Dec 09 2019

Innovative and fast-growing: furniture made from vegan materials

Cactus leather or mushroom-based furnishings – the latest material developments aren’t only impressive; they’re also sustainable because they can regrow quickly. In this article, we present innovative products that could revolutionise the furniture, fashion and automotive industries.

Cactus leather

It looks like leather and ostensibly feels like leather, too – but it’s made from cactus plants. The leather alternative, which goes by the name of Desserto, was developed by Mexican entrepreneurs Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez. The material is entirely produced from cactus plants and can be used in the fashion, furniture and automotive industries.

It took the company’s two founders around two years to develop the innovative, vegan product. In October, it was exhibited for the first time at “Lineapelle”, Italy’s most important leather trade fair. The material’s organic composition means that it’s soft and well suited for processing. It’s also breathable and easy to dye. 

The cactus leather is partially biodegradable, regrows quickly and is designed to last for at least ten years. This animal-free alternative to leather could therefore drive conventional materials out of the market in the future.

Leather from cactus © Diego Lopez Velarde Olvera.

Lampshades made from mushrooms

British designer Sebastian Cox specialises in the development of furniture made of mushroom mycelium. About three years ago, he discovered a material in the woodlands of Kent that was holding together two branches of hazel. This led the furniture maker to contact the British Mycological Society, which put him in touch with researcher Ninela Ivanova. The pair then experimented with ways in which the innovative material could be used in functional products such as textiles or furniture.

The result was a collection called Mycelium+Timber, a series of simple stools and lamps with a suede-like texture. It was premiered at Somerset House as part of the London Design Festival in 2017.

Having first become interested in bio-based materials in 2015 when he was studying at the Cardiff School of Art & Design, designer Adam Davies also creates lamps made from fungi. The core product currently marketed by his company Tŷ Syml is the pendant lampshade Silo Light, which was originally developed at the request of Brighton-based, zero-waste restaurant Silo in collaboration with designer Nina Woodcroft. Around forty of these sustainable designer lamps are sold each month, mainly to restaurants and environmentally conscious interior designers.

“Vegan design will be as popular as vegan food”

At this year’s Vegan Fashion Week in Los Angeles, designers predicted that vegan design would eventually become as popular as vegan food. Many believe that the trend will take hold as soon as alternatives to animal-based products like leather and wool become more readily available. 

Interior designer Deborah DiMare, founder of VeganDesign.org, has stated that educating consumers about the impact of using animal products in design will encourage more people to take the next step from a vegan diet to a completely vegan lifestyle. 

The designer proposes hemp and bamboo silk blends as alternatives to wool, cashmere or merino. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, DiMare said that, “Anything with a hemp or jute or sea grass mix will give that rough texture that wool has without the gamy smell.” According to DiMare, banana silk and Tencel (made from wood pulp fibres) can also be used as substitutes for silk. 

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