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Eco Wings is an International Brand based in Central India. We offer high quality professional handmade upcycled bagsand fashion accessories. We have our own design house and manufacturing unit to evolve innovative designs and styles in green fashion world.

Leather Alternative – Transforming Fallen Leaves into Vegan Fashion Accessories

Ecowings is passionate to transform waste into meaningful innovative vegan ideas. I am glad our vegan movement is widely contributing for saving wild life and environment and inspiring millions of people across the world. Being vegan not only makes you healthy but also protects our environment and makes us feel responsible for our planet.

After our initial success in design and development of upcycled vegan tire tube products we were inclined to come up with new vegan ideas to bring mass impact across the world and intended to connect more and more people with nature’s amazing beauty and its biodiversity.

My most of the learning happens through my observations, surroundings, people to whom I interact and especially during my travel for conducting product design workshops.

The increasing demand of leather and fur products not only indicating threat for animals but also deeply impacting humans who are involved into producing or processing leather. That is why there is a stressing need to evolve new sustainable materials and eco friendly solutions which not only save our planet but also bring harmony and compassion within humans.

Following are the reasons we should avoid leather or fur products:

  • The primary threat to environment involves the dumping of solid and liquid wastes that contains leftover chromium and other hazardous compounds.
  • Burning such waste also creates problem of air pollution due to release of obnoxious gases in the atmosphere which accelerates the problem of global warming.
  • The dumping of solid and liquid wastes in the surface water resources and rivers in particular cause severe water pollution thus, degrading the water quality which adversely affect aquatic creatures. One of the main cause of such pollution is the waste generated from tanneries as every year the global leather industries slaughter more than 1 billion animals.
  • Further the processed leather is not easily and fully biodegradable and normally it takes around 65 years to decompose. On the other hand the process of tanning stabilizes the collagen or protein fibers in skins so that they actually stop biodegrading.
  • As it is well known the process of tanning uses strong chemicals, which are toxic to environment, its biota and humans.
  • It is shocking to know that currently more than 290 million cattles are slaughtered each year for the supply of bags, wallets, jackets and such other life style products. Moreover, this figure is likely to rise 430 million a year by 2025.

Leather as such may not affect human beings, However, the processing of leather and consequent pollution is known to affect human health.

People who work in and live near tanneries are direct victims such hazardous pollution.

  • This may be because of slips and falls on improperly drained floors, exposure to lime, tanning liquor, acids, bases, solvents, disinfectants, and other noxious chemicals. Likewise, injury from heavy machinery or flaying knives, drowning, being boiled alive, or buried in lime, are all some of the other terrifying real hazards specially for the people working in tanneries or living nearby.
  • In leather processing chromium rich chemicals are used which may be inhaled by humans which acts as lung irritant and being carcinogenic increases the chances of lung, nasal and sinus cancer.
  • Furthermore, chromium has been associated to increased rates of asthma, bronchitis, polyps of the upper respiratory tract, pharyngitis and the enlargement of lymph nodes.
  • Once absorbed through unprotected handling, chromium can also cause dry, cracked, and scaled skin as well as erosive ulcerations that refuse to heal known “chrome holes”. Those people who are sensitive to chromium exposure, contact with it will result in swelling and inflammation which is known as allergic dermatitis. It is evident that leather allergy is not due to leather, but actually cause due to the chrome present in it.
    Some of the top leather allergies includes rashes, redness, blisters, itchiness, hives when skin comes in contact with processed leather.
  • The causes of such allergies can be; adhesives, rubber, chemicals, preservatives and chromium.
  • Thus, the production of leather hurts animals, the environment, and the workers who are involved in the manufacturing process.

The above facts and scenarios triggered me to discover new vegan materials. The basic idea for converting a leaf into a sturdy flexible surface like leather started six months back. It was the time when I had one presentation in one of University in Bhopal, M.P. and after finishing that I started my driving from Bhopal to Indore which is in Central India. While coming back to Indore I was crossing a long teak wood lane aside the road and from here the sparked the core inspiration.

Thus, curiosity raised in mind with a simple question–“what happens to the fallen leaves in the forest? “Are they blown away with wind or simply degrade in the soil. I started my research by defining my own problem statement as how a dry leaf can be a flexible material which can be stitched and used for daily life style purpose to replace animal skin or other synthetic leather type material.

Fortunately, my design studio is located in such a green campus which is surrounded by teak wood trees with lush green rosette of leaves.

