Phool.Co's eco-friendly leather 'Fleather': Just like leather, but far more sustainable

An IIT-Kanpur backed startup is developing vegan leather from discarded temple flowers to promote sustainable fashion
Flowercyclers at Phool.Co;
Flowercyclers at Phool.Co;

In 2017, Phool.Co began upcycling temple waste into incense sticks. Gradually, the organisation progressed to organic gulaal, vermicompost, and recently, an eco-friendly leather called Fleather. For this innovation, Phool was selected with nine start-up innovators of the South Asia Innovation Programme’s second batch held recently by global initiative,

Fashion for Good. Focusing on technologies and innovations in raw materials, wet processing, packaging, digital acceleration...the innovators brought solutions crucial to the manufacturing and supply chains in South Asia. Ankit Agarwal, CEO, Phool, says, “We collect about 8.4 tonnes of flowers from temples daily, instead of these being dumped into the Ganges.

One day, we found a dense-thick white fibrous mat growing on an unused pile of flowers. That was the beginning. We began experimenting with the material, studied its properties, and found its texture and flexibility quite similar to leather. This biomaterial made us realise that this could actually be a revolutionary substitute to animal leather.”

making Fleather in a lab
making Fleather in a lab

Tech intervention
Flower waste brought to the facility is segregated by hand and plastics/paper are weeded out. Organic bioculum is sprayed on the flowers to offset the chemical residue. Then, the flowers are washed, and the water is stored to use in vermicomposting. Petals of each flower are crushed, sun-dried. and fermented into Fleather for a dense, fibrous mat. “It took us two long years of experimenting, trial and error, patience, and persistence to finally develop a prototype. Fleather is under its final development stage.

It will take four months to obtain a multi-layered Fleather sheet, processed with plasticisation technique, which is available in at least three colours in size of 5X5 feet. Post that, we will start production,” adds Agarwal. Marigold, rose, and daisy are readily available in the temples and are the most common ones being used for fleather. “For one square metre of fleather we are utilising an average of 73kg flower waste. As soon as we move out of the final development stage, we shall plan for the commercial launch of Fleather,” explains Agarwal. With current thickness and strength, it is suitable for wallets, bags, jackets, upholstery, and other decorative usages.

For items subjected to regular wear and tear like shoes, belts, etc., a thicker, more rugged version of Fleather obtained through multilayering will be suitable. Fleather has similar tensile strength, texture, flexure like traditional leather, and ideal animal-free alternative for leather. “A month-long immunological test of Fleather through skin sensitisation response is going on at the Institute of Industrial Research and Toxicology. This will mark Fleather safe for consumer usage.

By this stage, a single layered sheet of Fleather of size 1 feet X 1 feet will have been successfully grown,” he adds. Phool has 79 underrepresented women working on different projects. “Once the production begins, we can scale-up and provide an opportunity for more women who still struggle to find an ethical job environment,” he adds.

Phool has created a high quality, high-impact material as an alternative to traditional leather; an interesting proposition for the fashion industry, shares Katrin Ley, Managing Director, Fashion for Good. “It is a solution to a wastestream that has existed for centuries, yet been overlooked as a viable resource. With their inclusion in our South Asia Programme, we aim to facilitate their growth into a scalable solution, while simultaneously creating employment opportunities for women in the region,” she adds.

THE PHOOL IMPACT
7,600kg waste flowers and 97kg toxic chemicals are stopped daily from entering the river.
No use of hydrofluorocarbons in the process.
1,200 rural families have gained employment.

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