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Floral Waste: Everything to Know About the Blossoming Vegan Leather Substitute

Vogue Arabia, January 2019. Photo: Eniko Szucs

With more companies experimenting with various unconventional textiles and manufacturing processes, it seems as though their traditional unsustainable counterparts are finally on the way to becoming obsolete. Leather garments and accessories have become staples in the fashion industry and our closets. Their timeless appearance and comfortable, well-worn texture have made them a popular textile for decades. However, if leather seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. Cow-derived leather has a controversial reputation due to the excessive amount of fossil fuels in livestock production, harming employees and the environment. 

Fortunately, fashion brands have started searching for more sustainable leather alternatives. One concept in full bloom? Leather made from floral waste. Continue reading to learn more about this unconventional textile and how it’s contributing to an improved industry and environment. 

The history of floral leather

Born and raised in Kanpur, Ankit Agarwal had long witnessed the gradual deterioration of the Ganga River, which was quickly becoming overwhelmed with rotting flowers. He soon realized his mission to protect it, and he promptly left his job at a cyber-security firm to pursue his goal of creating a sustainable leather-like textile using the floral waste in the Ganga River.

Soon, he teamed up with close friend Karan Rastogi. Together, they launched HelpUsGreen in May 2015, committed to collecting tons of floral waste daily from temples and mosques in India before recycling it at Phool, an Indian bio material startup co-founded by Agarwal. This representation of a circular economy, a sustainable system based on the reuse and regeneration of materials and products, signifies a positive change in direction for textiles and beyond. 

How is floral leather made?

Unlike its animal counterpart, floral leather (or fleather) is made by re-purposing floral waste, which displays texture, elasticity, and durability similar to traditional leather. This faux leather features the same crocodile-skin pattern without significant environmental hazards, making it the ideal alternative. Additionally, fleather is sustainable and cruelty-free, granting manufacturers and consumers total peace of mind.

Where to find floral leather

A concept like this is only effective if enough people support it. Knowing this, Phool has created Fleather prototypes, including sandals, wallets, sneakers, and sling bags. Today, they continue to experiment with various accessories in the hopes of generating and maintaining buzz around this fungi-based leather. 

Fortunately, their efforts have not gone unnoticed, as Fleather was recently a finalist in the 2022 Earthshot Prize, which highlights innovative environmental solutions. Phool has partnered with PVH, the parent company of luxury fashion brands Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, to work on material development. Additionally, Agarwal has revealed that an American fashion retailer has expressed interest in Fleather, ensuring its growing popularity.  

Dedicated to his mission, Agarwal stated, “I want to make animal leather history.” With the rise in natural textiles, like floral leather, it seems that may be a reality one day soon. 

We’ve seen a wide range of unconventional textiles and innovative practices become widely accepted and, most importantly, celebrated. If we continue on this creative path, we can rest assured that more groundbreaking sustainable solutions will gain traction and change the fashion industry for the better.

Read Next: What Makes Vintage Fashion the Superior Sustainable Alternative?

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