Fashion designers across the world have been eschewing leather in their collections for a few years now.
Bottega Veneta has used paper instead of cowhide, Dolce and Gabbana has incorporated tree bark and Stella McCartney has adopted recycled polyester.
Now, however, Jordanian chef Omar Sartawi has added a new material to the mix, as he's found a way to turn aubergine skins into a feasible and sustainable alternative leather product.
Sartawi, who's also a food artist, revealed his latest creation at the end of last year, saying it is as flexible and resistant as animal leather. "The material is amazing, it feels exactly like leather," he says. "It can be torn, stretched, manipulated in every way. It always regains its original texture and look."
And today he's putting that material to good use by fashioning face masks out of it in order to help stem the spread of Covid-19 in Jordan and across the world.
For this project, he teamed up with Jordanian designers Princess Nejla Asem and Salam Dajani.
"I started sketching, looking at it from behind my desk, and then I started stitching," says Dajani, founder of the brand Wenin. "I have sewn different kinds of stitches on it, and I felt that embroidery reflects a character."
Asem, a jewellery designer, added brass rings, and experimented with silver and ropes as finishing touches. "Of course, this is a collective work which we have all agreed to do," she says.
The trio have created a series of limited-edition masks for a collaboration with Jordan Fashion Week's #BornAgain campaign.
How do you make aubergine 'leather'?
One peel can take two weeks of preparation to be turned into "leather".
Sartawi peels the skin, uses copious amounts of salt to dry it out and then dehydrates his material.
The skin becomes tough, but breathable. When worked on properly, the material can last for two to three years.
While developing the product, it wasn't only sustainable fashion and face masks Sartawi had in mind. Another aspect to his invention was that it would also tackle food waste, as he envisioned recuperating leftovers from hotels and restaurants to create leather on a larger scale.
“There is so much we can do with things that people do not even think about," he says.
"If we could start collecting all of this wasted food and turn it into clothes for the less fortunate, so much could change.”
Most importantly, this was never about making a profit, Sartawi stresses.
"Now that we have created the ‘recipe’ for this material, I want to release it to the world and let people see how it is done, so they can replicate it in their own homes."