Animal-Free Leather Grown in Lab by Biofabrication Start-Up

Researcher at workAnimal lovers everywhere can rejoice: lab-grown, animal-free leather is becoming a reality.

Biofabrication start-up, Modern Meadow, has managed to successfully grow animal-free leather in their lab using collagen protein. Although the company has operated only in research and development until now, they recently secured $40 million in financing. This will allow them to make the transition into manufacturing. In just a few years, this lab-grown leather will be made available in the marketplace.

Modern Meadow’s animal-free version will feel just like real leather, but because the process does not harm animals, animal activists, vegans, and many others can experience the luxury of leather goods without the guilt. In addition, the traditional leather-making process poses significant environmental hazards because of the use of toxic chemicals. Due to its lab-based production, this biofabricated leather won’t pose any of those harmful facets.

Due to the growing demand for leather products, this bioengineered leather is predicted to have a significant impact on the $100 billion raw material market as a whole. It’s an important market to tap into for many reasons — including the sheer amount of options for design. And although many leather companies choose to extend their factory reach to contract with factories in Mexico and China, much of the biotech industry utilizes laboratories within the U.S., which is a factor that’s appealing to many consumers.

Lab-grown leather has the potential for more customized options than animal hide, too. When working with real leather, designers can manipulate the material to an extent, but they don’t have complete control over the product. Because the biofabricated leather is made from proteins and carbohydrates, specialists have the ability to design the material any way they want. They can add stretch, thickness, and other characteristics. This is particularly exciting for designers and customers who want more options for leather products.

In addition, since more people are gaining environmental awareness, the fact that this material is sustainable and non-harmful has a mass appeal. And the fact that the result is of such high quality — and consumers will never be able to tell the difference when face-to-face with a garment — is a real selling point.

Other companies have taken the leap into lab-developed fabrication — like Bolt Threads, who made a yeast organism to produce bioengineered spider silk proteins that are then made into yarn — but we are still in the early days of such development. Still, the possibilities of the resulting fabrications have excited scientists, developers, and designers. The demand for sustainable materials and new technology is still on an upward trend, and many await the arrival of these bioengineered fabrics with much excitement.

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