This content was paid for by Menorca and produced in partnership with Car Design News


A new water-based microfibre suede has been created in response to growing demand for clean yet durable automotive materials

Leather has generally been the material of choice when it comes to luxury and increasingly across the mass market too, but requests for sustainable, non-animal-derived alternatives are growing. 

Companies with an expertise in both natural and synthetic materials are at a strategic advantage, able to meet the desires of various brands and segments. It is for this reason that Mingxin has invested heavily in new water-based microfibre solutions – directing nearly US$5m towards R&D in 2020 alone – and recently introduced a new microfibre suede called Menorca.

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The name Menorca is inspired by an idyllic Spanish island 

The material aims to bring a touch of luxury to the interior while satisfying expectations for sustainability and durability.

Soft to the touch and available in a wide range of colours and finishes, Menorca uses a dye-free, water-based technology and is crafted using ultra-fine coloured fibres derived from melted ‘colour masterbatches’ – additives that are used for colouring or imparting specific properties to plastics, typically in solid pellet form. This approach ensures high colorfastness compared to products that are dyed later, which also tend to experience issues with color migration, reduced resistance to light exposure and are generally less durable in terms of colour aspect.

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Menorca is made using melted color masterbaches, resulting in a dye-free material 

From here, high-precision needle punching is used to transform these ultra-fine coloured fibres into a nonwoven fabric and combined with a water-based polyurethane, creating a distinctive texture that can be left clean or embossed in different patterns and graphics. And unlike some leather alternatives, Menorca benefits from low odour characteristics, an important distinction for something that aims to replace a material known for its pleasant smell. This is a direct result of the dye-free and water-based process Menorca uses. 

It is a significant leap in reducing environmental impact without sacrificing aesthetics or functionality

The significance of a water-based approach should not be underplayed. By transitioning away from solvents, Menorca has a much broader positive impact not only on the environment but also the people that produce the material. “It substantially reduces exposure to harmful substances such as DMF and toluene,” the company explains, “thus setting a new industry safety and sustainability standard.”

Once formed, the benefits of the material continue and particularly on the durability front. Third-party testing of Menorca suede has revealed excellent colourfastness and resistance to sunlight, “eliminating the need for traditional dyeing,” the company says, “and addressing dye wastewater issues, making a significant leap in reducing environmental impact without sacrificing aesthetics or functionality.”

Menorca has a wide range of surface applications in line with traditional requests such as car seats, armrests, headrests, steering wheels, instrument panels and door panels. It is a self-developed product by Mingxin New Material, which has been running since 1993. The company is headquartered in Jiaxing but is in the process of shaping a broader international strategy for the coming years.