Most vegan leathers on the market are made entirely from synthetic materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and more recently polyurethane (PU), both of which are made entirely from fossil fuels.
Whats the problem?
PVC is a troublesome material, both in its petrochemical origin and its production, as it releases dioxins (toxic chemical compounds) into the environment. PVC-based leather additionally incorporates phthalate plasticizers, which are endocrine (hormonal) disruptors - both dangerous to humans and ecosystems.
Polyurethane is safer for humans than PVC, although it is still dependent on petrochemical raw materials. In order to make PU workable for a vegan leather it must be turned into a liquid using solvents.
Traditionally, PU solvents are high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are harmful to both humans and the environment. However, recent advances in chemistry have developed a less toxic process, known as water-based polyurethane or polyurethane dispersion (PUD), which we use where necessary. This water-based process involves modifiers and other agents in addition to water, which means PUD is a less toxic and harmful process, although we are aware PUD still relies on petrochemical raw materials and does not biodegrade at the end of its useful life.
Our goal is to use petrochemical-free leather alternatives.
We currently use materials that are majority biobased and are produced under responsible conditions.
Most of the current plant derived leathers are a combination of materials, made by combining biomass waste with polyurethane dispersion (PUD) to improve the physical properties of the material. While the addition of PUD improves the properties of the final material, it stops the material from biodegrading fully, rendering the material more complicated to be recycled.
What Is Vegea Grape Leather?
Vegea grape leather was born out of a desire to reclaim and repurpose waste from the Italian winemaking industry.
Here, the solid remains of grapes after pressing (grape pomace, including the skins, pulp, seeds and stems) are combined with vegetable oil and water-based polyurethane (PUD). This creates an eco-composite (a combination) material. This biobased material is then coated onto organic cotton, resulting in a leather alternative made of more than 70% renewable and recycled raw materials.
Vegea’s grape leather utilizes and repurposes waste materials, thereby extending the utility of the grapes and making the winemaking process more circular. The base material is organic cotton, and it uses the most environmentally-responsible form of polyurethane on the market.
Unfortunately, the material is not yet biodegradable and is difficult to recycle. With that in mind, we decided to use the material in a product that is low-wash and long-lasting. We try our hardest to have a mindful approach to design, appropriately matching each material to a product that makes the most sense in terms of sustainability, functionality and purpose.