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When I first heard of rhubarbleather, I thought it was a vegan alternative to leather. Like for example, pineapple leather made from the leaves of the pineapple. However, the term rhubarbleather only has something to do with the delicious fruit pardon, vegetables. Because it is genuine leather, but thanks to the fantastic properties of rhubarb berry extract is purely vegetable tanned. Dr. Anne-Christin Bansleben, who produces great rhubarbleather® products for her own fashion label Deepmello, produces rhubarbleather for other companies and designers, and also serves as Board of the IVN (International Association for Natural textiles). I met Anne-Christin Bansleben in Berlin and talked to her about this promising new development in the area of sustainable leather processing.
A conversation about rhubarbleather
my-GREENstyle: Rhubarbleather – the concept is only a little confusing. Can you, as creator of this term, kindly briefly explain to my readers what it means?
Anne-Christin Bansleben: Rhubarbleather means that we tan leather with an extract from the rhubarb root. We have developed a process that makes the use of toxic chromium salts unnecessary in the tanning process
my-GREENstyle: How did you get the idea to investigate this plant so thoroughly?
Anne-Christin Bansleben: The idea was indeed an alternative to conventional tanning. We knew that the rhubarb root contains ingredients that must be able to do that. We have attracted experts who are familiar with plant tanning and then optimized the extract. In addition, rhubarb is a very effective, undemanding growing plant. You only have to do a little effort to get to the necessary ingredients.
my-GREENstyle: And where is the rhubarb grown, or where does the whole production take place?
Anne-Christin Bansleben: The rhubarbleather we produce is produced 100% in Germany. From the plant from which the extract is extracted to the hides, the cattle born in Germany (which are kept as dairy and meat cattle and not for the production of leather) and the tanning process. The whole process takes place in Germany. For us it is clear that we want to comply with social standards as well as the ecological aspect. Short transport distances and fair wages are self-evident to us.
Social and environmental aspects play a very important role
my-GREENstyle: At your label Deepmello we find jackets, dresses, belts and bags made of rhubarbleather. How can other designers use this innovative material?
Anne-Christin Bansleben: In addition to our label Deepmello, we also distribute the material to interested companies in the areas of interior, shoes, clothing, accessories as an alternative to conventional leather.
my-GREENstyle: Are there already requests from companies, which have used traditionally tanned leather and which now want to switch to the sustainable alternative?
Anne-Christin Bansleben: Some large corporations find our material suitable and interesting. We are in very good conversations. Increasing demand …
my-GREENstyle: For all those who have not had any direct contact: Does rhubarbleather look different, does it feel different? How does it differ from conventional leather?
Anne-Christin Bansleben: At first glance, the feel is somewhat unusual. The tanning is responsible for this. Another surprise is perhaps the slightly sweet smell of rhubarb. It flies with time, but the bite of the leather odor, which is produced during chemical tanning, is absent.
Rhubarbleather is particularly long-lasting due to its processing
my-GREENstyle: And how does the material behave in terms of its durability and durability compared to conventional leather?
Anne-Christin Bansleben: We completely refrain from “fast-breed” leather and make sure that our leather is not stretched too much during the machining process. This also has a very positive effect on the leather quality.
my-GREENstyle: What exactly does it have with stretching?
Anne-Christin Bansleben: Leather must be stretched and dried. And since leather is paid for by square meters, more area means greater sales. That is why the leather is often very tight. The disadvantage is that the final product is no longer so elastic. With our processing we can produce very thin leather for the clothing, because the starting quality is very good.
my-GREENstyle: Are there any other differences?
Anne-Christin Bansleben: After the tanning process, the traditional chrome leather is still coated with silicone or plastic. This makes the leather very insensitive, but positive properties such as the breathing activity are lost. We do not coat our leather and rely on naturally treated material.
my-GREENstyle: Rhubarbleather can be recycled to the natural circulation?
Anne-Christin Bansleben: In fact. Rhubarbleather is 100% biodegradable – but it takes a while.
my-GREENstyle: Ruhen Sie sich denn nun auf dem Rharbarber aus? Oder suchen Sie auch nach anderen innovativ nutzbaren Pflanzenbestandteilen?
Anne-Christin Bansleben: In the background we are researching, developing and launching products to make a holistic use of the plant. Say: Ingredients from the above-ground leaf mass can be used for cosmetics. We have just launched the cosmetics line redrhubarb. And yes, we are still looking for other plants. We already have a few candidates in mind.