Material Guide: What Is Mulberry Leather and Is It Sustainable?

Material Guide: What Is Mulberry Leather and Is It Sustainable?

Mulberry Leather is an eco-friendly vegan leather alternative developed by an independent Korean manufacturer. Mulberry Leather draws on the historic paper-making tradition of hanji, and is crafted through an innovative textile technology of a patented silicone-based coating, which allows the fabric to retain many of mulberry bast fiber material advantages.

Thanks to the natural characteristic of mulberry bast fiber, Hanji is 99.9% antibacterial, durable, lightweight, breathable, and water repellent. 

Our mulberry leather bags


KI LEE is an accessories brand based in Seoul that creates futuristic designs using innovative sustainable materials. As vessels embodying the link between SCI-FI imagery and innovative eco-friendly material, KI LEE products seek to reconnect the consumers with fantastical imaginations of the future and foster a sense of hopeful agency in shaping the world to come. 

Green Mulberry vegan eco leather bag

  Black Mulberry vegan eco leather bag

What is Hanji? 

Hanji is the name of traditional handmade paper from Korea. It is made of the inner bark of paper mulberry (Broussonetia Papyrifera) - a tree native to Korea that grows well on its rocky mountain sides.

The paper mulberry tree that grows in Korea has to withstand the Korean monsoon season, where it's really hot and humid in the Summer and intensely cold and snowy in the Winter. So, this tree is incredibly resilient and really strong.

The most distinctive feature of Hanji from other papers is its durability.

Ancient uses

Hanji has been used for the purpose of painting and writing, as well to help people in the daily lives. The high social class people, called Yangbans, recorded various documents on Hanji. This is one of the main reasons why Korea's ancient records are well preserved.

It was one of the main export products that Korean dynasties used in trading.

Paper was used for writing, of course; the art of calligraphy was one of the six arts which all Korean scholars had to be accomplished at. Some of the finest illuminated texts, typically of Buddhist sutras, were made using hanji paper dyed a pale yellow or deep indigo and given extra decoration using gold and silver.

Another important use of paper was in the interior walls and doors, and sometimes windows, of traditional Korean houses (hanok). The paper was transparent enough to admit a soft light into the home but could also help maintain a cool interior in summer and keep in warmth during winter.

Other items made from Hanji included banknotes, paintings, moveable screens (made of 2 to 12 panels in a wood frame), lantern covers, small boxes, artificial flowers, furniture, cone-shaped rain hats (made waterproof by oiling the paper) and umbrellas. All of these items could be decorated with calligraphy, painting, embroidery, and lacquer.

Another unique usage of Hanji is that people made armors out of Hanji. Even though Hanji is just a paper, it was very durable and tough. It was waterproof, and did not rip easily. There is a record in Korea saying that people made armors and suits with Hanji, and called them "Jigap".

How to make Hanji

Hanji is hand-processed from one year old Paper mulberry and is complete only after the 100th touch. In this regard, Hanji was also called the ‘hundredth paper’.

The process of making Hanji differs by what ingredients the Hanji makers choose, and what methods of sheet formation they take to make the final product. However, the most traditional and basic process follows eight steps:

Collecting and steaming Paper mulberry

Collecting-and steaming-paper-mulberry

One year old Paper mulberry that are cut between November and February are used for the paper’s material. The trees are steamed and the bark is peeled until black bark comes out. If so, peel the bark again in order to collect white bark. The result is called Heukpi (흑피, hanja: 黑皮).


Boiling bark of Paper mulberry in lye

Make lye out of ashes made from burned wheat stems, bean steams, and straws. Soak the white bark sufficiently in water and cut in pieces of around 30~40 cm in size and steam them in a cauldron for around 4 to 5 hours.

Cleansing and bleaching hanji

Cleansing and bleaching

Soak the steamed fibers of Paper mulberry in running water to wash away the lye and place them for 5 to 7 days under sunlight for natural bleaching. Take the fibers of Paper mulberry out of the water in order to remove blemish.

Unfolding fibers and dissolving glue of Paper mulberry

Unfolding fibers and dissolving glue of Paper mulberry

Place the fibers of trees on a rock called Dakdol and pound them with a bat called ‘Dak Bat’ for about an hour. The mucus from Abelmoschus manihot (Dakpul -  a specie of Hibiscus plant) is applied onto the bark. This helps the paper stay together for a long time, and does not contain any harmful chemicals.

Scooping up Hanji

Scooping up Hanji

Scoop up with a deckle into the paper container where the ingredients and the Dakpul are well-mixed and shake it thoroughly.


Piling up wet papers and squeezing water

Piling up wet papers and squeezing water

Pile up wet papers sheet by sheet on a board. Place pillows(rush, nylon thread) in between and ensure it can be easily removed later. When around 400~500 wet papers are piled up, put a board on top of them, and place a stone on it or a leverage to squeeze out the water overnight.


Drying Hanji paper


Take the paper one by one and dry them individually. In the past, they were dried on a floor, clay wall, or on a wood board. But recently they are dried on an iron plate. 


Smoothing Hanji Paper

This is a traditional technique to smooth the surface of Hanji. Dozens of Hanjis are piled up and pounded by a machine called Dochimgi. This machine’s shape resembles a treadmill. Smoothed papers have an even surface and the cracks between fibers are filled, which prevents ink bleeding and the surface to be glossy.


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