Exploring the innovative world of alternative vegan fabrics

Read Time:   |  19th February 2019

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Charlotte Willis struts out to investigate the cruelty-free fashion fabrics being developed. 

vegan fabrics

Leather is out. Feathers are a thing of the past. Fur is a faux pas. The fashion industry is shunning traditional animal textiles in favour of the sustainable, reused and upcycled. Alternative fabrics are beginning to hit the mainstream, and we couldn’t be more excited to reveal them all!

Veganism and animal skins

I often get quizzed about animal textiles such as leather and feathers. The argument for the use of such materials is that, and there’s no easier way of saying this, the animal is no longer going to need them after their lives have been taken for the meat industry. This logic fails to acknowledge that the leather industry goes hand in hand with both the meat and dairy industries, therefore the purchase of a leather good is an indirect way of funding these harmful and cruel businesses.

What’s more, the vast majority of leather, fur and animal materials that are traded and bought worldwide actually originates from thousands upon thousands of animals who are specifically bred and held captive for the sole purpose of harvesting their skins, feathers and furs. These are all highly industrialised industries, contributing to widespread cruelty, suffering and needless violence towards animals on a global scale. There’s simply no excuse to use animal fabrics any more, but what are the alternatives?

vegan fabrics


Consumers are beginning to put two and two together, linking the leather on their shoes with the calves in the fields, and the wool woven into their coats with the sheep grazing on pastured land. Driving a distinctive shift in consumer demand towards sustainable clothing, our catwalks are reinventing themselves with garments adorned in innovative fabrics as fashion houses ban animal furs in favour of all things faux.

Cork, hemp, apples, mushrooms, pineapple and coconuts – no, these are not part of a recipe for a mythical potion. These natural resources are utilised in the creation of modern vegan fabrics, all ethical, all sustainable and all completely free from cruelty.

vegan fabrics

Vegan leather

One of the most common arguments in favour of leather is that the texture, waterproof nature and toughness of the fabric can’t readily be replicated or matched by any other substitute material. Fortunately, this argument is now null and void!

Textile designers are constantly experimenting with new materials that can be used to replace leather, but retaining the same desirable qualities as regular leather. While this may seem like an impossible task, there have been huge leaps forward in design over the past few years, with the race to create the next best faux-leather well and truly hotting up. Here are some of our favourites:


Cork is natural, durable and waterproof. What’s more, cork is pretty sustainable, requiring minimal treatment to extract and process it, and can be shaped and dyed into a variety of colours and forms. The only downside? You can’t get away from the fact that it does indeed look like cork!

vegan fabrics


Also known as MuSkin, this fabric is made from mycelium (white, fibrous structures) in mushrooms. This fabric is biodegradable, non-toxic and naturally anti-bacterial! This exciting fabric is in the development stages.

vegan fabrics


Waste pineapple leaves are used to create a vegan leather known as Pinatex, which is a totally biodegradable, flexible, lightweight, sustainable and non-woven material made from waste products. Vegan shoe brand Bourgeois Boheme use this fabric in their designs.

vegan fabrics

Detail of texture in a pineapple.


The bacterial cellulose is harvested from coconut water, and is used to create a fabric known as Malai. The product harvests the water from coconut-based food production factories, and utilises it to create a sustainable, waste-free product. Now that’s ingenious!

vegan fabrics

Apple peel

No, you read correctly! Apple peel can be used to create vegan leather (although, given that you have by now read all of the above, perhaps nothing surprises you anymore!). The skin is naturally breathable and resistant to UV damage – protecting the colour of the shoe while also being completely hypoallergenic. 

vegan fabrics

Green runway

With all of these exciting, somewhat intriguing and otherwise fantastical new fabrics in development, where and when can we expect to see these materials popping up on our high street rails and designer catwalks?

Well, not to brag, but any keen reader may remember the UK’s first fully vegan and sustainable fashion show last year, Bare Fashion, which showcased some incredible new vegan leathers and fabrics (OK, maybe just a small brag). But in terms of high street availability, there is scope for such fabrics to be utilised in the future when mass-production can be put into place.

vegan fabrics

Retailers such as H&M and Zara are using recycled clothing to create new collections, which is indeed a huge step forward for such fast-fashion retailers, and showcasing that there is a clear consumer demand for all things sustainable and ethical. We are also beginning to see clear labelling of ‘fake leather’ or ‘vegan leather’ alongside tags and labels, making identification of vegan goods easier.

We need to see more growth in the market for sustainable garments. Unfortunately, it seems that alt.fabrics are still considered by many high street chains as a niche. I believe we are in the exciting era of fashion-reincarnation, whereby consumer demand for sustainable materials will facilitate a huge leap forward in awareness of innovative designers, whose materials help promote sustainability and reduce our toxic output into the ecosystem upon which we rely. Until then, these fabrics are available from independent retailers online, and can be found at most vegan festivals around the UK. Now that’s fashion that’s truly show-stopping.

Written by

Charlotte Willis

Charlotte Willis is an Assistant Psychologist at the University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and has a MS degree in Clinical Neuropsychiatry from Kings College London. Charlotte is also a marketer for ethical brands, author of Vegan: Do It! A young person’s guide to living a vegan lifestyle, and a regular contributor to sustainability and plant-based publications.

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