Lab-Made, Animal-Free Leather: The Future of the Industry?

By Kauffman, Gretel | The Christian Science Monitor, June 28, 2016 | Go to article overview

Lab-Made, Animal-Free Leather: The Future of the Industry?


Kauffman, Gretel, The Christian Science Monitor


Real leather made without the skin of cows - or any animals, for that matter - is now one step closer to a store near you.

Brooklyn-based startup Modern Meadow, which makes biofabricated leather, announced Tuesday that it had raised $40 million, enough for the company to start transitioning from research and development to manufacturing.

"Leather, which represents a $100-billion raw material market, has always been prized for its beauty, functionality and enduring status," said Modern Meadow chief executive officer and co-founder Andras Forgacs in a press release. "At Modern Meadow, we're re- imagining this millennia-old material to create revolutionary new features without harming animals or the environment."

To make the biofabricated leather, which is biologically identical to leather from an actual cow, the company develops collagen proteins from living animal cells. That collagen is then structured into a material that replicates natural leather.

"Leather is essentially entirely made of collagen - organized collagen protein," Mr. Forgacs explained to Xconomy. "Our process makes cow collagen, without touching a cow."

The efforts of Forgacs and his team have been applauded by animal rights organizations such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which have long campaigned against the leather industry.

"Unlike leather, Modern Meadow biofabricated leather doesn't cause animals any harm," said Anne Brainard, a senior corporate liason for PETA, in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

Furthermore, she added, Modern Meadow's product is "environmentally friendly, disease free, and it does not deplete natural resources."

The biofabricated leather reduces waste by up to 80 percent compared to traditional leather, Modern Meadow says, as it requires reduced tanning and lower inputs of land, water, energy, and chemicals.

Even after the tanning process, about 30 to 50 percent of all real leather is thrown away because of imperfections or irregular shapes cut from the material, Fast Company reports. But biofabricated leather can be tailored in shape according to customer needs. …

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