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Indian start-up Phool.co has found a way to turn discarded temple flowers into vegan leather called “fleather.”
Three years ago, the start-up was founded by Ankit Agarwal and Prateek Kumar to address the large amount of floral waste being dumped into the Ganges River. Phool.co upcycles nearly 8,000 kilograms of discarded flowers daily, turning them into charcoal-free incense sticks, organic compost, and biodegradable packaging materials.
The company supports around 1,200 rural families by providing a livelihood for local women. Their employees are entitled to health insurance and other employment benefits.
According to Agarwal, Phool.co first explored the development of an alternative leather material last year. He said that the company’s R&D team got the idea for fleather when they noticed a white layer similar to leather forming on flower waste. Upon inspection, the team found that a microorganism using the petals as a food source is causing the formation of the white material.
The team also discovered that fleather contains a kind of protein similar to animal leather’s collagen, which gives it strength and durability. He added that like traditional animal leather, fleather is elastic and not prone to breakage, making it a viable and even possibly superior alternative.
Last February, Phool.co was awarded the “Best Innovation in Vegan Fashion” title for fleather at the Circular Design Challenge, where aspiring designers and entrepreneurs are recognized for their innovative and sustainable ideas for fashion. Fleather also caught the interest of a famous Indian designer, who expressed that she wants to work with the new material.
Apart from awards and recognition, the start-up also recently secured a $1.4 million investment through the help of an angel investor and a charitable organization. Phool.co will use the money to expand its operations and advance its research.