The fashion world has been abuzz with talk of leather alternatives for seasons now, looking to everything from mushrooms to pineapple leaves and cactus skin as plant-based alternatives to traditional animal skins.
But despite the environmental and ethical questions shared by brands and consumers regarding the use of cow-hide leather and its chemical-heavy tanning process, the material is one of fashion’s longest-standing staples, favored for its durability, hand feel, and buttery soft appeal.
Brooklyn-based sneaker brand Greats has found a way to harness the most attractive aspects of the material while infusing its production process with circular sensibilities. The brand’s latest release, a take on its signature Royale lace-up, is made from a composite of leather scraps and fibers pulled from cut-offs and production waste that would otherwise be routed straight to landfill.
The new leather formulation, dubbed Eco Leather, is made with 70 percent factory waste, the company said. Scraps are ground up to create tiny leather fibers, then bound together with a mix of recycled materials and a liquid bonding agent to create a durable skin that is 40 percent lighter than traditional leather, and five times more durable. The material is buffed to create a soft, velvety feel, and tanned with a 90-percent water-free process to provide a rich, convincing finish.
According to Greats president Neil Callahan, the material was developed with a new material partner in China that was introduced to the company through its existing supply chain. “The recycled leather is not coming directly from our production stream,” he said. Instead, “it is compiled from leather production streams from multiple industries—from apparel, footwear, handbags, furniture, tools and sports equipment.”
While the Italy, Portugal and China-produced label plans to incorporate Eco Leather into other product lines, Callahan said there are some limitations to the material’s application. “Only white and black Eco Leather exists at the moment,” so Greats will be working on creating alternate color ways moving forward, he said.
The Royale lace-up, which retails for $169, features a Bloom algae foam midsole, replacing traditional polymer-based EVA foam, and a custom outsole made from recycled rubber. According to Greats, the shoe’s carbon footprint is 80 percent smaller than its other styles.