Malai is a vegan skin, an artificial fiber of plant origin extracted from coconut water, which is used by fashion brands as a sustainable alternative to real leather.
A look at the world around us is enough to show that consumerism has actually filtered into even the smallest aspects of our life. Whether it's shopping in malls, or even worse, online shopping, this monetization-driven lifestyle has put a strain on not only our wallets, but our planet as well.
The repercussions in the short term are already unimaginable, as theenvironmental pollution caused by the textile industry it is even the second in the world for damage caused.
Therefore, the need for sustainable alternatives increases and, by embracing the approach of cruelty free fashion, vegan leather is born Malai. A project born in the state of Kerala (India) with the aim of creating a more sustainable alternative to leather of animal origin.
In India, the leather industry is known to be a major contributor to environmental pollution. The project Malai contrasts this industry with the development of skin replacement biocomposites, using sustainable and biodegradable bacterial cellulose, grown in southern India using agricultural waste coming from the industry of coconuts.
Malai is an idea of Zuzana Gombosova and Susmith Suseelan. Ms. Gombosova moved from Slovakia to Mumbai for work, where she met her partner Suseelan.
Researcher of materials and designer of Central Saint Martin College of Arts and Design in London, Gombosova was interested in exploring the potential of microorganisms as a resource for creating more environmentally sustainable alternative materials. Furthermore, she set out with the idea of cultivating and producing cellulose bacterial using a simple ingredient like coconut water.
His partner Suseelan, mechanical engineer and product designer, was fascinated by Gombosova's research and immediately decided to get on board the project. But what's so revolutionary and sustainable about vegan leather Malai?
How did the idea of Malai?
“The advantage of Malai derives from the fact that the raw material used is a waste product. There are multiple coconut mills in Kerala which could contribute and benefit from this project. We then began to experiment with the bacteria present in coconut water, and finally to cultivate them " says Dr. Gombosova.
The interesting thing is that both Zuzana and Susmith did not initiate this study with the aim of discovering asustainable alternative to leather, but it was the end result that made them reflect on the true potential of Malai.
“We were mainly interested in the sustainable properties of cellulose in general. This was our starting point. We wanted to work with it and develop it to make it suitable for commercial use. We didn't know what the end result would be. The initial idea was to create sustainable packaging materials, while fashion and other different applications came out later " says Gombosova.
As they progressed with the experimentation, they realized that the material had a visual resemblance to skin.
They then had the intuition to further explore this "similarity" and subsequently to work on other complementary properties such as strength, flexibility, processing techniques and usability, all characteristics that would have made Malai as close as possible to real leather.
Malai is an ecological vegan leather
Malai is a biodegradable vegan leather and the company has the certification PETA. We are sure that once it is widespread in Europe it can also obtain certification Animal Free Fashion, entering by right into what we sponsor as vegan clothing. Fashion brands could then produce with Malai vegan shoes, vegan bags, and many other 100% cruelty free accessories.
Malai it is a flexible, water resistant and biocomposite material, it looks like skin but feels closer to paper.
"Our production process does not harm animals, consumes fewer resources in terms of energy and water during production, does not use toxic chemicals at any stage of its production cycle" says Gombosova.
The fact that Malai is very flexible, and can be easily modeled into seamless 3D shapes, reducing production costs by making Malai a vegan skin economically accessible.
Malai it stands out from other vegan leathers by prioritizing eco-friendly practices over design, but that doesn't mean the end result is of poor quality.
"We focus on material design rather than product design" says Gombosova.
The available color palette reflects this approach: the range of colors offered by Malai it is the result of suns natural dyes.
At the moment the brand Malai mainly collaborates with fashion companies located in Europe and the United States, however their future plans include expansion in their country, India, a country that does not yet develop a concrete idea of sustainable fashion.
“We seek to partner with people who value the sustainability attribute as much as we do. The strength of the fiber Malai is that you can instantly recognize the material as organic and natural " explains Gombosova.
Gombosova believes that, despite the recent increase in sustainability awareness, India still has a long way to go, a bit like Italy.
“Sustainability in India is still a niche industry as well as in other countries. But many initiatives promoting sustainability on a large scale are growing and this is something we really need. The concept of sustainable fashion is also developing and has been present for a long time in some architectural projects and initiatives " explains Gombosova.
Vegan leathers like Malai they are rapidly spreading around the world, and can be found on the market in large quantities with different purposes and colors. The point is that most of these "fake skins" are synthetic fibers, which, even if they do not come from the exploitation of animals, still create damage to the entire ecosystem, including animals.
Characteristics of Malai
The qualities of the material may vary depending on the blending with other fibers. Example: with Elastan or Lycra you gain in elasticity.
|Does not shrink / discolor
The ecological characteristics of the fabric may vary based on textile certifications or blending with other fabrics.
|Natural - Artificial - Synthetic
|Natural raw material
|Recycled raw material
The certifications that can be assigned to the material, but which vary according to different factors: production company, fashion brand, mixing.
|Global Organic Textile Standard
|Organic Content Standard
|Global Recycle Standard
|Second Life Plastic
|Fair Wear Foundation
This card can only be found on www.vestilanatura.it
How vegan leather is made Malai?
“The water from the brown coconuts is sterilized and prepared as a nutrient for bacteria. After adding the bacterial culture to the sample, we wait 14 days for the cellulose to grow. The cellulose eventually forms a gelatinous layer on the surface, which is called bacterial cellulose " explains Gombosova.
The cellulose is then processed in different ways to create different types of material. We can therefore state that Malai is an artificial cellulosic fiber of vegetable origin.
“We continue to work with bacterial cellulose, which is transparent and very flexible. We also have another manufacturing process, in which we blend cellulose with other natural fibers such as banana, hemp and other similar plants. The extracted gelatinous solution is then spread in sheets, dyed, softened, and made water resistant " adds Gombosova.
This process reminds us of the processing of the Caucciù, natural rubber extracted from trees and mainly used to make shoe soles.
Malai it is spreading in Europe and the United States, but we have no news regarding its use in Italy. By being a substitute for animal skin, fashion brands could create bags, shoes, fashion accessories, and even jackets.
The story does not end there, since despite being the founder of an important project like Malai, Gombosova still feels like the curious researcher who went to India to study the numerous opportunities that this geographical area can offer.
“I want to explore this ecosystem so little known to humanity. According to the scientists, we have explored less than 0,1 percent of the microbial ecosystem around us. The vast range of unexplored resources and knowledge is what really keeps me interested " says Gombosova.
How to wash Malai?
The environmental impact of laundry detergents and household cleaners is devastating to our planet, so we highly recommend using ecological detergents.
Malai is a leatherette and as such it requires a lot of attention when washing. Imitation leathers are more delicate than leather of animal origin, so we recommend removing stains / encrustations with a smooth sponge soaked in a little water and a pinch of ecological detergent. If the stain persists, let it soak for 5/8 minutes.
Do you want to wash your clothes while minimizing water pollution?
- We have selected one of the most sustainable detergent and detergent brands click here to buy an ecological detergent
- You could use a Washing Ball to wash without using detergents click here to buy a washing ball
- You could use the nuovissimo Ecoegg, a nice ecological egg with which you can do about 720 washes click here to buy the ecoegg egg
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