Headquarters: Milan, Italy
The name “Vegea” combines “Veg” from “vegan” and “gea” for “mother earth” to express their commitment to an environmentally conscious future.
Research for Vegea began in 2014, when the Italian architect Gianpiero Tessitore recognized the need for truly sustainable materials. He wanted a material that was neither animal based nor fully petroleum based. He collaborated with the University of Florence and other research centers in Italy to create sustainable biomaterials for the furniture, fashion, and automotive industries. Francesco Merlino, an environmental chemist at the University of Florence, found that grape marc (the remains after grapes are pressed for wine) contains fibers and oils that are optimal for sustainable materials. Tessitore and Merlino became business partners and launched Vegea in 2016 to use waste from the wine industry to make a sustainable leather alternative. During that same year, they patented their grape leather production process. Vegea continues to research other plants, recycled materials, and bio-based polymers for use in creating other sustainable material options.
Vegea has received a number of awards for their research and process, including the Start&Cup Award (2015), Start & Restart (2016), the Innovation Made in Italy award from Unicredit (2017), and the Global Change Award from the H&M foundation (2017). They received funding from Horizon 2020, currently the largest EU research and innovation program, and have been recognized by a number of organizations that celebrate innovative and sustainable businesses.
Vegea is known for their grape leather innovation, also referred to as Vegeatextile®. The company designs, produces, and sells leather made primarily from grape marc. Grape marc includes the grape skins, seeds, and stalks that are left over from and considered waste in the wine industry. Vegea need not look very far for inputs, as Italy is the world’s number one wine producer, annually producing 18% of the world’s wine.
Production process: Mechanical/Chemical
To produce their leather from grape marc, Vegea customized the technology and machinery from the leather-making industry. The process starts after the grape juice has been extracted for wine. The remains, called grape marc, which includes the skins, stalks, and seeds, are dried in a process that produces reusable water. After drying, the grape marc undergoes chemical treatment, compounding, and finishing. Unlike the production of animal leather, Vegea’s process uses no polluting chemicals or heavy metals and uses very little additional water.
By using plant waste, the company prevents the carbon dioxide release that would have occurred if this waste had been burnt. For every 10 liters (approximately 2.6 gallons) of wine produced, about 2.5 liters (about .66 gallons) of waste is a byproduct, from which about one square meter (approximately 1.2 square yards) of wine leather can be produced. Vegea does not use any toxic chemicals, heavy metals, or other dangerous solvents in their production process. This makes the environmental impact of wine leather minimal and more sustainable than both bovine leathers and petroleum-based alternatives.
Vegea produces grape leather with properties specific to the intended end use, including versions with varying elasticity, weight, texture, finishing, and thickness. They work with each partner company individually to produce the desired characteristics for the end product.
Vegea has a constant source for their input waste material from the Italian wine industry and many wineries provide the grape marc for free. Vegea is able to use the grape marc for two to three years after it has been dried, making it easier to create their wine leather on demand.
UPHOLSTERY, FASHION, ACCESSORIES
Images from Vegea.