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Malai, created by Zuzana Gombosova and Susmith CS, is a sustainable alternative to leather that will delight environmentally conscious manufacturers and consumers alike

What is ‘Malai’?

SS: Malai is a newly developed biocomposite material made from entirely organic and sustainable bacterial cellulose, grown on agricultural waste sourced from the coconut industry in Southern India. It is a flexible, durable, water-resistant material with a feel comparable to leather or paper. A sustainable alternative to leather, it does not cause any allergies and is a completely vegan product.

How did you both team up?

SS: Zuzana is a material researcher and designer from Slovakia. I am a product designer and maker from Kerala. We met in Mumbai in 2015, by which time Zuzana had already been working for over three years on bacterial cellulose as a material. She was keen to explore the potential in India for employing a traditional bacterial-cellulose growth process used in the Philippines, where ‘nata de coco’ is an important part of the food industry.

Discovering that we shared the same values and concern for sustainability and the environment, we got together to start Malai Biomaterials Design Pvt. Ltd. We work with the local farmers and processing units, collecting their waste coconut water (which would otherwise be dumped, causing damage to the soil) and re-purposing it to feed the bacteria’s cellulose production. One small coconut-processing unit can collect 4,000 liters of water per day, which we can use to make 320 sq. mt. of Malai.

Why did you choose to call the product ‘Malai’?

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