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How This Thai Entrepreneur Makes Leather From Leaves

By FedEx | June 14, 2024

Meet Mr. Leaf: the Thai social enterprise creating vegan leather alternatives using natural teak leaves – and developing new kinds of handmade crafts with local artisans.

  • Eco-conscious consumers are swapping leather goods for vegan leather alternatives.
  • Thai accessory company Mr. Leaf is responding to demand, crafting bags and purses from local teak leaves.
  • Company is going from strength to strength - thanks to a growing overseas customer base and smooth logistics fulfilment for cross-border shipping.

How many leather items do you own? From shoes and bags to laptop cases and biker jackets, leather has been a mainstay of the fashion and accessories industry for decades. It’s also used for lifestyle and leisure items: car interiors; restaurant banquettes; footballs and other sporting equipment.

The mainstream popularity of leather means it’s big business. The leather goods industry is worth over $242 billion, and growing. Asia Pacific dominates the global market, with many manufacturers, suppliers and exporters based here. But the industry’s traditional reliance on cowhide leather has implications for the environment, and many vegans refuse to wear it.

Creating leather alternatives from unlikely materials

In recent years, leather alternatives have grown in popularity, with goods made from everything from mango waste and pineapple leaf to cork and mushroom. With eco-friendly products and sustainable alternatives growing in popularity, a budding entrepreneur in Thailand had a unique idea for a product inspired by nature – and it’s been around for over 20 years.

In 2004, Mr. Poramet Saiupparach co-founded a new business, Mr. Leaf, with a friend. A former teacher who grew up on a farm surrounded by trees, Mr. Pormaret had a simple yet innovative idea. Agricultural leftovers like fallen leaves could be given a new life through sustainable hand-made products, such as bags, accessories, and furniture.

His idea was to develop an innovative, plant-based alternative to leather made from natural teak leaf, known for water resistance and durability.

Taking Thai-crafted products overseas to tap new markets

In the early years, Mr. Leaf focused on establishing their business in the Thai domestic market. Since then, products have gained popularity with environmentally conscious customers around the world, and are now sold in over 17 countries.

Over 95% of products are exported overseas, mostly to the US, China, Germany, and other parts of Europe. As Mr. Leaf’s key markets shifted abroad, partnering with a reliable logistics provider with a robust global network was crucial. They needed to ensure a seamless shipping experience for their business expansion and e-commerce operations, meeting customer expectations for reliable, friction-free delivery.

“Shipping orders to international customers successfully is not an easy task for small businesses like us,” said Mr. Poramet.

“FedEx offers a solution-based approach to support our cross-border shipping needs. A team of experienced experts helps us navigate the customs clearance process, from preparing paperwork to handling customs issues and returns.

FedEx makes cross-border shipping easier for us while keeping our customers happy. And most importantly, this allows us to focus our time and efforts on growing the business.”

Simplifying international shipping with the latest logistics solutions

For almost a decade now, FedEx has been working alongside Mr. Leaf as they expand their global footprint, making cross-border trade simpler and more convenient. Our logistics solutions and digital tools simplify paperwork for online orders and enable Mr Leaf’s customers to personalize and track their deliveries.

In December 2023, Mr. Leaf used FedEx to ship products and stock to its first flagship store in China, the company’s seventh store opening. They also plan to use our logistics network to expand into Japan, Australia, and New Zealand later this year.

The Mr. Leaf brand is firmly rooted in four pillars – cultural identity, innovation, design, and nature. The social enterprise is driven by a purpose to impact local communities in a positive way. Today, Mr. Leaf employs over 40 local artisans, empowering them with ongoing training and upskilling to helping them build a livelihood from their craftsmanship.

And with plans to explore leather made from other natural materials such as coffee, banana and tamarind, Mr. Leaf plans to continue to give customers more choice and new sustainable options to match their lifestyles.
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