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Nova Kaeru: Making the most of the Amazon, while preserving it.
Véronique Saunier | 01 March 2019

Paulo Amaury, Director of Nova Kaeru

Brazilian company Nova Kaeru is devoted to creating bio-fabrics, with an organic approach to its production processes. Based in Rio de Janeiro, it has developed processes aiming at finding a true balance between nature and people.

The company’s flagship product is the leather from the skins of the giant Amazon fish, Pirarucu (Arapaima). This fish is the focus of a successful sustainable management program, aimed at protecting the species and preserving the culture and livelihood of the peoples of the Amazon forest. Recently, the company has launched a plant-based material named beLEAF which will be presented at the coming APLF Materials+. Prior to the exhibition and to the Sustainable Fashion Conference, Nova Kaeru’s director, Paulo Amaury, tell us more about the company’s latest developments.

Q: Nova Kaeru is specialized in the tanning of animal skins, mostly of fish but also originally of batrachians. What is the story?

A: Indeed, the name Kaeru is reminiscent of the company’s first product, namely frog leather, more than 20 years ago. The product was then aimed at the Japanese market. Kaeru means frog (as well as good luck) in the Japanese language.

Today, the company’s flagship product is the leather from the skins of the giant Amazon fish, Pirarucu (Arapaima). This fish is the focus of a successful sustainable management program, aimed at protecting the species and preserving the culture and livelihood of the peoples of the Amazon forest.

Q: Nova Kaeru has recently launched a kind of plant-based material. Can you tell us more about it?

A: Nova Kaeru’ latest development is beLEAF, a plant-based alternative to traditional leathers, which is 100% vegan and probably our most sustainable fabric so far. It is a leaf of the Yam family, tanned as if it were a skin, resulting in a durable material that preserves the shapes, shades and graphics of the leaf in its natural state.

Q: What is the process behind beLEAF?

A: beLEAF is a technology of tanning leaves, which is potentially applicable to a variety of vegetables. In its initial version, beLEAF is the leaf of Alocasia Macrorrizia. Its popular name in Brazil is Elephant Ear, which is not surprising given the impressive size of each leaf, between 2.5 and 5 sq. ft. The idea is rooted in our history of searching for and developing new materials which are nature-based, beautiful as in nature, and which cares for nature and people in the best possible ways. What could be more like it than taking a ‘leaf as is’, not killing the plant, treating it with organic, eco-friendly tanning agents - and giving to the fashion industry not a new, indistinct fiber, but the leaf itself in its preserved beauty? We approach the process as one approaches traditional tanning: substituting chemicals inside the plant, giving it resistance and longevity; encapsulating and protecting the fibers. But the challenges are much greater, given the absolute novelty of the concept and the relative weakness of vegetable fibers.

Q: Precisely. There are questions about the durability of these new materials compared to leather and other animal fibres, as there is not enough data at this stage to ascertain how long products made out of these materials last. What is your opinion about this?

A: The greater complexity of tanning leaves vis-a-vis animal skins reflects their comparatively weaker fibers. But the technology is robust and the gains obtained in parameters like resistance, strength, touch, etc., have been impressive. We expect that beLEAF be used alongside or as alternative to leather in all the latter’s uses. But clearly beLEAF should be regarded as a comparatively more delicate fabric than cow leather, for example.

Q: What are the main properties and applications of Beleaf?

A: beLEAF looks and behaves almost like leather. Applications, we believe, will be as wide as those of leather, i.e., shoes, accessories, upholstery... In just over a month since the launch of beLEAF, it has attracted the attention of virtually all segments of the industry. Our next step will be the production of seamless panels, joining several beLEAFS in one larger piece.

Q: In which way is it sustainable?

A: Collecting leaves of elephant ear plants do not harm the plant, which goes on leaving. Elephant Ear plants are not monoculture, commercial crops. The plant thrives on the banks of rivers or the fringes of forests. The transformation process is eco-friendly, based on organic oils.

Q: Another trend is to combine animal leather with plant-based alternatives to create a new category of “nature-based” material. Does Nova Kaeru have any such plans?

A: Nova Kaeru has patented a unique process of joining skins of different species to create seamless panels. This process can be used to combine vegetable- and animal-based fabrics in single, seamless units.

Q: What other developments can we expect from Nova Kaeru in the future?

A: beLEAF technology is evolving by the day. We expect to cooperate closely with manufacturers of shoes, bags, etc., to make beLEAF ever more suitable to each application. In a not so distant horizon, we expect to apply the technology to other plant leaves beside Elephant Ear.

Q: Apart from presenting beLEAF in the APLF exhibition you will also participate in the Sustainable Fashion Conference. Which topic will you address?

A: I am eager to share the experience of the challenges we have met in the creation and launch of a sustainable new product. To learn more about the beLEAF material, visit Nova Kaeru’s booth 1B-C07-BR-CICB and come and listen to Paulo Amaury at the Sustainable Fashion Conference on March 14, 2019 from 10.00 to 12.00.