A startup company, TômTex, has developed a new leather alternative, one made out of shrimp shells but with the look and feel of genuine leather. Unlike other leather alternatives made from petroleum-derived materials, the material used by TômTex is biodegradable and free of fossil fuel. It is made of chitosan, the elementary unit of crustacean shells, mushroom cell walls, and insect exoskeletons. This abundance makes it one of the most easily available biopolymers on earth. Chitosan is cheap and easy to source (a waste byproduct of the seafood industry), making it an affordable option for TômTex.
Shrimp Vs. Plant-Based Leather
There are many plant-based alternatives to leather in the market today, but there are certain reasons why shrimp-based is one step ahead. Compared to other leather alternatives in the market, like apple, grape, cactus, and mushroom leather, TômTex’s material has no binders or finishes. It contains no fossil-fuel-based plastics. It is an environmentally friendly mono-material free from harmful substances, which can be found in some plant-based leather alternatives.
Chitosan-based leather stands out because of its biodegradable nature. The material can be poured into molds, stamped, 3D printed, and even mixed with natural pigment. It is also affordable and semi-breathable, which makes it a perfect option for clothing and accessories. The material is so non-toxic that it is even edible. However, TômTex’s cofounder Ross McBee has tried it and says it does not taste that good.
Vegan or Not?
Although not technically vegan, as it is a waste byproduct of the seafood industry, Chitosan is still a more conscious and environmentally friendly alternative to cow leather. TômTex also offers a mushroom-based version for brands that prioritize the vegan aspect, although it is a pricier option than the shrimp shell-based material. With the global market for leather worth almost $243 billion, TômTex’s affordable, durable, beautiful, and biodegradable material has the potential to disrupt the animal-free leather market and become the leather alternative of the future.