Got a friend that you want to persuade to consider earth friendly options but they just love their skin-tight elastane suits and leather shoes a little too much? We’ve got you covered. Here are 11 fashion items that are made with new materials that mimic the quality of carbon-intensive polymers and animal leather, with minimal environmental damage. These fall under the umbrella term “bio-based materials” – materials that are made with biotechnology, utilizing what is already available in nature, including its waste.
High end brands like Hermes and Stella McCartney are early pioneers in working with biobased materials. But many of their products have yet to fully come to market. But some smaller –and more affordable– brands are also making headway.
For example, Pangaia has taken up full-scale adoption of algae-based, biosynthetic silk, and grape leather to manufacture a significant proportion of its products. And indie brands like Santos by Monica and Skin Series are even more agile and ambitious in using biobased fabrics. They don’t even have to make the “switch” to these fabrics –they start with them.
Wondering what exactly can be made from biomaterials? Here are some of our favorites.
Santos by Monica’s Agave Triangular Tote
Looking for a tote that can elevate a casual pair of jeans? Enter the leather totes from Santos by Monica. Made with cactus-based leather, these chic totes have a matte pebbled surface that can please the pickiest leather lover. Cactus-infused leather has the feel and look of traditional leather, but is much more ecological, using only 20% of the amount of water needed to produce a similar bag from animal leather. It is partially biodegradable and long-lasting, ensuring you will enjoy your bags for years to come. All Santos products are made-to-order in NYC.
We love the Agave Triangular Tote in Beige for how versatile it is. The nude color makes it a go-to bag for every outfit, and the triangular shape gives it an interesting edge while maximizing your storage space. Just what you need in an all-in-one tote.
Thanks to advancement in biomaterial science, seaweeds can now be turned into knits. When you’re already wearing natural fabric, why not take advantage of their therapeutic benefits as well? Check out this skin-fitting bodysuit from the brand SkinSeries by British textile scientist Rosie Broadhead. Each cell of the fabric is incorporated with probiotics – a trademarked technology owned by Rosie. This further enhances the already abundant therapeutic properties naturally occuring in seaweed, such as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
A combination of futuristic aesthetic and leisure wear, this gray bodysuit will make the perfect base for your outfit. One that is not only good looking but good for your skin.
If you’re looking for more casual, all-purpose with a hint of athleisure, Pangaia is the perfect place to shop. The company is one of the first to adopt SeaCell, a fiber extracted from brown algae and manufactured by a German company, Smartfiber AG.
Pangaia is known for their comfy loungewear. Our pick is this long-sleeved T-shirt, which is made with a blend of SeaCell fiber and organic cotton. Pangaia took an extra step and treated this t-shirt with its trademarked peppermint oil. That means this t-shirt will stay fresher for longer, so you don’t have to wash it as much. And lo and behold, you’ve just reduced your negative impact on the environment without having to exert any effort!
While it may be a bit pricey and isn’t offered in a rainbow of color options, like most Pangaia products, it’s worth the investment. This black hoodie has a luxurious, smooth feel AND it is not made with any petrochemicals. Instead, it was made with Spiber trademarked brewed protein. This is a biosynthetic material created from a process involving both the work of genetic engineering and the natural process of bacterial fermentation. If you’re someone who spends the majority of time in a hoodie consider this your holy grail.
These sneakers will make a great gift for those who are wine lovers. At first glance, these look like just another pair of leather sneakers, but they are made by repurposed waste from the winemaking industry. The discarded skins, stalks and seeds are transformed into a type of lightweight vegan leather that is perfect for footwear. This integration of the two industries creates a circular system where we can reuse the by-product of one industry as a valuable input for another. They also feature a virtually all-natural rubber sole, and a timeless silhouette.
Peter Do’s SS23 collection made strides in circular fashion as the brand collaborated with bio-based textile company Tômtex. Founded by Vietnamese textile designer Chloe Nguyen, Tômtex creates biodegradable leather from two main sources: chitin from seafood waste and mycelium from fungi. The two looks in Peter Do’s collection showed just how diverse vegan leather finishes can be: the tank top is thinner, has more drape and a subtle cross-hatched pattern; the pants have a supple, weighty look that is the dream of every leather fan.
What we love about Peter’s black leather pants is its combination of comfort, utility and chic. The wide legs give you room to move, without sacrificing style and the environment. Though it has not been available for purchase, this pair of pants is definitely worth keeping an eye out for, especially if you are trying to change the mind of a skeptic of vegan leather pants.
Hermes bags stand the test of time as the must-have fashion item. The French luxury house, known for its leather goods, has recently taken up a notch and embraced vegan leathers made from mycelium – the thread-like structure of fungi. Called Sylvania, the resulting material was created as part of a three-year collaboration between MycoWorks and Hermès to fine-tune mycelium leather for use in its Victoria shopper bag, which is already commercially available. These sheets are tanned and finished by Hermès tanneries in France, much like real leather, to imitate its look and feel from the wrinkling all the way to the subtle color gradient.
First introduced in 2021, Sylvania was used to create the amber-colored panels of Hermes’ Victoria shopper bag. Though the French luxury house has made one step in the right direction, there is still a lot of room for improvements. There seems to be a commercial delay for this vegan version of the Victoria shopper bag, as it was promised to be available from the end of 2021. And, the bag was actually not 100% cruelty-free – Hermès still used animal leather for the Victoria bag’s calfskin handles.
When it comes to role models of sustainability in fashion, no one beats Stella. When Stella McCartney launched 21 years ago, they brought a conscience to the fashion industry as the first luxury house to never use leather, feathers, fur or skin. Rather than a restriction to creativity, that commitment is a springboard for new material innovations. In 2021, the brand launched the world’s first-ever garments made from Mylo mushroom leather, which was innovated by Stella McCartney’s long-time partner Bolt Threads.
The launch included two garments: a black bustier and a pair of utilitarian trousers. Accompanied with the trousers is a long tag that stated “Mylo – made from indefinitely renewable mycelium.” Not an exaggeration at all, if we compare that to all the “60% cotton – 40% nylon” tags. But if we were to pick one, we would go for the black bustier. The shine and thickness of the leather material gives the feminine piece an interesting look that makes it perfect for both a casual event and events where you feel like you should show up looking dressy.
Shortly after the launch of “the world’s first-ever garments made from Mylo mushroom leather”, Stella McCartney debuted “the world’s first luxury handbag made from mycelium”. Still working with biotextile supplier Bolt Threads, the brand followed Hermes’ footsteps and reimagined its Frayme bag in Mylo leather. The brand made extra effort and dyed the Frayme Mylo bag with Bluesign-certified dyes – ensuring consumer and environmental safety.
Although the brand claims it is still “working with Bolt Threads to improve the composition of Mylo”, this bag is definitely worth watching out if you’re a fan of designer bags.
Our last pick is these milky heeled sandals from Bego Vegan Label. These no-finicky slides are perfect for when you need to go in a hurry, and the heels can save you from looking too casual. These two-toned sandals were made with no dye or bleach, keeping the beige and white tones of the natural fibers the same as when they were harvested.
Bego Vegan Label is a Canada-based online brand that focuses on shoes and accessories made from pineapple leather and recycled rubber. The brand is 100% vegan and creates comfortable everyday shoes.
Interview with Mónica Santos Gil: founder of Santos by Monica
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