The society people have hired four people who have responsibility to clean all the fallen teak wood leaves and throw it out of the campus on garbage dumping yard or just burn it. So in daily routine these valuable dry plant material are absolutely disposed without any meaningful use.

One day, early in the morning I took one basket and collected few leaves. Some of these were completely dry and curled but few were partially dry. The next challenge was to make them straight so that it can be bonded with another surface yet maintaining visibility their original texture.

Several experiments went on to develop a single smooth surface with different adhesives and finally we could evolve a nice leaf textured smooth plane surface.

After this several other leaves were experimented and finally I took Sal tree leaves as I found it very sturdy, sustainable, easy to apply and with meticulous texture. Even the feel and fragrance of the Sal leaf is also very appealing.

I started my research and came out with few amazing facts about Sal Leaf.

Sal is also known as Shorea robusta, in scientific language and commonly called Sakhua or Shala tree. It is a species of tree belonging to family Dipterocarpaceae.

This tree is native to the Indian subcontinent, ranging south of the Himalaya, from Myanmar in the east to Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

Sal Tree

Sal Tree

Dry Sal Leaf

Dry Sal Leaf

Cultural Significance:

Hinduism: In Hindu traditions, the Sal tree is said to be favoured by lord Vishnu. Its name Shala, Shaal or Sal, comes from Sanskrit.

Buddhism: Buddhist tradition holds that Queen Māyā of Sakya, while en route to her grandfather’s kingdom, gave birth to Gautama Buddha while grasping the branch of a Sal tree in a garden in Lumbini in south Nepal.

Buddha Birth

This picture depicts the birth of Gautama Buddha, in a forest at Lumbini. The legend goes that directly after his birth, he made 7 steps and proclaimed that he would end suffering and attain supreme enlightenment in this life. The buddha’s mother can be seen holding a branch of a Sal tree for support during birth. In the picture also some gods and other divine powers are visible. (Source :wekipedia).

Also according to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha was lying between a pair of Sal trees when he died.
In Buddhism, the brief flowering of the Sal tree is used as a symbol of impermanence and the rapid passing of glory.

Jainism: Jainism states that the 24th tirthankara, Mahavira, achieved enlightenment under a Sal tree.

Tribal People: DuringTribal people’s marriage, they give invitation in the form of folded Sal leaves, with the little bit of turmeric and rice inside it.

Healing Properties: It also has antibacterial properties that can kill germs as well as bacteria. Herbal cream prepared from Shorea leaves is applied to wounds for quick healing.

Considering all these merits of Sal tree, I was happy and excited to know the strong significance of Sal leaves. The next task was to develop a simple product based on Sal leaves and the first product was a leaf note book.

Sal leaf flexible fabric material:

The process to develop this vegan material is quite simple and as given in following three steps:

  • Dried Sal leaves are bonded with a biodegradable material
  • It is pressed evenly and dyed with natural colors
  • Then, it is dried again and the final touching is done to refine it
  • The final material developed was named as “Lamina” goes for further product development and product design.

Most interesting and inspiring facts of Leaf Fabric (Lamina) material:

  1. While developing the material every single leaf has its own beauty and texture and every surface will have its unique orientations of leaves, which makes every single surface different from each other.
  2. Dry leaves are very thin and light weight, so once the final product gets ready the overall product weight would be very light as compared to any other leather/PU bag.
  3. After the certain age of the product, user can bury it underneath the land and it will degrade naturally.
  4. Touch of every single leaf is so natural and it connects you directly to nature.
  5. Because of its antibacterial characteristic it will not have any allergic effect on human body.
  6. Mass production of leaf based products and articles will create employment opportunities for weaker section people across the world.

Final Products based on Sal Leaves:

Following are the advantages of this material:

  1. Durable and 100% Biodegradable
  2. Cruelty free and helps to save animals
  3. 100% vegan and sustainable
  4. Absolutely natural with amazing texture
  5. Each product has its own individual identity and unique texture
  6. Nice fragrance and healing + antibacterial characteristics
  7. A great alternative of leather and looks like real leather

For further information on Lamina products you can contact at : www.ecowings.in

Kapil Sharma
Founder Director | Principal Designer, Ecowings

Kapil is the founder of Ecowings and passionate for upcycling, innovation and design. He is a Product Designer and has developed numerous upcycled life style products so far for many reputed brands across the world. His products has got international recognition in many countries like USA, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, UK. He is also responsible to inject new innovations and develop sustainable products for the betterment of the environment.