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Award-winning Italian project for new vegetable leather from winemaking waste

by Marta Casadei

100% plant-derived leather, obtained from grape scraps left over from vinification and processed without using chemicals, reducing waste to boot. The project is Italian, and won first prize – a grant of €300,000 – in the H&M Foundation's Global Change Award 2016. The name of this new material – entirely made in Italy – is Wineleather, and it's the brainchild of Gianpiero Tessitore and Francesco Merlino, in collaboration with Rossella and Valentina Longobardo.

“We have created and patented an innovative manufacturing process – says Tessitore, founder of Vegea srl and Wineleather's inventor – that turns the fibers and vegetable oils present in grape pomace into an eco-friendly material with the same functional, esthetic and sensory characteristics as leather.”

The material, which can be cost-effectively produced, may be employed in several different sectors: fashion, design, automotive; and puts Italy in a privileged position production-wise, too, since 18% of the world's yearly wine is made in Italy, so winemaking waste is copious.
The idea that material intended for disposal can be reprocessed into a new product underpins the H&M philosophy, which views circularity as the keystone of a sustainable future in every field, including fashion.

The Global Change Award, which just celebrated its second edition, selects five deeply innovative projects each year, awarding them a total grant of €1 million. This year, out of 3,000 applications from 130 countries, the five finalists chosen also included Solar Textiles (US/Switzerland), a production process for nylon using water and solar energy; Content Thread (US/UK), a digital thread that facilitates recycling of garments by supplying recyclers with a list of what the clothes are made of; Denim-Dyed Denim (Australia), which colors undyed jeans by using old denim and breaking it down into fine particles; and Manure Couture (the Netherlands), which extracts raw material from manure to create a biodegradable textile. Over the next year, the five start-ups will benefit from a counseling procedure developed by Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology of Stockholm.