Allbirds Reveals the World’s First Plant-Based Leather

The American footwear brand will introduce what it claims to be the first leather alternative made entirely from plant-based ingredients.

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. 

“Natural Fiber Welding is creating scalable, sustainable antidotes to leather and doing so with the potential for a game-changing 98 percent reduction in carbon emissions,” Allbirds co-founder Joey Zwillinger said in a statement. “Our partnership with NFW and [the] planned introduction of Plant Leather based on their technology is an exciting step on our journey to eradicate petroleum from the fashion industry.”In late 2020, Allbirds invested $2 million in NFW to help ramp up production and reduce prices, effectively making Plant Leather the first material of its kind to be scalable and affordable to mass produce. The startup plans to soon open a large-scale factory that will allow fashion, footwear, and furniture brands to start placing wholesale orders, and Allbirds footwear using the material is scheduled to hit shelves by 2021.

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