I recently was presented with a fun and new challenge. A customer wanted a bag built without leather--a vegan bag.
(You can read a blog post from Norther Cycles in Portland, OR about how this bag was mounted with a custom alloy stiffener and decaleur here.)
Glad to comply, I started looking into materials that would approximate the look and feel of leather but meet the vegan mandate. Since the decision was to go with a waxed rust brown canvas and black trim my material selection was guided by the idea of using EPDM as my "leather". EPDM is rubber roofing membrane that you'd see in vast acreage atop any flat roofed big-box type store. It's tough and durable and seems to come in one color: black.
Having decided on the material, and happening to have a handy supply on hand from an old construction project, my task was to find a way to buff it up a bit and give it the polish we associate with leather. A quick look on the interwebs and I found the suggestion to use silicone as a polishing agent. I should have run down town and bought a can of silicone spray, but since I had a tube of silicone caulk, I glommed some of that out on my material and let it set. Later I came back, rubbed off the dry material and found that the rubber underneath was smooth and shiny. It was a bit of work, but it did the trick. I also experimented with using petroleum jelly but it's shine wasn't quite as good as the silicone.
Typically with leather I thin it when I need a different thickness than what I have on hand. With the EPDM I did the opposite; I layered up as much material as I needed and laminated the layers together. It worked great.
Looking at the finished bag, I wouldn't know its not leather trim. I am really pleased with how it came out. Had the customer wanted brown, that would have added a degree of challenge to the project. In the looking around I found rolls of what seemed to be bamboo fabric that look great and seemed like it might work, but also cost a kings ransom. I'll be keeping an eye out for possibilities when the next project comes along.