When Tim Brown first founded Allbirds, he aimed to incorporate his native New Zealand’s abundance of merino wool—an underutilized sustainable material—into footwear. Five years on, and the brand has become a favorite among eco-conscious consumers seeking lightweight, sustainable alternatives to athletic or casual sneakers. After the brand took a major leap forward by branching into apparel with a collection of performance-driven basics that offer a refreshing antidote to disposable fast fashion, it’s charting new territory by debuting the first plant-based leather. Called Plant Leather, the new material has a carbon impact 40 times lower than animal leather and produces 17 times fewer carbon emissions than plastic-based synthetic leather.
Originally developed by material innovations startup Natural Fiber Welding (NFW) under the name Mirum, the new plant-based leather contains natural rubber derived from rubber tree sap, as well as vegetable oil, citric acid, and fillers like cork and rice husks. While a number of leather-like products such as Mylo and Piñatex have recently entered the market, these rival materials often require plastic coatings or additives to achieve the same durability. NFW claims that Mirum, on the other hand, is the market’s only plant-based leather replacement that doesn’t contain any petrochemicals. And at the end of its life, the material can be ground up and recycled or placed in an industrial composter.