For sustainable society


Food waste made alternative leather

It is known around the world that chrome tanning, which turns animal skins into leather, causes environmental pollution, and to resolve the issue many leather alternatives are being developed. Earlier ecoist has introduced leather alternatives name from cactuses, apples and pineapple leaves, but this time we would like to introduce a new type of leather alternative made from prawn shells and coffee beans.

Vietnamese designer Uyen Tran developed a new type of alternative leather from food waste – Tomtex. The textile name comes from the textiles’ ‘tex’ which means cloth, and added with ’tom’ which means prawn in Vietnamese. The product has a tortoiseshell-like luster and looks hard at first glance, but it is a soft material that can be hand-sewn, sewn, and embossed. 

Tran was born in Da Nang, Vietnam where leather products are actively manufactured, and is currently based in New York. His motivation for developing Tomtex is that there many people and other living creatures are currently suffering from the pollution caused by manufacturing plants. Tran raises concerns about the leather industry and the harm its’ causing to the environment. He mentions that by reusing food waste as a new material for everyday life, we want to help people have a better understanding the environmental issues. 

The raw material used for Tomtex are shrimp and crab shells, as well as fish scales. More precisely, it is a substance called chitin extracted from them. Chitin is a substance which makes the epidermis of insects such as beetles and crustaceans. For example, crab shells are composed of three components – chitin, protein, and calcium carbonate. Chitin has been attracting attention in the medical and food industries in the recent years and various uses are being discovered.  To create the foundation for Tomtex, chitin and coffee grounds are combined. When combined with natural pigments such as charcoal, the color variations such as red, green and ocher have the possibility of being increased. After mixing all the needed ingredients, the mix is poured into a mold and left to dry at a room temperature for couple days. Tran says that as to dry the mixture doesn’t require extra energy it helps reduce the use of electricity.

The uniqueness of Tomtex is that it doesn’t completely harden while drying, and later can be modified as it remain slightly soft. With the help of the 3D printer extra touches can be made to make it look similar to snake or crocodile skin or simply give it an abstract decoration. The mixture made for Tomtex is advanced to be a highly expendable material. ‘By adjusting the manufacturing method it can be customized into materials such as rubber, plastic as well as leather. It can be used not only in fashion but other industries such as packaging, interior, industrial and others.’ Tran mentions. 

‘I don’t think I can design something that doesn’t change shape forever. If Tomtex is brought to landfill, it will biodegrade completely within few months and become a plant fertilizer’ said Tran. 

New materials developed by manufacturing professionals function as a part of society and eventually return back to the nature This means a graduation from an era of mass production of plastics that are not easily disassembled. 


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