

Bucher went on to create the Bailey bag, its first MIRUM® design. “We are very proud to be one of the first brands worldwide to have launched a handbag made with MIRUM®. It is the first huge milestone in our journey to become a completely circular brand, and I would love to see more brands following.”

Judging from the direction that the market is currently taking, they most definitely will. MIRUM® and others similar to it represent a notable improvement from current systems – and a big dash of hope for the future.

By Sascha Camilli

You can see our full MIRUM® vegan leather collection here.Y

Love sustainable vegan leathers? Take a look at our edits for Cactus Leather, Apple Leather, Grape Leather, Pinatex and Cork Leather

About Sascha

Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Header image from Sentient

For more great content like this in your inbox, sign up to our newsletter, and save 10% off your next purchase, plus great savings throughout the year.

Immaculate Bestsellers

"A superb experience from beginning to end... I have three items, each high quality, beautifully presented... the first place I look for luxurious classic pieces for my wardrobe.”

Victoria, 5 Star Trustpilot Review