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Designers Create Vegan Leather from Coconut Water

New startup Made from Malai developed a compostable vegan leather from bacterial cellulose found in discarded coconut water.

Product designers Susmith C. Suseelan and Zuzana Gombosova recently launched vegan materials startup Made from Malai. The duo creates durable leather using “malai”—bacterial cellulose derived from coconut water that is discarded from a factory in Kerala, India—which they can shape into seamless items such as purses. “Nobody thinks of the harm done to the environment and the number of animals that are slaughtered in the process,” Suseelan said. “It’s high time that an eco-friendly substitute for leather is introduced in the market.” Since 2015, Suseelan and Gombosova have experimented with 150 formulations to create the material before finding success with coconut water. The process involves sterilizing coconut water and feeding it to a bacterial culture. The product ferments for 12 to 14 days and is then harvested, refined, mixed with banana fibers, and dried. Made from Malai is currently exhibiting its prototypes to potential manufacturers with the aim of partnering with commercial brands and companies. Similarly, Piñatex—a pineapple-based vegan leather developed by Spanish designer Carmen Hijosa—became commercially available in 2016 and is featured in a new vegan shoe line launched by Hugo Boss this year.

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