As consumers it is important to think about the imprint we are leaving on the planet when we are investing in an item but, it is even more imperative as a designer. This is why Egypt’s Nuhyar Zein is on a thoughtful mission to eradicate all exotic leathers through her all-sustainable and ethical innovative start-up Leukeather– an alternative to exotic leathers made from dried Leucaena pods.
Leukeather, which takes its name from Leucaena seeds, all began for the Dubai-based designer and architect as she was driving around a neighborhood in Abu Dhabi and came across a plant that caught her eye. “I am very interested in plants, and I always document them as I go,” Zein told Mille. After initially studying architecture, she was confronted with the constant waste of unsustainable materials that are slowing down our planet, from there, her questioning process began. “So I started to collect plants and think if we could do something with them beyond what they currently are, this is where the idea of treating the plants and giving them a second life initially came from, I wanted to collaborate with nature. The resources are there, they exist, and they are beautiful so why don’t we try and make it better?” she added.
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Joining forces with her sister who has a background in material science, the duo put their brains together and started to question how they could create leather through plant-based products whilst ensuring every aspect of the process is sustainable. “We went on a hunt, and saw that there is a lot of wasted resources from plants,” recalled the designer, who recently showcased her covetable range of eco-conscious leather accessories at the inaugural Egypt Fashion Week this weekend. “For example, these specific plant pods that we collect and use, we are able to extract minerals from to create a treatment technology for the plant-based leather,” Zein explains.
Essentially, the minerals extracted from the treatment technology are then used to make the dried Leucaena plant pods more tactile, and flexible, as the designer explains. “We are also working on a specific kind of technology that makes them more elastic so they can flow, and behave more like leather as well as as much resources as we can from the pods to create materials that are 100% based, from the adhesive to the fabric substrate,” she added.
The designer has already had her work exhibited in various places, including the UAE Designer Exhibition at Dubai Design Week 2020, Jameel Arts Centre, the 2020 RIBA Architecture Festival, the American University of Sharjah and Noon Art Gallery. When we asked of her future dreams and goals for Leukeather, Zein passionately replied: “Honestly, I have a very big vision. Some people tell me it’s too ambitious but I see this as an alternative to exotics. I strongly believe that exotic leathers will be completely obsolete in the future, at least in the next ten years. A lot of luxury brands have banned them completely already. I want to expand this, and create region and culture-specific materials for each region, using their own unique resources.”
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However, the designer wants to make it clear that Leukeather is not a fashion brand. “We are a material innovation company start-up, and we create materials that are plant-based and sustainable for fashion designers. There are a lot of amazing ethical fashion brands out there that are doing a really good job so our job as Leaukeather is to support them with the materials. We want to be the place where they can source these sustainable materials. It’s not just for fashion brands, it could also be for interior designers, bespoke gifts, spaces, wall coverings, it could be used for anything.”
With a research and process-driven approach I think it’s safe to say that we hope that most designers could fall under the footsteps of Zein and intentionally, responsibly, and consciously create products that do not play a role in the deterioration of our planet but instead to celebrate the earth’s resources and its transformational qualities all the while looking effortlessly chic.