A new crop of leathers is popping up and meeting the (environmentally conscious) moment, offering elegant alternatives to traditional materials. By using sustainably farmed plants, fruits and byproducts with lower ecological footprints, these imaginative textiles can capture the lithe look and grains of animal leathers while also producing unique aesthetic effects, introducing tantalizing possibilities for interior design.
That’s what attracted Brooklyn-based furniture designer Bowen Liu to Fruitleather Rotterdam. The Dutch brand makes plant leather from spoiled mangos, resulting in textiles that feature naturally stained pebbled textures and embossed crocodile-like patterns. But Liu intuitively gravitated to Fruitleather’s original mottled finish, which reveals pieces of the mango’s natural pulpy texture and golden hue. “I like showing the details of a material without sacrificing its integrity,” explains the designer. “The pulp and fiber add character that feels authentic.”
This speaks to plant leather’s underlying appeal—one-of-a-kind materiality, and a sense of place and history. Another brand making waves is Desserto, who is producing a leather-like textile from the nopal cactus on its farms in Zacatecas, Mexico. The heritage, drought-hardy perennial is grown without irrigation or pesticides. In the Philippines, Ananas Anam is using leftover pineapple leaf fibers to make their signature Piñatex leather. They recently collaborated with famed British designer Tom Dixon, covering his wingback chairs in metallic Piñatex to create an effect reminiscent of leather crossed with texturized silver.
Such partnerships play a central role in carving sustainable paths forward. For Liu, the key to unlocking plant leather’s potential is creative curiosity. “I’m interested in materials and applying them to the proper applications,” she says. “It’s necessary to touch them and learn about their properties.