This month, Louis Vuitton, the luxury French fashion brand, unveiled Charlie, its most ecological shoe to date, which is fashioned from vegan leather sourced from an unusual vegetable source. The shoe’s upper is made of Biopolioli, a corn-based substance that is similar to polyurethane but more sustainable, and represents a first for the brand.
The sole (made from 94 percent recycled rubber), the laces (made from recycled fibers), and the tongue patch are all constructed from environmentally friendly materials (which features ECONYL, a material made entirely from waste such as old carpets, fishing nets, and industrial plastic).
The Charlie is made at Louis Vuitton’s production plant in Fiesso d’Artico, Italy, and comes in two styles: a high-top sneaker boot ($1,130) and a low-top sneaker ($1,080).
Reebok, which released a cotton and maize shoe in 2017, is the first major brand to employ a corn-based material in its uppers, ahead of Louis Vuitton. New plant-based materials are making it easier for manufacturers to substitute animal leather and polyurethane (a resin used to make vegan leather) with more environmentally friendly alternatives these days.
Desserto, a vegan leather that is durable, breathable, and environmentally friendly, was created in Mexico by entrepreneurs Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez. The award-winning vegan leather is made from nopal, a species of cactus native to Mexico that is partially biodegradable and lasts at least ten years.
Carmen Hijosa, a Spanish designer, drew inspiration from the pineapple industry to create Piatex, a material formed from the leaves that are generally discarded during pineapple processing. Dole, the world’s largest pineapple company, announced in August that it would convert trash from its Philippine pineapple farms into vegan pineapple leather. The relationship assists Dole in meeting its objective of having no fruit loss by 2025 in order to reduce food waste, as well as contributing to a circular economy by repurposing waste materials to create sustainable leather alternatives.
Mycelium’s mushroom magic is also making its way into the realm of fashion. Bolt Threads’ Mylo, a vegan mycelium leather that can be grown in a fraction of the time it takes a cow to mature—and with far fewer resources—is made possible by the fast-growing mushroom root system.
Fashion Brands Utilizing Vegan Leather
The new vegan corn shoes from Louis Vuitton join a growing list of high-end footwear created from sustainable, animal-free materials. Stella McCartney, an eco-conscious designer, has long pushed the fashion industry in a more sustainable route, and most recently, she joined with Bolt Threads for the Mylo Consortium, a group of designers who are working with the startup to manufacture things made with mushroom leather. So far, McCartney has collaborated with Mylo on a concept corset and trousers, as well as showing a mushroom leather purse on the runway during Paris Fashion Week.
Gucci is taking a unique approach to vegan leather with Demetra, a leather alternative that the brand spent two years perfecting. The new material, which was unveiled in June, is made up of 77% plant-based raw materials, such as wood pulp and viscose, and is tanned in the same manner that leather is, but without the use of animals or harm to the environment. Demetra was shown in three different Gucci sneakers: the Gucci Basket, Gucci New Ace, and Gucci Rhyton.
Athletic footwear is also getting a vegan makeover. Adidas, which is a member of the Mylo Consortium, has been experimenting with the notion of releasing vegan mushroom leather-based Stan Smiths to go along with the vegan leather designs it has already issued in recent years. With the Predator Freak, a vegan leather soccer shoe made in collaboration with World Cup-winning soccer player Paul Pogba and debuted this month, McCartney again partnered with Adidas to bring sustainability to the soccer field.
Nike is also considering a future with vegan leather. The Happy Pineapple line, which debuted last summer, included redesigned versions of classic styles created with Piatex rather than animal hides. The Air Max 90, Air Max 95, Air Zoom Type, and Air Force 1 shoes were embellished with swooshes and logos produced from the unique vegan leather in a pastel-hued selection.
Nike released a vegan line in collaboration with Billie Eilish in September. Eilish has been a lover of Air Jordans since she was a child, and her new vegan sneakers have her signature on the insoles and come in two styles: a neutral taupe Air Jordan 15 and a “Ghost Green” Air Jordan 1KO design, which is reminiscent of the vegan pop star’s previous lime green hair color.
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