The plant-based leather business is heating up, with Allbirds next to drive innovation.
The company invested $2 million in Illinois-based Natural Fiber Welding, Inc., an innovation of Dr. Luke Haverhals, an outspoken advocate for revolutionary materials that rely entirely on natural polymers. The company’s first product innovation, called Mirum, uses no synthetics or polyurethane — a significant break from oil-based vegan material alternatives.
“Humanity’s dependence on plastic and other petroleum-based products has created a scarcity mind-set that is unsustainable both for everyone’s quality of life and the future of this planet. A new era, one of abundance, will come from the creation of technologies based on sustainable and regenerative methods,” commented Haverhals, who applauded Allbirds’ efforts in always turning toward natural solutions.
Aptly named “Plant Leather,” Allbird’s material taps vegetable oil, natural rubber and other bio-based ingredients and seeks claim as the first “100-percent natural plant-based leather alternative,” with as much as 40x less carbon impact than animal leather and 17x less carbon than synthetic leather made from plastic, according to NFW’s assessments comparing material inputs/outputs on a like-for-like basis to evaluate the full impact. Additionally, the technology process used to make Mirum requires no tanning and no water during manufacturing and dyeing.
Why choose one plant-based leather over another, carbon footprints aside?
Quality and scale were two deciding factors, according to Zwillinger. “Our view is that sustainable solutions are only effective if they can reach a mass scale, and many of the experimental alternative “leathers” we surveyed required scientific miracles, and many were too expensive to use commercially at large scale,” said Joey Zwillinger, cofounder and co-chief executive officer of Allbirds.
Zwillinger believes the investment is a broader signal to how the market needs to evolve to effectively, and cooperatively, tackle the climate crisis.
“This investment is an important part of our commitment to fight climate change, but we can’t do this alone. A true solve for reducing carbon emissions will require global cooperation. We’re thrilled to bring Plant Leather to market knowing the potential impact this could have and hope this helps other brands on their sustainability journeys, as well,” he said.
Plant Leather will be added to the company’s suite of open-sourced eco-materials, which counts other material innovations like SweetFoam. Since Allbirds introduced its SweetFoam material in 2018, which is a sugarcane-based EVA foam, well over 100 brands have incorporated SweetFoam into products, with a number already on the market.
“We hope to see the same thing with Plant Leather, as we truly believe it has the power to revolutionize the industry and drive down fashion’s global footprint,” added Zwillinger.
While Zwillinger held back details, he said more information on Allbirds’ first Plant Leather products will be shared before year-end.
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