Hannes Parth, the CEO of Frumat, is not vegan. When he started to show interest in apple peel to produce a substitute for leather, it was not for the animals’ sake. No, his thing was the recycling of industrial waste from food processing. He wanted to find an outlet for tons of waste thrown out by the fruit juice and compote industry.
The adventure started in 2004 among orchards in northern Italy. Alberto Volcan, a South Tyrolean engineer, has an intuition that the very abundant apples in the region can generate more business than the simple production of fruits. In the beginning, he was supported by the Province of Bolzano and the Merloni Spa, which funded his first prototypes made from Cartamela, literally apple-paper.
The project really succeeded a few years later when Alberto joined Frumat, a start-up specializing in the disposal of industrial biological waste. The research and development laboratory settled in the premises of the start-up in Bolzano where tests were finalized. That brought the project to an industrial level without any other external funding. The paper was the first application to recycling apple waste. In the next two years, Frumat expanded its paper range and developed craft paper, then tissues, toilet paper and kitchen rolls. The adventure of apple paper was launched.
Alberto then pursued his research to find new outlets for apple waste. For a few years, the company tried to produce vegetable glue. Unfortunately, the trials were inconclusive and the studies were suspended.
The apple paste obtained during the studies on glue was then reworked. Alberto used a pasta machine to stretch and cut the material. He ended up developing the Pellemela, literally apple leather, a material that has nothing to envy to animal leather. It is ecological, it keeps the heat while remaining breathable, it is waterproof, resistant and of course 100% vegan.
When I met Hannes in London in a cafe on the Leceister Square side, he was on a business tour. He had with him lots of samples and prototypes made from Cartamela and Pellemela. Incidentally, the first thing I saw was his business card printed on apple paper.
I also saw gorgeous notebooks and planners specially designed for the 2015 Milan Expo. The pages and the cover are made from paper and apple leather. Since, the Lediberg group, B-to-B distributor specializing in paper and leather goods, launched its Appeel collection, a beautiful range of notebooks and planners made from apple paper. For the record, the German edition of the vegan recipe book by Anna Jones “A modern way to eat” is printed on apple paper.
Hannes also had with him samples of his new apple leather. I was completely amazed by the quality and variety of the material. I saw leathers of different thicknesses, in many colours, with various grains and an incredible feel. Apple leather is really beautiful and looks like animal leather. Hannes had with him a gorgeous satchel, an apple leather prototype by the Italian brand Fedon. Every day, new brands come up with goods made from apple leather. In my last article, I featured Happy Genie, a luxurious brand of vegan handbags. Since then, I have discovered Veeraah, a beautiful brand of Italian women’s shoes. But there are many others.
Apple leather is also used in furniture and seating. Several hotels and restaurants have already chosen to decorate their interiors using it.
Finally, apple leather is also used in apparel. In 2017, at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in Milan, young designer Matea Benedetti exhibited several models made from apple leather.
This new apple-based fabric makes me dream. It is a beautiful material and a perfect alternative to leather. It reconciles animal rights with the environment and the circular economy, and it promotes local agriculture. A large number of countries grow apple trees in very large quantities. There is no need to import the raw material because apple trees are the most common fruit tree type in the EU. In 2016, Europe produced over 12 million tonnes of apples.
The price of apple leather is now equivalent to that of animal leather. However, if you want to buy apple leather, you need to order a minimum of 300 meters. So be patient until brands use it or launch your own business!