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about Malai


what is Malai?

Malai is a newly developed leather like material made from bacterial cellulose, grown on agricultural waste sourced from the coconut industry in Southern India. The word ‘Malai’ refers directly to the creamy flesh of the coconut and it is the coconut water (a by-product from the harvesting of this flesh) that sustains the bacteria whilst they are producing the cellulose, which is then in turn collected and refined until it becomes the finished material: Malai. 

Malai is fully compostable and will biodegrade in compost in 90-120 days ( depending on climatic conditions).Nothing in the material composition will prevent it from returning to nature and eventually become a soil nutrient.

Malai is a material with character. We make Malai material in a variety of thicknesses, colours and finishes. We can produce it in sheets and we have also developed a process whereby we can create seamless three dimensional objects using a moulding technique.

Malai sheets are produced in 3 weights : 500 gsm, 650 gsm and 800 gsm.


why Malai?

Malai aims to find alternative solutions to challenges created by conventional production practices.

We are:

ecologically conscious - Malai is 100% biodegradable, has low CO2 emissions and is made entirely without using aggressive chemicals or plastics. Two base ingredients are:

coconut water -  Currently there is no use for this type of water and therefore it’s often released into drainage.

natural fibers - Banana plants are cultivated all over South India, Kerala is the biggest producer of all states. However, once the banana fruit is harvested the stem of the plant is discarded or converted into biomass. A very good quality fiber can be extracted from the banana stem - we are using this in the making of Malai.

 - socially conscious - We work with suppliers whose ethical approach is transparent and verified. We also collaborate with traditional Indian leather artisans to craft Malai products - in effort to sustain their livelihoods and moreover to preserve their unique leatherworking skills that have been handed down from generation to generation.

Our goal is to establish a working supply chain system that involves coconut and banana farmers who will gain additional revenue from selling us their coconut water and banana fiber. We transform product from natural sources so that it can safely return back to nature in a nutrient form.

- economical- We are working on the development of a unique raw material sourcing system that will ensure 100% utilization of raw material from agricultural waste. It is possible to form Malai into sheets of specific pattern/shape eliminating offcut waste. We have developed a process of 3D moulding of Malai - creating objects with no seams. Both sides of Malai have the same appearance, both directions have the same tensile strength

-... and also our products are pretty :) 


how Malai began?

At Malai we believe everyone has the capacity to positively influence the planet’s future. We believe in conscious consumption and are constantly inspired by the beauty and purity of natural materials, and the cycle of life.

Malai’s shining star is co-founder Zuzana Gombosova. She is a true scientist since childhood, dismantling objects with a curiosity to learn how they work and behave. She is dedicated to making friendlier fashion by starting with more sustainable materials and helping to address fashion's impact as a global pollutant.

She was keen to find material that would come from nature, and that at the end of its life cycle could return back to nature with little to no impact. This pursuit was a catalyst in changing her Masters studies at Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts & Design in London (UK) from fashion design to material research. She dedicated the majority of her London studies to this goal.

 The Malai story began in 2017 when Zuzana met Susmith, a Product Designer and maker from Kerala, India. They initiated a 3yr research project exploring the potential of bacterial cellulose growth, specifically through the use of mature coconut waste water, and in refining the finished material for multipurpose applications. The idea of vegan leather emerged organically when they ended up with sheets of material resembling leather like qualities.

Malai has been enjoying popularity among designers, brands and manufacturers focused on  sustainable and circular fashion. Several global brands are currently incorporating the material  in their products. Malai Studio started with a 2019 crowdfunding campaign, with a collection of accessories offered as rewards. With the same collection Malai won the Circular Design Challenge in 2020 and had an opportunity to keep elevating the brand.