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This California Materials Innovator Made a 100% Plant-Based Topcoat for Vegan Leather 

Von Holzhausen on Thursday unveiled a plant-based coating to make truly planet-friendly, plastic-free vegan leather.

In the past decade, a number of leather alternatives have flooded the market promising a “cruelty-free” alternative to animal hides for products like apparel, accessories, footwear and auto upholstery. From Ananas Anam’s Piñatex, made from pineapple leaves, to Bolt Thread’s mycelium-grown Mylo, adopted by brands like Stella McCartney, the non-animal leather market is said to approach $67 billion by 2030, according to Grand View Research. Although many of these material innovations deter the industry away from animal inputs—by way of cork, coconuts, cactus and even coffee—they can still pose environmental problems when it comes to their protective coatings as most with petroleum-based plastics.

Von Holzhausen, a material innovations company known for making bamboo-based Banbū Leather, which was offered as a Tesla upholstery upgrade, has found a way to protect vegan leathers “without the plastic”. Since 2015, founder Vicki von Holzhausen, a veteran of the auto industry who designed luxury cars for Mercedes-Benz and Audi, has been working to create leather and plastic replacements largely from natural, carbon-negative materials. Thursday’s announcement marks the first fruit of this labor: a first-of-its-kind topcoat that’s made entirely of plants. 

“Liquidplant is an amazing moment for us as a company,” she said. For years petroleum-based top coats have been the industry go-to because they create a soft, drapey finish and are easy to use. “We have been able to achieve the same look and feel by only using plant-based inputs,” she added. The ‘performance-driven’ topcoat is pliable and flexible with the same stain, scratch and water-resistance of plastic coatings, except it’s 100 percent plant-based and reportedly biodegradable.

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Manufactured in Los Angeles, not far from the von Holzhausen HQ in California’s Pacific Palisades, Liquidplant is made from a mixture of corn sugar, castor oil and flaxseed oil. Through a proprietary chemical reaction, these naturally derived materials are molecularly modified for durability, providing a wide range of petroleum-free application opportunities for the fashion, auto and furniture industries. 

Outside of leather, Liquidplant can be used to seal various products from cotton canvas to wood flooring and magazine covers—anything that requires a protective topcoat. Because it’s a resin, it can also be imprinted with a variety of textures, such as leather grain or smooth, and offers a full spectrum of mineral-based colors and effects, such as metallic.

Liquidplant is manufactured in Los Angeles from a mixture of corn sugar, castor oil and flaxseed oil.

In accompaniment to von Holzhausen’s breakthrough topcoat, the company also released Terra, a plant-based fiber backing made from discarded corn husks. Manufactured in South China, the Terra backing emphasizes the company’s mission of converting plants into high-performing materials, while supporting a circular system. “With Terra, the concept was to make the lowest carbon footprint possible,” von Holzhausen corn sugar, castor oil and flaxseed oil “Our goal is to be broad and work with different farms and manufacturers to utilize waste that is readily available.” What may be corn husks today may be another over abundant waste product tomorrow, she added.

Currently, von Holzhausen is piloting the ground-breaking vegan topcoat with a client roster of fortune 500 companies from “all sorts of verticals”. It intends to replace existing topcoats on its luxury leather collection with that of Liquidplant by 2024.