Fruit waste and algae mixed to create biodegradable alt-leather

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

Youyang Song

Alt-leather is on the rise. The vegan leather market – AKA alt-leather – was estimated at US$41.54 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $66.92 billion by 2026. The strong demand for faux or vegan leather is driven by a range of factors, from concern for animal welfare to the impact of traditional leather on the environment. 

More recently, brands like H&M, Converse and Allbirds have experimented with faux leather using a range of materials including fruit waste and recycled plastic.

In Berlin, textile designer Youyang Song has developed Peelsphere, a biodegradable alt-leather from fruit waste and algae. The plant-based textile is versatile and waterproof. It is malleable and can be hardened to create accessories like buttons or softened as fabric for clothing or bags.

“The material focuses on the potential of fruit waste, redefining the relationship between materials and sustainability,” shared Song.

The textile designer says she started experimenting with alt-leather made from fruit leaves after realising there was no biodegradable material on the market for her designs.

The designer was determined to create a plant-based material that could replicate traditional animal leather, with the same qualities, like versatility and strength. 

“I was thinking about developing a biodegradable material that can preserve the smell, the refined texture, and the tactile quality of the fruits,” explained Song.

Fruit waste and algae mixed to create biodegradable alt-leather
Peelsphere / Youyang Song

Song and her team of engineers and designers began contacting local fruit juice suppliers for leftover banana and orange peel. The team then developed a manufacturing process that involves extracting the fibre (natural fabric) and pectin (natural glue) from the peel and mixing it before grinding into fine pieces using a “bio-binder”. 

The dried mixture results in a leather-like sheet coloured using natural dyes cut into different shapes and sizes.

According to Song, the finished alt-leather is a sturdy waterproof material that can be woven or sewn into various products. In addition, once it reaches its end of life, it can be recycled by the Peelsphare studio or the customer itself. 

“The whole process involves only biodegradable ingredients, and the final product is 100-per-cent biodegradable without compromise in the performance,” she added.

“Through recycling, redesign, and reuse, a closed-loop circular design of the material is achieved.”

Peelpshere has won the German sustainability award, the All innovate award from Oxford foundry and the K-generation award from the Kering group. Song was also a nominee for the Ein & Zwanzig World’s design talents 2019 from the German design council and EU-funded Re-FREAM program.

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

A digital content manager based in the Philippines, Kaycee Enerva has written for multiple publications over several years. A graduate of Computer Science, she exchanged a career in IT to pursue her passion for writing. She's slowly practicing sustainability through period cups, and eating more plant-based food.