Typically, recycled leather is produced by combining post-consumer leather scraps and fibres with synthetic binders like PU and PVC. This renders the end product non-biodegradable, and also means that chemicals used in the original material (such as chromium VI from the leather tanning process) are carried through.
The ReProLeather development from H&M’s non-profit organisation and the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) addresses these issues through a two-step process. First, post-consumer leather is shredded into high-purity fibres, during which the chromium is separated and transformed into soluble salts or other complex compounds, and thereby removed. The fibres are then mixed with bio-based binders, including sugar and protein. Collagen fibres develop as a result, binding the fibres into a new leather material that is now water-resistant, recyclable, and biodegradable.
While HKRITA has successfully achieved sheets of regenerated leather using the ReProLeather process, it is now looking for industry partners to help it optimise production and scale up.
Greener leather is a huge area of interest across the fashion industry, with innovation driving many exciting material developments.
Meanwhile, we expect to see more nuanced sustainability efforts like this one rolled out across industries, as brands search for production methods and raw materials that are kinder to both people and planet.