The contemporary global leather industry, a vital economic force, faces scrutiny for its environmental impact. Amidst growing sustainability concerns, stakeholders worldwide grapple with the need for eco-friendly practices. Innovations and ethical considerations emerge as key players navigate a landscape increasingly shaped by environmental awareness and responsible consumption.
This project is a research intervention that analyses the material properties, value chain models, and production processes of "Malai," a vegan leather brand by designers Sushmit and Zuzana, to identify potential product applications. The goal is to redefine the brand's value propositions so that Malai can replace wasteful and harmful products relying on genuine leather or its synthetic alternative, "pleather."
Material experiments were conducted to investigate:
a. Ways to improve strength, durability, and tear resistance.
b. Increase resemblance of look/ feel/ texture to animal leather
c. How can we make Sisal fibres soak up the natural dye and colour
d. What can be done with the wasted material post-production to add value?
The tests revealed that Banana Fibre gives strength, Sisal Fibre contributes to texture and binding and hemp fibre causes softness and flexibility.
We also learned that Coir, Jute and cotton could all add strength and thickness. But, they couldn’t solve the problem of tearing. Paper pulp could add flexibility and Gelatin could better the issue of tear resistance. Xantham, Agar-agar and pectin with Guar Gum could add tear resistance and thickness while giving a leathery look.
The intention of refining Malai vegan leather was to redefine the parameters of sustainability and performance. Through meticulous experimentation with raw material combinations, the attempt was to yield a product that transcends the limitations of traditional vegan leather. This was showcased through enhanced strength, thickness, flexibility, superior colour absorption, heightened water resistance, and improved finish.
It is important to note that while the suggested refinements to Malai Vegan Leather offer enhanced material benefits and added value to the brand, the experiments conducted sit in the realm of small-scale production that has only explored the potential for localised, impactful innovation. To make a Vegan Leather like Malai truly sustainable and impactful, it is important to consider how it can be scaled-up, and commercialised in an environmentally conscious manner.