Vegan fashion has existed for as long as fashion itself. Thanks to the discovery of a prehistoric cave in the Republic of Georgia, we know flax was used to make linen fabrics since at least 36,000 years ago. Even today, new materials are being used in vegan fashion, the five most innovative of which are listed below.
Cork: Wine producers have known about cork’s unique properties since the 17th century. But the advent of aluminium and plastic wine stoppers has forced the cork industry to look to other markets – including fashion. Cork oaks are harvested every nine years for their bark, which is then steamed to remove impurities and make it more malleable. Portugal is responsible for about half of all cork production, and in the past decade much of it has found its way into wallets, bags, footwear and other fashion items. Not only is cork vegan, it’s also eco-friendly, water-repellent, and as durable as leather.
Piña: Named after the Spanish word for pineapple, piña is a fiber made from the leaves of the pineapple plant. It comes from the Philippines, and is usually blended with cotton, polyester or silk to create textile fabrics for use in formal clothing such as the Filipino national dress, Barong Tagalog. Now piña is making gains in mainstream fashion thanks to patent-pending textile Piñatex. The fibers for Piñatex are extracted from pineapple leaves by Filipino farmers (see image above for the before and after). They undergo an industrial process to become a non-woven textile, and are sent to Spain for finishing treatment to become the leather alternative found in apparel and bags. Best of all, the Piñatex process doesn’t involve silk or any other animal products, making it 100% vegan.
Air: As any biology student can tell you, it is the air-trapping property of down feathers or wool – and not the down or wool itself – that keeps geese and sheep warm. Thanks to the likes of the US Army, which wanted a water resistant, synthetic alternative to goose down, a cruelty-free alternative was developed in the ‘80s and ‘90s. PrimaLoft’s synthetic microfiber thermal insulation material is now used in down-free jackets and activewear. Another brand, Thinsulate, produces featherless insulation materials which it says mimics down when dry and is warmer than down when wet.
Plastic bottles: Recycled goods such as plastics, tyres and rubber have been used in fashion for several years. Now plastic bottles are being used in shoes, bags and wallets, thanks to the recent discovery that they can be turned into fabric. The process typically involves cleaning and shredding the bottles to create plastic flakes. These are turned into thread and blended with other fibers or marketed as 100% recycled polyester.
Mushroom leather: Mushrooms have been sourced for their nutritional, medicinal and psychedelic properties throughout history, and soon will have a role to play in fashion. Two companies produce “mushroom leather” through different processes. Italy’s Grade Zero Espace creates fabric from skin extracted from the Phellinus ellipsoideus, a big parasitic fungus that grows in the wild and attacks trees in subtropical forests. MycoWorks produces fabric from mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus) and agricultural byproducts in a carbon-negative process. It may take a few years of experimentation before mushroom leather finds its place in fashion, but once it does – it’s sure to be popular.