These Vegan Leather Boots Are Made From Apples

With more than eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions produced by the apparel and footwear industries, fashion’s growing impact on the planet cannot be ignored — and while consumers are beginning to shift their focus from fast-fashion to higher-quality and smaller-batch products, certain aspects of clothing production continue to be problematic, no matter the scale. For anyone concerned equally with ethics and sustainability, the use of animal products is an ongoing issue, particularly within the footwear industry, where leather is widely used. However, one shoe brand is using a plant-based material in lieu of a synthetic- or animal-derived option, bringing an unexpected food — apples, to be exact — to the forefront of sustainable footwear production. World, meet Sylven.
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New-York based Sylven was founded in 2017 by Casey Dworkin, a 15-year veteran of the footwear and accessories industry. (If the mention of a sustainable leather alternative has already sold you on the footwear brand, proceed straight to the brand’s website and plug in our exclusive discount code, REFINERY, for 15% off your Sylven purchase.) While the small-batch operation originally launched with animal leather, the company has since shifted to fully producing all their shoe styles with apple leather, a vegan and lower-impact material made from organic food waste in Italy. “I'm such a huge fan of apple leather,” Dworkin explains. As a designer that has always prioritized sustainability, I love that I finally found a vegan leather option that isn't fully plastic that actually looks and feels like the real deal.”

The designer’s switch to non-plastic vegan leather is a small compromise embedded within a complex environmental issue. Although unprocessed animal hides are biodegradable, the pre-manufacturing tanning and dyeing treatment of the material requires a menu of hazardous chemicals that heavily pollute water systems. While advances in “vegan” leather substitutes have helped to curb the use of the genuine stuff, these materials frequently employ plastic-based materials such as PVC and polyurethane — making it counterproductive as an eco-friendly alternative to real leather.

From her brand's earliest days, Dworkin was committed to innovative sustainable materials and practices, as well as prioritizing small-batch production using both natural (wheat, barley, and coconut) and recycled materials. When she landed on a high-quality, sustainable vegan leather alternative to the genuine Italian leather she'd always used, Dworkin knew she had to make the switch. The apple leather manufacturer and the shoe factory are also both located in Italy in close proximity to each other, making the creation of a Sylven shoe a local operation in addition to a more eco-friendly one.
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We spoke to the designer about how the plant-based substitute measures up to the real Italian stuff. "Apple leather looks and feels identical to real leather on the surface,” she explains. The main difference lies beneath — where normal leather has a velvety hand on the underside, apple leather is felt-like. In a Sylven shoe, a lining made from corn and wheat byproducts is added, making it hard to decipher any substantial differences. Other differences to consider? "A finished shoe made of apple leather is also more lightweight than a standard leather,” Dworkin says. “The apple material does have some stretch, but probably about half as much as a traditional animal-based material.”
While it’s easy to get caught up in Dworkin’s passion for building a sustainable business, the sheer curb appeal of Sylven’s wares should not be overlooked. The brand’s offerings are classic and timeless — think heeled boots, minimal Scandi-style sneakers, and streamlined mules for day-to-night wear. When prompted, Dworkin admits that “choosing a favorite shoe is like choosing a favorite child. I can say that the shoes that get the most wear in my closet are definitely my Mel sneakers,” she continues, “but when I'm getting a little dressed up, I've been loving the Jayne boot” — a ’90s-inspired square-toed ankle boot with an unexpected contrast insert. Eco-conscious shoe lovers can shop Dworkin's picks and other apple leather shoe styles (including the striking Amalsi boot and the universal Cass flat) online at Sylven's website.
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