Here are five leather alternatives probably heading to your living room

Eindhoven – At this year’s Dutch Design Week, several proposals envisioned a near future where cow leather has a smaller market share. As the original is already a resource-guzzling industry, most of the projects on display focused on obtaining materials from sources that are currently seen as waste: from the cycloid scales of salmon that are usually thrown away after the fish are carved into filets to coconut fibre.

But with the carbon ticking clock getting louder, we wondered: How scalable are these proposals? Can these materials go beyond the fashion industry and, with enhanced durability, make it to furniture manufacturing? Here are five projects and their possibilities.

 

[1] THE SOURCE: Linoleum

Photos courtesy of Don Yaw Kwaning

The project
Lino Leather

The designer

How is it made?
Forbo Flooring, one of the largest players in the industry, has a linoleum factory in Assendelft. There, the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate examined how the material gained texture throughout the production process and proposed a presentation where it could be used as wall tiles for acoustic covering or as a vegetal leather alternative for furniture.

Is it strong enough for home use?
Quite so: by mixing linseed oil with jute and pressing a fibre net in between two layers of the material, it gains depth, becomes more flexible and actually self-supporting – while having two usable sides instead of one, which decreases material waste for furniture applications. ‘It ends up being similar to saddle leather, and can be used on a flexible chair seat or as upholstery for a couch,’ he explained.

Is it scalable?
The material is still in an initial development phase, but since the Forbo machinery is already available for large-scale use for a different purpose, the Dutch designer sees this leather-manufacturing application as highly viable.

 

[2] THE SOURCE: Coconut fibre

Photos by Christel Ooms and Reinout van den Bergh

The project

The designers
Juliaan and Erica Bol

How is it made?
The team uses coconut fibre with sun-dried rubber pressed together to make a series of bags.

Is it strong enough for home use?
Not for a full range of applications.

Is it scalable?
Up until now it has been a small-scale production with a social-local focus, as part of their sustainable process. Nevertheless, two years after starting the project, there has been an uptick in sales, pointing to the market’s increasing receptiveness.

 

[3] THE SOURCE: Fish skin

Photos courtesy of NyVidd

The project
, the Dutch agent for Atlantic Leather

The designer
Cees van de Ven

How is it made?
Icelanders have made shoes from catfish skin waste for as long as they’ve been telling sagas, but this approach is quite savvy: mothership producer Atlantic Leather is expanding the range to include some supermarket-friendly species – including salmon – and experimenting with tanning techniques, with resulting shades that go from green to violet.

Is it strong enough for home use?
Iceland is the land of volcanoes, geysers and Björk’s voice – this tradition wouldn’t have become one unless those catfish shoes weren't able to withstand the natural insanity of the country. It is actually an incredibly strong material, as it has water-resistant qualities due to its high oil composition – for example, the components in salmon leather makes it three times as strong as its bovine counterpart.

Is it scalable?
.

 

[4] THE SOURCE: Animal blood waste

Photos by Charlotte Kin

The project
Meat Factory

The designer

How is it made?
Cows have their blood drained during the slaughtering process, which creates large amounts of a currently unusable byproduct. Livne experimented with the hemoglobin as a colorant, animal fat as a texturizer and skin and bones as strengtheners to create this leather-like biomaterial.

Is it strong enough for home use?
The Eindhoven-based Israeli designer is currently developing projects for the fashion and interior industries, focusing on widening the range of the material’s strength, texture, flexibility and colour varieties.

Is it scalable?
‘The base materials are available in huge amounts,’ she explains. ‘So as long as slaughterhouses exist, the prices will be very low for these waste byproducts.’

 

[5] THE SOURCE: Palm leaves

Photos courtesy of Tjeerd Veenhoven

The project
PalmLeather

The designer

How is it made?
A bio softening solution turns brittle palm trees into a flexible material that works as an alternative for leather with applications for objects from bags to books covers. The leaves are mostly sourced from Southern India, a region where the areca palm reigns supreme.

Is it strong enough for home use?
Indeed, for medium-wear furniture surfaces, as well as wall paneling and upholstery – the ribbed rug is particular resistant to wear.

Is it scalable?
‘It is, and that's something every project I do has to conform by,’ explained Veenhoven. The process might remain artisanal, but in terms of material availability, ‘the maximum output from the south of India is currently 2 billion sq-m and the small setup we have produces around 5,000 sq-m per year.’

Don Yaw Kwaning’s project was part of the Design Academy Eindhoven’s 2018 graduate show. The other projects were showcased in Like Leather, an exhibition on sustainable biomaterials presented at Yksi Expo.

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