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Gucci’s New Animal-Free Luxury Material is a ‘Shoe’-In

Gucci unveiled Thursday a new animal-free luxury material that it says melds quality, softness, durability and scalability with an “eco-friendly ethos.”

The culmination of two years of in-house research and development, Demetra contains upward of 77 percent plant-based materials, including viscose and wood pulp from sustainably managed forests and bio-based polyurethane derived from genetically unmodified European wheat and corn. Described as “pliable and resilient,” the material also contains other, more conventional compounds that are required to maintain performance and aesthetics, though the Italian house says it’s working to replace them with more sustainable versions.

Named after Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and new harvest, Demetra is produced with “intentionally chosen” raw materials and processes that aim for the lowest environmental impact, Gucci said.

Demetra’s manufacturing, which takes place at Gucci’s Gruppo Colonna factory in Tuscany, employs techniques that minimize the unusable parts of the material and curbs cutting waste, the company said. It also undergoes the same heavy-metal-free tanning processes as its cowhide counterpart, imbuing it with a similar texture and finish, Gucci added. As a “next step to support a circular economy,” any scraps will be upcycled through an extension of the Gucci Up program.

The brand has engaged a third-party agency to conduct a life-cycle assessment that quantifies Demetra’s impacts on the environment from cradle to grave. The LCA, Gucci said, will allow it to pin down metrics, such as greenhouse-gas emissions, water use, air and water pollution, and land use, so it can compare Demetra with other materials using parent company Kering’s Environmental Profit and Loss methodology.

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This isn’t another prototype announcement, however. To fete its innovation, Gucci is offering the Gucci Basket, Gucci New Ace and Gucci Rhyton sneakers, which go on sale Friday. The shoes employ Demetra in the majority of their uppers and part of the linings. Other animal-friendly components include organic cotton, recycled steel and recycled polyester. Further sneaker models and product categories will follow, Gucci said, though it emphasized that Demetra is “another offering” that won’t supplant bovine leather entirely.

“In our 100th anniversary year, Demetra is a new category of material that encapsulates Gucci’s quality and aesthetic standards with our desire to innovate, leveraging our traditional skills and know-how to create for an evolving future,” CEO Marco Bizzarri said in a statement. “Demetra offers our industry an easily scalable, alternative choice and a more sustainable material that also answers the needs of animal-free solutions.”

Gucci isn’t keeping Demetra to itself. The firm says it will first offer the material to its fellow Kering subsidiaries before extending Demetra “more widely” to the rest of the fashion industry.

Lux Research, a Boston technology research firm, estimated in May that annual sales of “low-complexity” leather alternatives, which include fruit- and vegetable-derived materials and recycled-material leathers, are likely to exceed $1 billion by 2025 if technological advances and consumer interest continue apace. And if these ersatz alternatives can match the scale and price of natural leather, they will “disrupt the leather industry,” senior research associate Tiffany Hua said at the time.

The fashion industry is increasingly glomming onto these plant-based leathers. Allbirds has invested $2 million to add Mirum to its suite of materials, while Hermès recently bowed a version of its Victoria bag made with MycoWorks’ mycelium-derived Sylvania. H&M has embraced Desserto, made from cactus fronds. Adidas, Stella McCartney and Lululemon, too, will be incorporating the mushroom-based Mylo into upcoming products. (Even so, the materials have their detractors, who decry that many of these faux leathers are only marginally better than plastic.)

Gucci's Demetra is a new animal-free luxury material that melds quality, softness, durability and scalability with an “eco-friendly ethos.”Demetra’s unveiling follows the publication of Gucci’s first impact report, which revealed Wednesday that the company has surpassed its 2025 reduction targets four years ahead of schedule. As of this year, the brand has slashed its total environmental impacts by 44 percent and its greenhouse-gas emissions by 47 percent based on a 2015 baseline.

The report notes that 93 percent of its own operations run on renewable energy, and it’s on track to hit 100 percent by 2022. Gucci also continues to use a “hierarchy of mitigation” of avoiding, reducing and offsetting its emissions to achieve carbon neutrality. Other accomplishments include hitting 95 percent overall product traceability, exploring circular business models through its Gucci Off the Grid line, rolling out eco-friendlier packaging for its stores and online and introducing its Natural Climate Solutions Portfolio for investing in renewable agriculture. To date, Gucci has invested in the protection and restoration of more than 1.9 million hectares of forests, mangroves and other ecosystems.

Social responsibility-wise, Gucci raised more than $17.5 million to support gender equality projects and advocacy through Chime for Change, which funded 442 projects in 89 countries in direct aid of 28,379 women and girls in 2020.

The company donated more than 2.5 million euros ($2.98 million) to support Covid-19 initiatives, including those promoting equitable access to vaccines globally, as well as set up a program with Banca Intesa Sanpaolo to provide Italy’s fashion suppliers with quick access to 200 million euros ($283.3 million) in loans with “favorable terms” during the pandemic. In addition, Gucci’s $5-million Changemakers Fund, which provides grants to community-based organizations, has “positively impacted” more than 52,000 people in 12 cities, it said.

“Our inaugural report illustrates our actions and commitments to be inclusive, sustainable, responsible and accountable in everything we do,” Bizzarri said. “We have surpassed our target to reduce our total footprint four years early, an achievement that underlines our commitment to transformative change. It is our mission to be part of the solution for a better tomorrow and we will continue to build authentic value across our business and in the wider world—value for people, value for climate and value for nature.”