FASHION

Here’s the world’s first leather alternative that is both bio-based and 100% plastic-free

We speak to Anette Cantagallo, Director of Design and Sustainability at ASK Scandinavia, on the new line of bags bringing a next-gen material to our market.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
December 07, 2023

Two years ago, the Finnish/American brand launched its Plant Based Collection, made of a cactus leather material called Desserto, around Earth Day. It was featured in American Vogue and ASK Scandinavia has continued its ambitions to be a forerunner with innovative materials to be able to offer purpose-driven products. In 2019 in Los Angeles, Anette Cantagallo met Natural Fiber Welding (NFW) who, at the time, were piloting the material MIRUM.

— I stayed in contact with them to partner and start testing the material for bags as soon as it was commercially available, she says. NFW is a circular science company, unlocking plastic-free production across all industries, including fashion, footwear, accessories, automotive, and home goods. MIRUM is the first plastic-free material of its kind and to make it NFW utilises regenerative farming practices to help sink carbon by building healthy soil through photosynthesis. They prioritise local communities and environments by only utilising all-natural materials that are naturally abundant, renewable, and in turn, enhancing local biodiversity and regenerating soil systems. 

— For me as a designer, it has been a new perspective on the contemporary industry of goods and a recharging experience working with this, because it injects depth beyond the traditional impact of design. I grew up with an inherently close relationship with nature on the Swedish island of Gotland, so the idea of a reimagined system for how we make by using the efficiencies of nature to build a future for humanity where all materials become nutrients for the Earth inspires the entire process for me. 

How has it been to work with it? What’s been the most challenging?

— From the first swatches to development, the experience has been close to seamless, thanks to NFW and the craftswomen and men we work with to make our products in Italy. They (the makers) did have to go through a few extra steps, and a few weeks to test and learn the material to ensure they would be able to deliver to the standards of other conventional materials such as animal hides and plastic-filled alternatives, says Cantagallo. She continues:

— A brand-new material always requires that you spend time with it and understand its features rather than work against it by trying to stick to only traditional methods. That said, no new machinery or drastic changes were needed. This material can definitely be used by any manufacturer that knows how to craft with conventional ’vegan leather’.

You previewed the concept at Paris Fashion Week and Fashion In Helsinki and now it’s available. Tell us about the range.

— The three initial products are called Bio-leather Collection. We’ve taken an approach that starts with the material. It was important for us to turn the restriction of the few materials that create change and transform that into creativity. The design process has been a journey to consider the ’why’ of each style, and what impact it can have on its owner. 

— Shape and function-wise, I was inspired by the iconic woman Greta Magnusson Grossman and how she designed her California Modern Movement interiors. Focusing on iconic shapes, the approach was to put a lot of emphasis on function, longevity, and time endurance. We take a very Scandinavian design approach: Start with the material. Think about the purpose. What matters is the practicality of the transformational solution of the design while ensuring it brings, optimism, joy, and beauty into our lives, Cantagallo concludes.

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