How Ohoskin created the first bio-based alternative to animal leather

6 June 2024
Innovation Center, Startup Development, Startup Tales, startup

The Sicilian startup has developed a circular and cruelty-free material "starting" from orange waste and prickly pear blades.

Founded in Catania in 2019 by Adriana Santanocito, Roberto Merighi and Stefano Mazzetti, the Sicilian company has developed a circular material starting from oranges and cactuses wastes: a vegan and cruelty-free solution for luxury fashion, furniture and automotive industry.

 Fabrics made from oranges  Fabrics made from oranges

Produce the first sustainable bio-based material alternative to animal leather for luxury fashion, furniture and automotive brands entirely Made in Italy leaving from orange scraps and cactuses, with an innovative transparent circular economy process thanks to Blockchain and QR Code, used to guarantee the traceability of the entire supply chain. This is the activity of Ohoskin, an innovative startup co-founded in 2019 in Catania by Adriana Santanocito (CEO), Roberto Merighi (CTO) and Stefano Mazzetti (CCO).

The “circular” entrepreneurial initiative was born from the intuition and the thirty years’ experience in chemistry of the Venetian Roberto Merighi together with Adriana Santanocito, Sicilian graduated in Fashion Design in Milan with specialization in textile materials and technologies for sustainable fashion in 2013, when sustainability was not yet such a relevant topic for public opinion. Merighi and Santanocito in 2019 they have launched their entrepreneurial initiative starting from three loves: for fashion, for sustainable materials in the textile sector and for their respective lands of origin (Veneto and Sicily)

The origins of Ohoskin: innovation and “vision”

“The project – explains the CEO at Ohoskin – it starts from Sicily and its resources, with the awareness of being able to bring value not only to the territory but also to fashion which is my great passion”. “With this in mind – continues Santanocito – I have filed two patents in the textile sector, co-founding Ohoskin in late 2019 as I understood how one of the most polluting areas in the sector is the tanning, which has traditionally used harmful chemicals such as chromium and cyanide to make animal hides water-repellent”.

Substances that are evidently harmful to the environment, although they are no longer used in Italy as they have been replaced by plant-based processes. However, the damage “it was heard and is still felt today, with the PFAS (perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) which in addition to the waters of Veneto in Italy are present in 17,000 European areas, not only in water but also in soil and in the human body”, Santanocito clarifies.

In any case, underlines the CEO of the Sicilian startup, “the main problem that Ohoskin wants to answer is not linked to the environmental impact of the tanning industry which has already decreased, instead to offer all the people who do not want to use animal skin for lifestyle choices, but who do not intend to give up purchasing the objects they appreciate, finding themselves almost forced to opt for other types of materials”.
“The intention
– adds Santanocito – is to offer beautiful products that have the same ‘luxury’ appearance as animal skin and that are equally high performing as well as sustainable and ‘ethical’ as they are cruelty free”.

A business idea transformed into an innovative, scalable entrepreneurial initiative thanks to the fundamental contribution of Roberto Merighi, a chemist with experience in biotechnology. “A person I had known for a long time and with whom I had always had great harmony, who I met again after several years in a bar – recalls the CEO of Ohoskin -. Talking about their respective projects, Roberto was thinking about a possible alternative to animal leather and asked me if I was interested in developing the project together”. Adriana Santanocito’s interest was immediate, leading to the co-founding of Ohoskin in 2019.

 Woman walking on orange carpet with oranges  Woman walking on orange carpet with oranges

How Ohoskin, the bio-based and cruelty-free alternative material to animal skin, is produced

The bio-based material produced by Ohoskin for ‘luxury’ fashion, furniture and automotive accessories is created using an innovative formula that foresees two steps. The first materializes in Sicily thanks to partnerships with local entities (F.lli Branca S.p.A and Agrinsicilia Arl) which they process the by-products of oranges and cactuses of the food and cosmetics industries, ‘transforming’ them into the biopolymer on which Ohoskin is based. Subsequently, the semi-finished product is sent to Lombardy to the factories of Novartiplast Italia - active for over 50 years in the production of PVC and polyurethane coated fabrics commonly called “synthetic leathers” - which creates the final product.

“The real difference and the quality that characterizes our material is its high durability (from 10 to 20 years). A feature possible thanks to a formula that includes recycled plastic instead of polyurethane (COULD) traditionally used for alternative solutions to animal skin, to which are added widely available orange scraps and cactuses (about 1.5 tons per year): two typical fruits of Sicily that would otherwise be disposed of, without creating anything specifically to make Ohoskin”, clarifies Santanocito.

A circular solution that prioritizes the longevity of the material over its biodegradability, while still resulting in a significant reduction in the carbon footprint. In fact, in carbon footprint measurement requested by the startup to Climate Partner Italia, it emerged that the impact of CO2 emissions in the production of Ohoskin is equal to 2.57 kilograms per square meter.

