This Startup is Making Vegan Leather Fashionable (Again)

By Akudo McGee 6 Min Read

Hey there, it’s time to talk about what’s in your pants…well pants pocket or handbag to be specific and less creepy. That’s right, your wallet (or purse)! Chances are you likely purchased it without a second thought; a few factors may have mattered like what it’s made of, how much it costs or whether it looks like it’ll last.

If you’re like me, you might be additionally troubled by ethical elements (How well were the workers paid? Is it made from animals?) or whether it fits your bills (apparently my wallet that fits dollars, doesn’t fit my Euros, which are only slightly taller), however most thought about purchasing a new wallet doesn’t extend much to its production.

Well, where am I getting at with all of this? Most people don’t think too deeply on the wallet or purse they choose nor do they expect it to have any consequences to anyone but them (the buyer), the retailer and maybe the worker who made it.

The reality is a little more different, besides the fact that leather-goods result in a loss of life for cows and other animals, leather tanneries produce extreme waste. In fact, in the Indian town of Kanpur, a center for the leather trade for over a century, unregulated tanneries produce about 50 million liters of waste a day.

Out of that waste, about 9 million liters are treated. The waste is typically dumped in the Ganges River, where it has the potential to pollute drinking water and crops.

Furthermore, the cost of a wallet is much more than how much cash you put up for it, the lives of animals (potentially) and pollution, the biggest fashion companies outsource up to 97% of their production, where laborers can be paid as little as $1 a day, ensuring that they are trapped in a desperate cycle of underpaid work.

Okay, so where am I getting at? I’m not trying to guilt trip you; I’m trying to tell you about this week’s startup and their amazing contribution to fabric production technology. Introducing, Green Banana Paper. So how are they changing what the Danish Fashion Institute calls the "world’s second worst polluter" after oil?

Green Banana Paper is changing the fashion industry by producing wallets from banana trees. They turn banana tree waste into sustainable, fashionable, vegan leather wallets. Sounds crazy, right? Well, maybe not so much.

See bananas are easy to peel and eat, and we have various methods of harvesting them efficiently, but banana trees are a bit more cumbersome. They are cut down after harvesting to promote future fruit production. All of that additional banana tree material is tossed away as waste.

From the jungle to your pocket, these are the most sustainable and ethical wallets on the planet. Our carefully considered and tested designs are as functional as they are beautiful.

The entire tree is harvested for their process, obviously minus the bananas which can be sold and eaten and the leaves which can be used for compost. The wallets are created in their air eco-factory, located at the northeast side of Kosrae.

Here the sun and dry wind fibers naturally and once they are dried, workers use rainwater, collected on the roof of the eco-factory in the production process. The production process, which uses no chemicals or bleach involves boiling the paper in a soda ash solution and dying it with water-based inks.

Their wallets, produced in the Western Pacific island of Kosrae means that 170,000 lbs of banana tree waste have been recycled so far. Since the banana trees are a renewable resource and grow year round, they always have the substrate to create wallets from. The wallets are cruelty-free, bleach free, water-resistant (a special property of banana trees), clean (fabrics have been sterilized before use) and create jobs on the small island.

So far, 16 full-time jobs have been created, 75 farmers have been able to earn extra income from their banana tree waste and islanders have been able to revive their traditional skills which previously also used banana trees and other plant fibers for weaving and rope-twisting.

Unlike most fruit trees, banana trees produce fruit just once and must be chopped down after harvest because they will self-reproduce from the base. Normally, the trees are left in the jungle as unwanted waste. Now on Kosrae, over 75 local farmers earn extra income from selling their trees to us. That’s why we call it "waste to wealth."

The company employs almost all locals of the island and helps them improve their existing skills, whether it be weaving or farming, in a way in which their economy is sustainably stimulated, and they make a living wage. So the next time someone asks "what’s in your wallet?" maybe you can whip out one of these bad boys and know that your purchase is for the greater good.

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