A Compostable Leather Alternative for Sustainable Accessories

A plain small black handbag with 'BEEN London' embossed on the front.
The prototype will be fully compostable once hardware has been removed. Image: BEEN London

As the circular economy has become a rising priority for fashion businesses, demand has continued to grow for innovative materials that are both economically viable and environmentally friendly. From regenerative agricultural practices to natural substitutes for synthetic chemicals and recycled fabrics, businesses throughout the supply chain have been focusing on ways to reduce their environmental impact and make better use of every resource. 

BEEN London has been creating luxury accessories from waste since 2018, using everything from recycled IKEA uniforms to a plant-based alternative to leather made from surplus apples. In that time they have collaborated with the likes of Amelia Windsor and been featured in Harper’s Bazaar, The Guardian and more, as well as being named ‘Ones to Watch’ at the Drapers Sustainable Fashion Awards. 

Using local suppliers and manufacturers, including one of East London’s remaining artisanal leather workshops, the brand retains the value of natural resources with minimal environmental impact. On average, BEEN London says, the carbon footprint of its bags is 10 times smaller than high street equivalents made from virgin materials. 

Leather alternatives remain one of the biggest materials challenges for the fashion industry, where even waste streams like surplus food have their drawbacks.  

“The main issue with leather alternatives at the moment is that they’re near impossible to recycle,” explains Genia Mineeva, Been London’s founder. 

“There’s often a small print mentioning PU or polyester – essentially plastic – backing somewhere, even in the most innovative, vegan, low-carbon materials.”

The handle of a gold-coloured small handbag being attached using a metal drilling device.
Traditional methods are used to make the bags in East London. Image: BEEN London

An effective substitute, then, needs to be plastic-free and biodegradable while being durable enough to last. To tackle this complex challenge, BEEN London is joining forces with materials innovator Biophilica to make a unique groundbreaking prototype bag made from Treekind – Biophilica’s patent-pending solution made from urban plant waste.

Using the same design as BEEN London’s bestselling ‘Cecilia’ bag, the prototype is petite and structured with an adjustable strap and designed to be used as an everyday crossbody or as an evening clutch bag. Developed with support from ReLondon and the Mayor of London’s Green New Deal Fund, it demonstrates the versatility and performance quality of the natural Treekind material. 

One model facing the camera carries a large black handbag, while another is walking away with a black leather backpack over a shoulder, on a flat sandy beach at sunset.
Local manufacturing for a wide range of styles and colours is key to the brand’s ethos. Image: BEEN London

Leaves and twigs from local parks make up the raw materials which are then collected and processed in West London, meaning Treekind offers a local solution that keeps the carbon footprint of BEEN London’s supply chain low.

It is also fully biodegradable and compostable – consumers will simply need to remove the hardware and fastenings before placing the bag in a home compost bin – as well as being estimated carbon negative.

“Treekind has been created with local production and manufacturing in mind, so working with a fellow London-based innovator is very exciting,” says Mira Nameth, founder and CEO of Biophilica. “We believe that bringing together strong design, heritage craft and new plant-based technology is exactly what the future of British fashion should be.” 

The pilot is currently underway and although it will be some time before a Treekind bag is available to BEEN London customers, Genia is already excited about its potential impact across the fashion industry and among consumers. Demonstrating that it is possible to find a plant-based alternative to leather which is just as durable day-to-day and can be part of a circular system could represent a sea change – especially in accessories design, where performance is paramount. 

“This bag could really change the future of fashion,” she adds. “We’re extremely proud to be the first bag brand to trial Treekind and can’t wait to roll this out to our customers in the future.”