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Gucci Joins Fashion’s New Materials Race

The Italian brand is launching vegan versions of its New Ace and Rhyton sneakers made with a leather alternative developed in-house.
Gucci Basket sneakers
Gucci Basket sneakers. Gucci. (Cosimo Sereni)

Gucci is getting into material innovation.

The Italian megabrand said Thursday that it’s developed a new alternative to leather. The material, named Demetra in reference to the Greek goddess of agriculture and harvest, is vegan and largely made up of plant-based materials.

It’s the latest sign that new and innovative materials are emerging as one of fashion’s hottest trends, as brands seek to cater to younger consumers by marketing innovation and eco and ethical credentials. Though Gucci said it is in no way abandoning leather, it has launched vegan versions of its New Ace and Rhyton sneakers made with Demetra, organic cotton and recycled steel and polyester.

Price points for the shoes range between €590 (about $710) and €790, the same price range as those made with animal leather and other materials. A new sneaker model using Demetra, the Gucci Basket, will launch June 18.

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Gucci isn’t the only brand investing in new materials. Hermès has partnered with California start-up Mycoworks to develop Sylvania, a lab-grown leather alternative derived from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. Meanwhile, industry players including Stella McCartney, Adidas, Lululemon and Gucci-owner Kering have all committed to launching products with Mylo, another mycelium leather alternative developed by rival material science player Bolt Threads.

But many of the leather alternatives currently under development are still at the prototype phase, with products incorporating the materials not yet available for consumers to buy.

Gucci said Demetra, which it spent two years developing in-house with Gruppo Colonna, a Tuscany-based group of tanneries it majority owns, is already commercially viable. The company has filed to patent and trademark the material, which it plans to market to the industry more widely, starting with other Kering brands.

Demetra is made with up to 77 percent plant-based materials, including viscose and wood pulp compounds sourced from sustainably managed forests, and biobased polyurethane sourced from non-genetically modified wheat and corn, Gucci said.

Like many plant-based leather alternatives, Demetra still uses some synthetic components such as polyurethane and resin, to ensure the performance, quality and finish of the material. Gucci says it’s continuing to work to replace these elements with more sustainable alternatives.

The new material launch is part of a wider strategy to position Gucci at the forefront of efforts to develop a more sustainable fashion industry. The company went carbon neutral in 2019. Last year it partnered with The RealReal in an early sign of parent company Kering’s growing interest in resale. And earlier this week Gucci launched its first impact report, laying out the company’s efforts so far.

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