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Luxury Designer Brands Are Investing In Sustainable Bags Made From Leather Scraps And Unconventional Materials 

Luxury designer bags are often made from exotic animal skins, which in recent years has been called out for its harm towards the environment. Now, some brands are shifting their focus to create bags made from recycled materials as a form of up-cycling, and reducing the carbon footprint/environmental impact that comes from traditional designer bag production. 

Coach, for example, just launched Coachtopia, a sub-brand that will be focusing on creating a variety of bags made from leather and other materials that would otherwise have been thrown away and ended up in landfills. 

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Telfar’s vegan bags are also nicknamed the “Bushwick Birkin ” after they grew in popularity in New York. While the bags are still on the more expensive side, the prices are more reasonable for the average consumer looking for a nice sturdy designer bag. 

“Every time you eat an apple, you’re basically eating a handbag,” said Stella McCartney after showcasing her latest collection of bags made from waste such as orange and cacti byproducts. 

The animal leather industry is actually one of the first examples of up-cycling, as the leather is brought from cows who are used for their meat/food, however, the industry is still very wasteful. According to ELeather, an engineered leather supplier, up to 75% of all leather hides are disposed of. 

The Leather and Hide Council of America also released a report in 2019 that stated 5 millions hides went to landfill in America that year. 

The younger generation has also been a driving force in this shift in fashion. In general, Gen Z has been a major player in the fight against climate change and the industries that drive it, especially fashion. 

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According to research, 90% of Gen Z consumers believe companies have an obligation to address environmental and social issues. 54% of the group also stated they’re willing to spend more if it means they’re getting a sustainable product; only 23% of baby boomers had the same ideals. 

Joon Silverstein, senior vice president for global marketing, creative and sustainability at Coach and head of Coachtopia, says that “according to [the company’s] research older generations and more established luxury consumers tend to consider pieces made from recycled leather as low quality. Gen Z has a different mindset – they consider it a moral and ethical [issue].”

There are two major aspects to the leather industry that lead to its waste. When the leather is being tanned at the tannery, the hides are treated and processed into leather using chemicals that make the leather, and its waste, non-biodegradable. The production also takes place in large factories where pollution is consistently emitted. 

Faux leather, like “pleather,” also comes with its faults, as it’s often produced from plastic or petroleum-based materials that have their own environmental issues. 

While this issue is going to take a lot more than a couple brands releasing small collections of sustainable bag lines, it’s hopeful to see sustainability and recycling/up-cycling trends enter the mainstream.

Californian Firm Introduces Sustainable ‘Mushroom Leather’ As Vegan Alternative 

Dr. Matt Scullin is the CEO of biomaterials company MycoWorks. He recently discussed their newest vegan alternative to leather that could help save more than just animals. The scientists behind the alternative believe that mycelium, a material grown from fungi, could help save the planet as it can be engineered to look and feel like real leather. 

“We’re predicting that mushroom leather could be a sustainability gamechanger, unlocking a future of design which begins with the material, not with the object.”

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Fine Mycelium is a patented material that can be grown from fungi in trays within a matter of weeks. The material replicates both the appearance and feel of leather, while outperforming it in strength and durability. Recently, the material made it’s designer debut as an exclusive Hermès handbag.

“It can give the same emotional response as an animal leather. It has that hand-feel of rarity. On a planet of finite natural resources, both the technology and the mindset of carbon-neutral, grown-to-order mushroom leather could be revolutionary, and have implications for innovation in manufacture beyond fashion,”  says Scullin.

“I’m interested in talking to people in creative industries about how the possibilities of fungi can help open the mind to new ideas. I am excited to support the fashion world in its efforts to become more sustainable. There is so much potential in fungi to overcome some of the problems we face,” says Merlin Sheldrake, author of ‘Entangled Lives: How Fungi Makes Our Worlds, Changes Our Minds, and Shapes Our Futures.’

Mushroom leather can be grown in pieces to a specific shape and size as well, which eliminates the need for cutting and wasting product. A recent report from the Higg Materials Sustainability Index found that bovine leather does more environmental damage than any other fabric, including plastic-based synthetic fabrics. This damage is due to the deforestation and gas emissions associated with harvesting real leather. 

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Leather goods account for about 15% of the luxury market, and scientists believe sustainable alternatives could greatly decrease the fashion industry’s carbon footprint. 

“In order to have a substantial impact on sustainability, the material needs to be accessible at a lower price point. We are working with luxury fashion first because they are ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability. These are brands which are in a position to think big and to think long term,” says Scullin.

Sheldrake believes that “one of the overarching lessons learned from studying fungi is reforming the way we think about waste. If fungi didn’t do what they do, our planet would be piled metres high in the bodies of animals and plants.”

“We have been trained as consumers to think in terms of a straight line whereby we buy something, use it and throw it away. Fungi can inform thinking about fashion on lots of levels. This is about material innovation, but it’s also about the culture of making endless new things, and what we can learn from thinking in terms of nature and of cycles instead,” he explained.