Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Enjoy this read and, as always, click the numbers in square brackets to check out all the references!
-glazed cotton is really durable and waterproof, it won’t come apart the way PU and PVC fabrics will because the cotton has a wax (paraffin or bees wax)soaked into it not adhered to it. Once it is treated and heated it gets a shiny appearance[i]
- it is mostly biodegradable because it is cotton treated with wax. That said, some companies use synthetic resins and petroleum[ii] mixed into the wax, neither of which are biodegradable
-it often looks much more like shiny cotton and not really like leather [iii]
-many waxed cotton products need to be re-waxed[iv], sometimes as often as yearly. You do often have to oil and polish leather though so the time commitment is about the same in my eyes.
Barkcloth production in Uganda is on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity[v]. It is an ancient process to create a fabric that is deeply rooted not just in Ugandan culture but in many African, South-East Asian, and Pacific cultures.
- barkcloth can be dyed many colours and does not look like bark[vi], cork maintains its woody look but barkcloth does not. Can be used to make accessories[vii] and even a fully barkcloth trench coat[viii]
- it is very environmentally friendly, much like cork, the trees that are used to produce barkcoth (moraceae family[ix], you’ll recognize trees like mulberry and breadfruit) strip parts of the bark but leave the tree intact. The bark is boiled then dried in strips which are later used to create purses, fabrics, and other textiles. Barkcloth is primarily produced in Uganda and the Mutaba tree (ficus natalensis) is the most commonly used tree.[x]
- it is similar to leather from far away but the feel and the look close up are quite different, this isn’t a bad thing but if you are looking to replace leather it is something to keep in mind
-the texture of barkcloth was very popular in the 50s and 60s but it was not real barkcloth made from trees. If you find vintage barkcloth fabric or pieces it is likely “American barkcloth” or “rhino cloth”[xi] which refers to the style of roughly textured weave made from cotton or a rayon cotton blend so keep this misnomer in mind!
Paper & Poly-Paper
These are probably the least used materials for vegan leather. Not too many companies use them for accessories but a lot of research is showing that they are both a sustainable alternative to other textile options.
-Both paper and poly-paper are often produced using brown paper rolls are used which can be made from 100% recycled paper which is environmentally friendly
-The products can be recycled themselves or will biodegrade if thrown away
-Poly-paper products have a waterproof finish and are quite long lasting. Poly-paper is made by mixing recycled paper with polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)[xii]. The product has the versatility of plastics but can be recycled like paper[xiii]. PVA has been shown to be safe for the environment and non-toxic to humans[xiv,xv]. There are not too many examples of poly-paper accessories but Global Wakeup makes bags using poly paper fibres that are spun into a fabric[xvi]
-Anything made with just recycled paper will not be as long lasting as the other materials on this list
-Poly-paper products have more of a brown paper appearance. It does look nice but it doesn’t always look much like leather
Click here to read about the 3 most common types of vegan leather!