A comparative analysis by Climate Partner also highlights how the processing of fabrics made from animal skin - given the need for intensive farming - has an impact of between 14.7 kg for each square meter of “finished” bovine leather in Italy and 87 kg in other countries, with Ohoskin’s carbon footprint also lower than that of the materials PU-based alternatives to leather.

How Ohoskin grew up

At the end of 2019, recalls the CEO of Ohoskin, “we had filed the patent (expanded internationally in 2020) and we were starting the journey to industrialize our material, but after a few months the pandemic stopped everything. Consequently, 2021 was the real first year of activity, in which we entered into all the partnerships and conducted the studies to make our material non-fossil industrial”.

“In 2022 – continues Santanocito – we therefore presented Ohoskin starting from the commercial campaign, seeing the first results in 2023 with the first brand (Danish Ganni) which launched its first collection made with our bio-based leather. We currently collaborate with around 80 brands: some have already launched their own collections while the others are testing our material”.

A particularly fast and important response from the market, which required a valid alternative to animal leather, with “smaller” but particularly interesting brands compared to the more well-known ones. Among these, the CEO of Ohoskin underlines, “the latest collaborations have been started with startups such as MoEa (shoes) e Miomojo (vegan bags): young companies known throughout the world, which pay particular attention to sustainability and respect for animals”.

“Another important collaboration - continues Santanocito - is the one with Sabelt, with which we created the first racing shoe in the world made with alternative materials to leather, given that our product has passed the very rigorous FIA tests (International Motoring Federation)”.

Ohoskin growth path includes participation in Motor Valley Accelerator 2021, an acceleration program aimed at startups active in mobility which takes place in Modena and was born from an initiative by CDP Venture Capital Sgr in collaboration with the Modena Foundation and UniCredit, and with the support of CRIT and Plug and Play Italia. “A path that has opened up new market outlets, allowing us to gradually discover how our innovative material has the characteristics sought by the automotive sector”, clarifies the co-founder of the Sicilian startup.

Oranges on fabric Oranges on fabric

Participation in Up2Stars 2022: the role of Intesa Sanpaolo and Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center in Ohoskin’s successes

Ohoskin was also one of the companies selected to participate in the 2022 edition of Up2Stars in the vein Bioeconomy, or the Intesa Sanpaolo acceleration program created in collaboration with Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center and support from the Gellify innovation platform.
“I am very attached to Up2Stars for two reasons: on the one hand it is a path ‘calibrated’ to the startup as it put our needs and requirements at the center, supported by mentors who helped us solve Ohoskin’s problems; on the other, a truly important experience to understand our weak points of the and understand how to effectively exploit the strong ones to enter the market which has marked a sort of turning point”, highlights Adriana Santanocito.

The relationship with Intesa Sanpaolo and Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center has not ended once completed the program, Indeed, “they continue to alert us to opportunities and offer us visibility by allowing us to participate in events, as well as asking us for feedback and supporting the business. All this makes me feel part of a real community”, underlines the co-founder of the Sicilian innovative startup. Furthermore, in 2023 Ohoskin became part of the Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center startup portfolio.


In Ohoskin’s growth, there is no shortage of international awards and mentions. Just to mention the most recent, the Sicilian startup was one of the three innovative companies to which ENI, through its School for Entrepreneurship Joule, assigned the Special Mention Eni Joule for Entrepreneurship. The awards ceremony - part of the ENI Awards, prestigious international recognitions in the technical and scientific fields - took place at the Quirinale Palace on 16 October 2023, with the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, presenting the award to Adriana Santanocito.

Furthermore, on April 15, 2024, the Sicilian startup won the “Best Product or Service for Sustainable Development” award for micro and small businesses as part of the XI edition of the Enterprise Environment Award: the most important Italian recognition in the sector, organized by the Venice Rovigo Chamber of Commerce together with Unioncamere and, for the first time, with the support of Assocamerestero and Stazione Sperimentale del Vetro.

Ohoskin’s ambitions and future prospects

In addition to expanding collaborations with fashion brands for the production of accessories such as shoes and bags made using the internationally patented “circular” material and in the furniture sector, Ohoskin is currently in the testing phase with various car manufacturers having achieved a good level of maturity regarding the formula developed in the laboratory for the sector.

“The first step consists in definitively entering with an industrial process and product that has all the certifications required for the automotive sector, stringent but necessary”, points out the startup CEO.

With this in mind Ohoskin has recently started fundraising activities, also aimed at finding resources to create a “pre-series plant” with an adjoining laboratory in Sicily, thus responding more quickly to market demands and product development. All without a proprietary production plant, but “having the ‘heart’ of the project in Sicily where Ohoskin and the fruits used to create the material are born, to then distribute it all over the world”, concludes Santanocito.