Vegea’s alternative to animal leather

Did you know, over 1.4 billion cows, goats and sheep are slaughtered for meat and animal leather every year? While most animal leather alternatives marketed as ‘vegan’ are made entirely from synthetic materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and more recently polyurethane (PU), both of which are derived from fossil fuels.

The problem with PVC.

PVC is a problematic 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 hormone disruptors, and are both dangerous to humans and ecosystems.

Our perspective on PU.

Polyurethane is safer for humans than PVC, though it is still dependent on raw petrochemical materials. In order to make PU workable 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, though we are aware PUD still relies on petrochemicals and does not biodegrade at the end of its life.

Most of the current plant-derived alternatives available are a combination of different materials, made by merging biomass waste with polyurethane dispersion (PUD) to improve its physical properties. While the addition of PUD helps to create a more durable final product, it stops the material from being biodegradable, making it far more difficult to be recycled.

Our goal is to only use, and continue to develop, petrochemical-free alternatives to animal leather.

What Is Vegea?

Vegea’s grape waste material was born out of a desire to repurpose waste from the Italian winemaking industry.

The solid remains of grapes after pressing (including the skins, pulp, seeds and stems) are combined with vegetable oil and water-based polyurethane (PUD). This biobased material is then coated onto cotton, resulting in a durable material made of more than 70% renewable and recycled raw materials.

Vegea’s material utilizes and repurposes waste materials, thereby extending the utility of the grapes and making the winemaking process more circular. The base material is cotton, and it uses the most environmentally-responsible form of polyurethane on the market.

Unfortunately, this material is not yet biodegradable and is difficult to recycle. With that in mind, we decided to only use this in products that are 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.