Vegan R.M. Williams one step closer to reality after Andrew Forrest’s firm invests $26.8 million in plant-based textiles

R.M. Williams

Source: AAP Image / Lukas Coch

Vegan R.M. Williams boots are suddenly a step closer to reality, after the brand’s parent company Tattarang deployed a $26.8 million Series B investment in plant-based textile developer Natural Fiber Welding.

Tattarang, the investment firm overseen by mining magnate and latter-day sustainability advocate Andrew Forrest, announced the investment on Tuesday, joining investors like BMW i Ventures and Ralph Lauren in the latest funding round.

Natural Fiber Welding (NFW), based in the US state of Illinois, currently offers two products to the fashion market: Clarus, a plant-based textile with the moisture-wicking properties of sporty synthetics, and Mirum, a leather-like material composed of “plants and minerals”. NFW claims no petrochemicals are used in its production, unlike other faux leathers.

It is Mirum which poses the greatest upside for Tattarang, whose portfolio now includes lauded bootmaker R.M. Williams.

Not only has Mirum already been deployed by Melbourne-based Bellroy for its wallets and card-carriers, Spanish footwear giant Camper this month introduced a world-first line of shoes using the leather-like product.

 

Tattarang chief investment officer John Hartman said the firm is deeply interested in applying those lessons at home.

“Leather is of course deeply entwined in the DNA of R.M.Williams, and we have no plan to change that,” Hartman said. “However we know consumers are increasingly seeking high-performance, plastic-free leather alternatives. NFW could provide an opportunity for us to further explore this with R.M. Williams.”

Plant-based alternatives are only growing

While leather substitutes have long featured in Australian wardrobes, its uptake among luxury brands has only accelerated in recent years.

Premium watchmakers like IWC and Cartier now offer faux-leather straps on their flagship models, while Hermès, maker of the world’s most-coveted handbags, last year partnered with Mycoworks to deliver a prototype made of mycelium — fungal root structures repurposed for leather-like materials.

But the luxury goods sector is hardly the only industry getting in on the plant-based action. In partnering with NFW, Tattarang and R.M. Williams also finds an unlikely kinship with Hungry Jack’s and its founder Jack Cowin.

Like R.M. Williams, the fast food chain is synonymous with animal-based products. However, Cowin has tipped an enormous sum into alternative protein manufacturer v2foods, whose plant-based burger patties now sit alongside old-school Whoppers in restaurants nationwide.

Allen Zelden, co-founder of alternative protein accelerator PlantForm, last month told SmartCompany Australia’s uptake of plant-based meat has reached a “tipping point”.

Tattarang would hope those changing consumer preferences would extend to high-end footwear, too.

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