The use of plant-based raw materials in the world of fashion is an increasingly upward trend that provided fertile ground for research, production and marketing of numerous inventions. All of which is reflected in intellectual property rights: the trademarks under which they are marketed and the process patents for creating these materials.

The vogue for cruelty-free and eco-friendly goods is here to stay. However, alternative leathers do not have to be made from plastic, which so many consider to be excessively polluting and which are not sufficiently breathable. The need arose for creativity in this regard, seeking organic materials that do not involve animals in their production and that also provide a look and feel that would be acceptable to the exacting standards of the trendiest fashionistas. An excellent option are the plant-based raw materials.

Although the market has already seen the emergence of alternative fabrics for apparel and accessories, such as waxed cotton, cork and also washi paper (a highly absorbent Japanese vegetable fiber-based paper that does not discolor or tear over time), the rise of eco fashion and the need for sustainability and respect for the environment has brought some innovative solutions to the fore, resulting in an appearance, durability and feel used in designs that are more than able to rival traditional animal leather.

These new materials are non-toxic, non-pollutant, natural and fair trade, which make them even more attractive to those interested in alternative fashion. Some of the most convincing plant leathers used by designers are made from extremely surprising materials such as pineapple leaves discarded at harvest time or apple fibers, like those produced by the British firm Ananas Anam Ltd. and the Italian company Frumat SRL, respectively. In addition, the legendary fashion house Hermès has recently launched its Sylvania bag, a “must -have” piece made from leather produced in a laboratory by the US company MycoWorks Inc.

Behind these materials lie branding and research endeavors, the results of which, naturally, are reflected in industrial property rights: the trademarks under which they are marketed and the process patents for producing these materials. For example, Ananas Anam Ltd., a company founded by Spanish national Carmen Hijosa, markets fabrics under the European Union trademarks nos 15323991 “PIÑATEX” and No. 18130080 “PIÑAYARN”, which protect a fabric made with raw material from the Philippines, one of the largest pineapple producers in the world. The fibers come from part of the pineapple leaf that Filipino farmers would otherwise leave to rot or burn, so its use also reduces the carbon footprint. The fiber extraction process uses very little water, and the left-over material can be used as a fertilizer. Furthermore, Carmen Hijosa has registered the patent for her product, and in order to protect it, six years ago she founded Ananas Anam, a start-up company with 15 employees, of which she is both creative director and head of R&D. And we are not talking about a residual market here. One extremely renowned brand, Hugo Boss, uses this material for its responsible sneakers.

Under its European Union Trademark no. 18124522 “APPLESKIN”, Frumat SRL has developed an alternative fabric made from the waste from apples grown in Italy. Once the juice has been extracted from apples, the remaining pulp is normally discarded. To make plant leather, the apple waste is dried and ground to a powder. This powder is then mixed with pigments and a binding agent, spread over a canvas sheet and left until it turns into a material that resembles leather, with a result so convincing that Tommy Hilfiger used it for his sneakers in the “Zero Waste” collection.

The material that Hermès uses in its Sylvania bag, known as reishi, took three years to develop, and was created in-lab by the US company MycoWorks, Inc., whose investors include actress Natalie Portman and musician John Legend. Reishi, invented by Phil Ross after decades of product research, consists of mycelium chains, the network of filaments that form the body of mushrooms and all other fungi. His trademark application is currently in process as European Union trademark no. 18345641 REISHI. Mushrooms are grown and transformed to make this fabric at his San Francisco factory in a low-energy process, since mushrooms only need mild temperatures and they grow in the dark. The product is then cured and finished in France by Hermès artisans, in a unique pairing between the very latest in biotechnology and a long-established elite fashion brand.

Even the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has launched WIPO GREEN, an online platform and marketplace for the exchange of sustainable technology, connecting providers and seekers of environmentally friendly technologies, thus providing a catalyst for innovation and diffusion of green technologies.

This trend has opened the door to research, production and marketing of numerous inventions, not just in the fashion world, but also in the fields of decoration, foods and technology, where the focus on recycling and sustainability will provide much to talk about… and a lot more to write about, because this post is just a taster of what is to come. Next time, we will look at how patents can help us protect the technologies that, in turn, care for us and for our planet. To be continued!

Natalia Ruiz Gallegos

Intellectual Property Department