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BETTER “LEATHERS”

1. Barkcloth

2. Cork

3. Recycled Ultrasuede

4. Glazed Cotton

5. Paper

6. Recycled PET Polyester

7. Degradable Polyurethane

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PUT A CORK IN IT

Cork isn’t the most obvious leather alternative, but the oak-bark derivative—which, incidentally, grows back every nine years—distresses with age like the real deal would, without the bulk, heft, or nondescript ubiquity.

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MUST-SEE TV

Olsenhaus was the first footwear label, vegan or otherwise, to use Toray Ultrasuede’s new Ambiance fabric in its Fall/Winter 2010 collection. Comprising 100 percent reconstituted post-industrial material, such as scrap polyester film from junked television screens, the microfiber feels and performs like the plushest suede while resisting sagging, pilling, and fading with aplomb.

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COTTONING ON

Embossed, glazed, stretched, and buffed to a shine, cotton canvas can bear an uncanny resemblance to genuine leather. It’s also water-resistant, requires minimal care and, in some cases, machine-washable.

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PAPER CHASE

Paper as ersatz shearling sounds like an iffy proposition, but Paper No. 9 leverages its ephemeral nature to great effect. The Brooklyn label treats recycled cardboard with natural oils and a good “massage” to render it velvety soft. Backed with canvas for strength, the outer layers gradually wear away with body heat and friction to reveal hidden artwork beneath.

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PET TOPIC

Dinamica, a faux suede made from 100 percent recycled PET, is typically used in the furniture and automotive industries. Beyond Skin got a foot in the door, however, when it became the first footwear company to harness the suede-esque material, which is said to produce 60 percent fewer carbon emissions than conventional polyester.

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PU POWER

Brentano’s “Jetset” is a polyurethane not to be pooh-poohed. Not only has the part-recycled material garnered ISO certification for meeting specific environmental goals, but it’s also degradable, solvent-free, and requires a third of the energy of conventional PU production .