With debates surrounding sustainability and consumerism, what encouraged Allégorie Co-Founder Heather Jiang to search for more innovative ways to minimise waste and encourage recyclability is the negative environmental and social impact that customers can have, just by buying something they want. Her game-changing idea? Creating high-quality and sturdy items from recycled fruit, such as backpacks and crossbody bags.
“It’s a relatively new thing to incorporate fruit and plant fiber into bags,” Jiang says. “We spent a couple years searching the globe, trying to find the best possible material. We tried using pineapple, mushroom, banana, and did some trial and error testing until we developed our own formula.”
Actually, the one-year-old range of accessories sells small “leather” items for less than $100 to bigger pieces, such as a $325 retail backpack, all made from either whole mangos or apple skins.
The technological complexities in making food into a functional commodity that looks and behaves like leather, not to mention the non-environmentally sustainable material such
as PVC and leather is also more readily available and easier to use in apparel, suggesting that what Jiang is exploring is less corporate investment.
She notes that she and her co-founder, Jen, frequently collaborate with smaller, community-based start-ups to create the real product and supply the fruits. Another challenge met and resolved by them: the seasonality of the raw material supply. However, the good thing is that while there is an sufficient supply of fruit, the team will stock up on the fruit leather, it won’t rot or go sour.
“Our partner suppliers collect the wasted apples from apple farms or the mangos not sold in the supermarket and [turn it] into ‘leather’ at their facilities,” Jiang says. “The dye [used] on the accessories are plant based or environmentally-friendly dyes. [Once we get the leather], the actual making of the bags is here in the heart of NYC. We’re embracing the heritage of the garment district.”
From countries such as Japan, Italy , the Netherlands, and Taiwan, the Allégorie creators get their fruit leather. Through visiting the plants themselves and communicating to the people harvesting the fruits, they also work to ensure the supply chain operation is open and ethical. “This is a growing community, but we depend on and support each other to make things work for everybody,” says Jiang.
The lining inside of Allégorie products is made of a mix of plant-based polymer materials and recycled polyester fabrics to take the eco-friendly angle one step further. “The plant-based portion is called polymers extracted from biomass that are generated from crops such as maize or sugar cane. The recycled polyester fibres are recycled and generated in a highly eco-efficient manner that requires 84 percent less energy than conventional
products manufacturing the same form,” Jiang reports.
“We’ve received tremendous feedback [from friends and family like] ‘OMG, this smells like mango’ or ‘this smells like real leather and is durable,” Jiang says of the year-old brand. Her and Jen are currently a two-woman team trying to expand Allégorie’s eco-friendly brand reputation and messaging to consumers. They’re taking the business day by day, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On top of all this, Jiang recognises that Allégorie is not yet completely 100 % sustainable and tries to address this while still seeking more fruits / vegetables to add raw materials to their Rolodex. “We went through a phase in which nothing worked and we had the opportunity to learn the material a little better, but that’s not what our brand is about. We want to try all the different possibilities,” she says. “We should jointly drive [the fashion]
industry towards a more prosperous future.”