The raw material space for handbags + shoes is going through much change.
A recent trip to the material fair Lineapelle in Milan was a case in point for how much is changing - the heightened focus on animal leather alternatives is now mainstream. More on this topic in a LinkedIn post I wrote recently.
There have always been non leather options on the market – historically based on a low entry price point for these categories, versus being driven by ethical or environmental concerns – however as the plant based, non animal derived food market has grown, so too has the desire for fashion pieces, in all levels of price architecture, that use no animal products in their manufacture.
I thought it was time to write an update on our material choices – and why. Firstly, the brand is vegan, so using animal derived materials was a no go. I established Sans Beast following a change of heart ethically + environmentally after waking up + educating myself to the multitude of issues with anything animal derived. I was working at executive level in fashion leather accessories + I therefore came to the vegan fashion space armed with a working knowledge of raw material provenance, quality + usability.
Perusing the materials offering at Lineapelle, Milan
A creative VR experience at Lineapelle, Milan
My view when I was sourcing materials for the brand back in 2017 was to find a non leather supplier who produced materials that were non toxic, were REACH + Prop65 compliant, could offer ingredient makeup that could be tested independently + had a range of textures + tones that would appeal to the fashion market we were targeting. Since then, the market has evolved, and I’m pleased that our primary fabric supplier has ensured GRS recycled options that are water based + solvent free, are key in their (and as a result, our) offering.
There have been several plant based innovations come to market over the past 7-8 years, with Pinatex being one of the earliest to launch a product that had a purely plant based substrate. Over the past 5 years, the pace of development has been dramatic – biomass from cactus, mango, apple, mycelium, grape, orange, corn, banana leaves + bamboo have been utilised to create materials designed to take on the animal derived fashion market, aka animal hide tanned leather.
Then there are the synthetics. Also a space that has had much development + innovation over the past decade. Recycled content, water based, solvent free, tactile + pleasing to the eye materials have come to market offering a viable alternative to animal derived leathers. Given the move against fossil fuels + petroleum derived products, due to the climate change imperative, it makes sense that this is where tensions rise + the room divides. Three factors however, are often left out of the conversation: the inherent environmental damage that co-exists with getting animal leather to market, the animal cruelty of industrial agriculture + lack of protection afforded 'farmed animals' + of course, the recognition that fossil fuels are also part of the leather industry.
The inherent environmental damage that co-exists with getting animal leather to market, the animal cruelty of industrial agriculture + lack of protection afforded ‘farmed animals’ + of course, the recognition that fossil fuels are also part of the leather industry.
Mirum fabric samples from Natural Fiber Welding
Innovative materials on display at the Micam Sustainability Lab
On to biobased materials. Despite the snippets of eco word candy that have made it into mainstream press regarding ‘leather made from mushrooms’ + other partially plant based materials – the truth, in our experience, is that several of these materials have not scaled to a level that is accessible to small business, and those that have, still have some barriers to entry. Shipping costs due to lack of availability of material close to our manufacturing partners in Southern China, lack of colour options, size of panels + of course, price, to name a few. I will stress that ALL of these barriers will be overcome in time, and we are here for it. The businesses that are developing these materials are pioneers + an iterative process will be required to build on what they’ve started. I’m confident these materials will become mainstream in the coming years.
Working to bring more biobased materials into our collection is our goal + we are actively working on making this happen for the near term. After launching our cactus ‘leather’ pieces in early 2021 + building on this collection slowly but surely, Appleskin is our next ‘big’ investment (big for us) in 2023, and Mirum by Natural Fibre Welding will follow closely if not, simultaneously. I don’t hesitate to write this for fear of ruining the surprise – indeed, the primary point in writing this is to be transparent about our materials roadmap. I've approached the building of this brand from a design + aesthetic personality perspective, co-existing with ethics, quality, an authentic tone of voice + excellent customer service. In time, there will be more brands that come to market offering vegan handbags - if all we had to differentiate ourselves was the raw material, we'd be lost in a sea of sameness.
I don’t believe our customer cares if we’re first, second or third in the adoption of materials; they do however care that we are making progress. And we care about doing things properly – sampling new materials, testing how they makeup in a bag, logic checking the costing to ensure it will be embraced by our community + then managing the capital to invest in the quantities required to adhere to cost effective minimums.
Change is a constant + the evolution in leather-centric handbag + shoe materials is here to stay, and will continue to iterate + improve. According to various research agencies, the global vegan food market was valued at USD 12.69 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to $61.35 billion by 2028. This is being attributed to increasing environmental concerns around animal agriculture (deforestation, eutrophication, methane emissions etc), human health + growing awareness around animal health + cruelty in the animal breeding + slaughter industries.
Naturally, as education + change grows in one area – ie what we eat daily – progression occurs also in what we choose to buy + wear. We are seeing more + more people join our community – and more broadly, the vegan fashion space. It’s not what it was a decade ago + can no longer be dismissed as a niche market.
We are committed to keeping our community informed on our material roadmap + look forward to welcoming new innovations to our collection in the coming seasons. Stay tuned + thanks for being here.