The footwear and apparel industry is rife with innovations that seek to reduce dependence on traditionally employed materials—like leather—that wield adverse environmental implications. From mushrooms to cactus and pineapple leaves, brands and material innovators continue to hack into bio-based solutions that mimic the look and feel of animal hide, but are often made from flora in lieu of fauna.
Italian footwear brand O2 Monde’s latest vegan “leather” is no exception. Founder Mirco Scoccia—a veteran of Bottega Veneta, Belstaff and Tory Burch and the current creative director for Aerosoles—says an adult beverage favored by consumers across the globe could hold the key to footwear’s future.
Styles from Scoccia’s nascent line are made with Vitigna, a leather alternative that originates in Tuscan vineyards, earning it the moniker, “wine leather.” The fully plant-based material is created using the wine industry’s main byproduct, grape marc, a substance that includes stalks, skin, pulp and seeds. What’s more, the material’s development involves a suite of water-free processes that are free of the harsh chemicals used in traditional tanning.
“O2 Monde is the synthesis of this experience and of my desire to disrupt an unsustainable industry with a new progressive model,” Scoccia told Sourcing Journal, noting that his vegan lifestyle also played into his appetite for a plant-based leather option. “My goal is to create luxury accessories that can also be sustainable, cruelty-free and exquisitely handcrafted to honor the Earth’s heritage and protect its future.”
According to Scoccia, the plant refuse that comes from the wine-making process is usually burnt, rather than put toward new products, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere in the process. By contrast, through Vitigna’s process, every 2.6 gallons of wine produces more than a half gallon of fertile grape pulp, from which about 1.2 square yards of wine leather can be made, he said.
Because the end product is made without the use of heavy metals or dangerous solvents, the environmental impact of Vitigna’s wine leather pales in comparison with bovine leathers or petroleum or plastic-based alternatives, Scoccia said. Vitigna has fostered relationships with Italy’s wineries, many of which are willing to part with their grape marc at no cost, he added.
When asked whether wine leather demonstrates the same hand-feel and performance as traditional leather, Scoccia said the easy-to-clean, breathable formulation is just as durable as its cattle-based counterpart. “The final look and hand-feel is comparable to traditional leather in terms of thickness and texture,” he said. “The only difference is that wine leather has no imperfections.”
“I’ve been testing this material for over a year in order to achieve the best result in terms of quality when used on footwear,” he added, noting that after rounds of experimentation, O2 Monde has created a number of styles, from stilettos to sport and casual silhouettes, using the material. The biggest hurdle has been incorporating the new and unorthodox product into the brand’s Italian production channels, which are used to working with premium hides, Scoccia said. “The main challenge I had to face has been convincing Italian traditional shoe factories to try to use these new plant-based materials,” he added.
O2 Monde’s debut line was designed for women who are at the forefront of “promoting the environmental revolution,” Scoccia said.
“The first O2 Monde collection was inspired by a few women environmental leaders who continue to help shape the future as we fight to protect the environment that we all share—our planet,” he said, pointing to the Greta slip-on sneaker, named for young Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, and the Winona mule, named for Winona LaDuke, an American environmentalist, hemp grower and preservationist.
“Each style from current O2 Monde collection is named after one of these brave women and pays tribute to them,” he added.
Currently, all nine styles on O2Monde.com are available for preorder, ranging in price from $288-$328, and each purchase is wrapped in packaging made from luxury label Celine’s upcycled paper goods. For each pair of shoes sold, O2 Monde will donate 1 percent of profits to One Percent for the Planet to offset its environmental impact, Scoccia said.