A nice, rich glass of luxurious red wine is more than just a perfect way to start a weekend. Believe it or not, you can now buy a bag made from your favourite tipple. That's right: the grape industry is behind one of the most sustainable vegan leathers in the world.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist and vegan fashion expert.
In this article, we will find out more about:
-What is grape leather?
-How is grape leather made?
-Is grape leather sustainable?
What is grape leather?
Winner of the H&M Global Change Award, Italian material innovation company Vegea was founded by environmental chemist Francesco Merlino and former leather designer Gianpiero Tessitore. Together, they aimed to solve the issue of sustainability in leather along with the urgent problem of food waste – namely, leftover grapes from the wine industry – to create a high-end vegan material that is garnering them accolades around the globe. Vegea (the name is a combination of VEGand and GEA, Earth) works with multiple winemakers in the industry to collect the waste left over from the process of producing wine (such as skins, stalks and seeds) and transform it into a recyclable, high-performance vegan material. After being pioneered by Italian couture designer Tiziano Guardini, the resulting material has been used for accessories in H&M's Conscious Exclusive collection, as well as interiors for an electric car by Bentley. It's safe to say grape leather is here to stay – its sustainability credentials and its luxe look is guaranteed to keep making waves.
How is grape leather made?
How is this revolutionary vegan leather made? This is where the company's technology comes in. The wine-grape residue is first dehydrated, then combined with vegetable oil and water-based polyurethane (PUD). Finally, it is coated in fabric – usually organic cotton. So yes, it's not entirely plastic-free – but when it comes to environmental impact, innovative natural materials like Vegea are a significant way ahead of both animal leather and petroleum-based faux leathers.
Is grape leather sustainable?
Containing only minimum amounts of non-toxic chemical reagents, Vegea is made with a process that re-uses any water used in its production. And unlike animal skins, wine-grape leather is an actual by-product: as a rule, every 10 litres of wine produces 2.5 litres of waste such as shells, cores, skins, and more. So harnessing this waste, and transforming it into a recyclable, eco-conscious material, is a step forward for sustainability in leather. The material, however, is not yet biodegradable, and the best way to limit its impact on the environment even further is to increase its longevity.
What brands use grape leather?
Vegan brands are pioneering the use of grape leather and helping bring it into the mainstream. From platform boots with a tough, utility-inspired attitude at Bohema; to contemporary sneakers from Zeta and COG; to sleek pouches at NOAH - Italian Vegan Shoes, vegan fashion has wine leather nailed – creating beautiful designs in this material comes as easily to them as drinking a glass of Merlot. And they have a lot of good reasons for using it. “The reason why we use grape leather is that it is pleasantly soft and at the same time water repellent, easy to clean, and durable,” says NOAH founder Massimiliana Delú. “No toxic solvents, heavy metals, or substances hazardous to humans or the environment are used in the production process. Since the grape leather is also made in Italy, it fits perfectly into our range.”
But what about traditional fashion? Aside from sweeping the vegan fashion world, Vegea is making great progress with non-vegan brands. After H&M breaking the mold, more companies have followed. Calvin Klein is the latest to create accessories such as belts, cardholders, and a range of shoes, from Vegea. High-street label & Other Stories has also used Vegea in footwear and bags, and the sustainable vegan leather has also shown up in a shoe range for Le Coq Sportif. Sustainable label PANGAIA has also created a range of sneakers made from this innovative material.
As fashion continues to innovate, many of the new materials that step onto the scene will be vegan and increasingly sustainably produced. Fruit such as grapes have always been around, but today we have the technology and know-how to turn them into fashion – for the good of animals and our planet.
By Sascha Camilli
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.
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