This month, the California company launched two of its most popular shoe silhouettes—the Assunta three-strap block-heel slide and the strappy Meena heeled sandal—using a new, animal-free leather alternative.
While the material’s characterization calls to mind the substance served with milk at kitchen tables around the country, that isn’t quite accurate, Alison Melville, Reformation‘s general manager of footwear and accessories told Sourcing Journal. “Hate to burst your bubble, but it’s not made of Fruit Loops,” she said. Rather, Cereal Leather is a “low-plastic leather alternative that’s USDA biopreferred, meaning it’s made predominantly of cereal grains.”
The material, produced by Italian manufacturer Coronet, is crafted primarily from organic inputs rather than plastics, which make up most alt-leather options on the market. In popular shades like black, white, neutral brown and bright green, the two shoe styles come in sizes 5-11 and are available for $198 on Reformation.com.
“When it comes to leather alternatives, it’s a common misconception that within plant-based options, the plant makes up the majority of the material,” Melville said. “We’ve explored a variety of plant-based leather alternatives in developing Ref Shoes, but unfortunately almost all are still primarily plastic.”
“Cereal Leather has the lowest petro-chemical contents in the market that also meets our aesthetic and quality requirements,” she added.
Technically, Cereal Leather is a biobased polyurethane—a polymer, or oil, joined by urethane links. According to Melville, these links form by reacting a di- or polyisocyanate with a polyol. “Cereal Leather’s polyol component is biobased, however the isocyanate component is still fossil fuel-derived,” she said. “In this space there currently isn’t technology that allows for a biobased isocyanate.”
The brand settled on Cereal Leather in part because of its ability to hold up to wear and tear, Melville added. “This is so important for shoes, since they are usually the most well-worn items in your closet.” Reformation conducted testing on the material using industry standards requirements for abrasion, tensile strength and flexion, and found its performance was comparable to animal-based leather.
The unorthodox input was the best low-plastic leather alternative that Reformation could currently find on the market—but it’s not halting its search. “We’re collaborating with our friends at the Materials Innovation Initiative, a next-generation materials accelerator, to support the development of a completely plastics-free material,” Melville said, which the pair hopes to open to the sector at large. “Making this type of innovation available to the wider industry is crucial in moving the industry forward towards a shared future.”
What’s more, the styles, like Reformation’s other footwear offerings, are fully recyclable through a take-back program pioneered with Looptworks, which crafts new products like bags and apparel from used goods.
Will Cereal Leather occupy a permanent place on Reformation’s material roster? Melville said the company is working to incorporate the grains-based leather into future collections, “but taking it one step at a time to ensure we get it right.”
“We were able to incorporate this material into our Ref Shoes 2.0 spring launch as a trim material,” she said, “and we are thrilled to offer additional fully vegan options with this capsule collection.” Reformation re-introduced its footwear line after a two-year hiatus earlier this spring.