It’s well known that animal agriculture is bad for the planet – and that includes leather. It’s linked to high water consumption, deforestation, toxic chemicals and the production of greenhouse gases, not to mention animal cruelty.
The world is ready for a better type of material. Hannes Parth is the founder of Frumat, an award-winning startup using plants to make a sustainable alternative to traditional leather. He is part of a growing number of innovators who are fueling fruit-and-vegetable-based fashion – in this case, using apples.
Frumat makes use of the byproducts of apple juice and jam processing – specifically, the unwanted skins and cores that would otherwise go to landfill. With these raw ingredients, Hannes has developed a material that looks and feels as good as leather. Having tried everything from grapes and carrots to sugarcane and cranberries, Hannes and his team found that apples produced the best technical results, as well as having the benefit of being available all year round.
“We save these materials from the flames and give them new life,” Hannes explains. “Why burn something if you can reuse it?”
The first products Frumat produced were various papers and cardboards, which soon evolved in the laboratory into a leather-like material – one made solely from waste products – that is recyclable and can be dyed without harmful chemicals.
At Tommy Hilfiger, we were keen to work with Frumat to see how new materials could transform the sustainability of our lines. In 2018, Hannes was selected to take part in the Fashion For Good program – a 12-week accelerator program run in partnership with Tommy Hilfiger’s parent company, PVH Corp., among other partners. We have since worked with Hannes and the team to develop The AppleSkin Sneaker – a shoe with an upper made from 24% recycled apple fiber, launched in early 2020.
“With new materials, the most important thing is to produce something that is useful for the industry – and then work out how to do it in a more sustainable way.”
Hannes explains that successful innovation in materials must always start with the industry need. Sustainable alternatives are not possible without prioritizing performance, utility and relevance. “With new materials, the most important thing is to produce something that is useful for the industry – and then work out how to do it in a more sustainable way. Because if your new sustainable material isn’t usable for an industrial application, it will just be thrown away. Being usable for the fashion industry means it must be beautiful, as well as having all the technical characteristics to make, say, a sneaker.”
Breaking into big business can be challenging, but Tommy Hilfiger is among some of the first fashion brands to embrace alternative materials at scale. It is the combination of startup experimentation and the scale of big brands that can unlock meaningful change. Hannes explains: “Startups and young designers are coming up now who are creating and using alternative materials. Big brands – who have to move slower because of their size – can learn quickly from these smaller, more experimental organizations. Time is needed to develop and industrialize these products for scale, and working with big brands shows smaller organizations like us how to adapt to the needs of the industry and their sustainability priorities. In the last two years – and especially over the last six months – things are beginning to move fast.”
And looking ahead, things are moving in one direction. A new outlook among consumers, particularly the younger generation, means that products like Frumat’s are just the beginning. “In the future,” Hannes says, “people are going to be thinking more and more about how their materials can be more sustainable, particularly more circular. And not only for the environment, but ethically – people are asking, ‘Who made my clothes?’ The new generation are looking for transparency and traceability. The fashion industry has to adapt the materials they use, and their communications, for this new generation.”
At Tommy Hilfiger, we want to create fully circular products that are part of a sustainable loop. The end of one product’s lifecycle should be the beginning of a new one, and our industry needs to do better. So our circle round initiatives are focused on finding creative innovations that can transform the way we make and sell clothes. Read more about our action plan here.