Leather for Vegetarians by Fabio Molinas
About the project
Create new material from Cork industrial waste: “Leather for Vegetarians” is a material that imitates the leather but it is created from cork powder, a residue originated when sanding pieces of cork in the process of manufacturing the bottle caps, widely used in wine. This project came out from a design contest led by Corticeria Amorim, the largest cork producer worldwide, in 2012, which was focused on discover new cork industrial applications taking into account sustainability, circular economy, innovation and creativity. It took three years of development and I was leading the process on my own doing extensive of tests and research to find the mixing materials and its proportions to make the “Leather for Vegetarians” behave as I wanted. Currently, there are several challenges to solve: it is possible to re-create a textile that resembles leather in appearance but 100% vegan? Can we substitute the tanning process, known as one of the most polluting industrial processes, with an eco-friendly production? Is it possible to re-boot some industries stuck in the past with new ways of producing commercial goods?
The Cork Industry, how bottle caps are made: Cork grows as a natural covering of the cork’s oak. It is widely used in multiple applications besides bottles’ caps, such as surfaces for walls and floors, furniture, apparel, and of course, clothing and shoes. It has very valuable mechanical properties, such as pressure resistance and light-weigth. It is flexible and waterproof. It is a great, thermal and acoustic insulator, and an exceptional high temperatures resistant. Spain, Italy and Portugal are the largest global producers accounting with almost 76% of the world production. Industry waste: Above all, the caps’ industry generates a large amount of waste. Part of it is used in agglomerated materials (composites). However, the powder generated by the sanding process is stored and burned to use its thermal energy. This practice produces polluting emissions. Powder, being a derivative of cork, is an expensive waste and could be used to create a new environmentally friendly material. Previous examples are the Pellemela, a simil to leather produced from apple waste, and Piñatex, a material generated from pineapple.
Leather for Vegetarians: Thus, we get a new application for the cork and an innovative opportunity for business. Mixed with appropriate resins and heat, the powder becomes an extremely useful and versatile material for developing new and different products, and it has huge potential for adaptation to a variety of existing products, from clothes to shoes, coverings and textile for interior design. This new non-woven fabric demonstrates its usefulness, especially in the field of clothing, due to its flexibility, high temperature resistance and its softness to the touch. It is non-toxic, because the glues added are already used in the production of bottle caps, that are in contact with wine complying with the highest food safety standards. It can be combined with cotton to create sewing products, accessories and coatings, and its colours can be customised adding eco-dyes. The pleasant texture and warm earthy colours of cork powder, make this material an attractive fabric, for everyday use, despite being highly resistant and functional.
I am a multi-awarded Industrial Designer from Sardinia. My career has been developed between Italy, Spain and Portugal. Now a days I work in Madrid in Innovation projects related to product, Interior and strategy design. My passion is to find new ways of using materials, concepts and products giving a twist of their normal uses, finding always a solution in line with the current industrial background.
“When I was a child I had to help my grandfather cleaning the workshop of the small caps factory we have in Sardinia, and besides being bored with the task I had to accomplish, I always thought what could I make with these large amount of powder that the factory produced. Only several years ago, when I became a designer and participated in Amorim’s design contest, I decided to use this waste for something better, the help the human being to be more conscious about the eco-system”
I consider myself a transdisciplinary designer, my most significant works range from the use of energy from household appliances to providing digital tools of innovation for the footwear industry in Europe.
Image: Fabio Molinas