About Eco Lether™
Since Oct 2020 Italian law has forbidden the use of the word 'leather' to describe any fabric that does not derive from an animal. It is expected that such a prohibition will extend beyond Italian borders over time - in keeping with prohibitions on use of the word 'milk' for non-dairy alternatives and the word 'champagne' for wines not made in Champagne, France.
To distinguish the synthetic cruelty-free alternatives for real leather, 'faux leather' and 'vegan leather' are most commonly used descriptions by brands.
Until recently when more synthetic leather options have been developing, the alternative leather fabric was traditional polyurethane (PU). PU is a plastic coating applied to a fabric base and it is the PU coating which gives the leather look on fabric because it wrinkles in the same way that real leather would do.
'Most faux leathers consist of a knitted polyester base with a PVC or polyurethane (PU) coating. But because they're essentially plastic-based, they come with many of the same environmental problems of other synthetics. They're usually manufactured from fossil fuels and take a long time to break down once they reach the end of their useful life.'
However, PU is not eco-friendly because it contains the hazardous chemical DMF and is harmful to the environment and to workers in its manufacturing.
James&Co does not tailor its apparel in chemicals-based PU or PVC. The vegan sustainable alternative fabrics used by James&Co are sourced from a number of innovative sources that have been expending significant R&D over the years in developing the alternative that is not chemicals-based and is less harmful to the environment.
You can read more about the imperatives and opportunities to ditch traditional polyurethane for the more sustainable alternatives in our book now published on Amazon For The Planet By 2030. Why We Need To Switch To Sustainable Vegan Leathers. (NOTE: new edition underway to remove the word 'leather' to comply with Italian law.)
- Waterbased PU or WBPU we call 'eco'
The earliest lab-grown alternative to traditional PU faux/vegan leather replaced the chemical DMF with water. This alternative is known as waterbased PU, or waterborne PU, or DMF-free PU. WBPU is the usual abbreviation. James&Co simply describes the fabric as 'eco vegan'.
As we expand in Chapter 3 of our book, the development of WBPU is predominantly happening in Chinese factories in response to the expectation that traditional PU will ultimately be banned and to the commitment to sustainability.
This fabric has improved in quality for apparel & is available for James&Co to tailor its outerwear products in as it leads the way to ditch traditional PU fabric for more sustainable fabrics. Read more about WBPU here.
Leading retail brands such as Zara and H&M are also exploring the shift to this fabric, the critical determinator being the its quality for tailoring apparel. As it focusses on the right alternative, Zara has listed the chemical DMF on its Restricted Substance List and banned factories from manufacturing with traditional PU.
WBPU is welcome as an eco-friendly alternative to solvent-based PU. However its manufacture still requires some application of fossil fuels – mostly petroleum-based products. It is therefore not fully biodegradable and this puts it outside the scope of the circular economy.
- Bio-based PU
Technology companies have been focussing on replacing the fossil fuels component of WBPU with environmentally benign inputs.
A more sustainable fabric being developed by technology companies such as Covestro is ‘bio-based PU’. The significant differentiator from WBPU is that bio-based PU is not fossil-fuel based – using instead renewable raw materials such as vegetable oils (castor oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil etc.).
It is said that bio-based components have a 30% better ecological footprint than comparable products made from fossil fuel-resources.
In addition to advantages of lower cost, good thermal properties and acceptable strength properties which applications developed with bio-based PU have, biodegradability is significant.
- CO2 based PU
A specific bio-based PU development is that which captures CO2 from the air and using a chemical process to convert it into new including fibres for textiles. Read more.
Bio-based PU and C02 based PU are not yet commercially available. Until this is the case, all more sustainable synthetic leathers will not b