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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .