The global demand for leather takes a lot of cattle which are cruelly treated and contribute a great deal of greenhouse gasses. Not only that but the processes of tanning and crusting leather actually produce carcinogenic chemical runoff of dangerous heavy metals like chromium. These get into the water systems of places like Bangladesh and China where a lot of leather is produced.
In response to this, the leather industry is adjusting and pursuing safer and more environmentally friendly alternatives to cattle hide. Here are some of the most promising leather alternatives changing the leather game and the garment industry.
Desserto leather is made from Nopal cactus, also known as prickly pear cactus. Top retail leather goods producers like Karl Lagerfeld, Fossil, and Everlane are already using cactus-based leather, and Mercedes-Benz already has seats covered in it. Rather than cows or even other plants, cacti use very little water. Desserto states that it saved 164,650% of water compared to animal leather.
Ananas Anam is a company that recognized the incredibly strong fibers in pineapple leaves and decided to use them in the garment industry. This material is called Piñatex and is now used by Hugo Boss, H&M, Paul Smith, and Nike. About 480 leaves from Filipino pineapple producers are used to make one square meter of material, and it creates hardly any waste.
Palm leather was developed by Dutch designer Tjeerd Veenhoven about a decade ago. He wanted to find a use for the leaves of the 80 million Areca Betel Nut Palm growing in southern India, and discovered that brittle palm leaves became more flexible when treated with glycerin, water, and some other ingredients. Now manufacturers in the Dominican Republic and Sri Lanka produce palm leather that is used in bags, book jackets, shoes, and many other products.