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New York Firm Grows Leather In Lab Using Skin Cells

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In a bid to take reduce the amount of genuine leather used in fashion and textile manufacturing, lab-grown hides are being developed in New York as a workable, more efficient alternative to natural animal skin.

For animal lovers, the idea of leather doesn’t sit well, both in conversation or in the wardrobe, cut and sewn into a biker jacket or Chelsea boot. However, leather goods and leather coats are heavily sought after for their weather protection properties, insulation and most of all, their soft, luxurious touch. Meanwhile leather, in the guise of suede, was a huge runway trend for Fall 2015 and looks to play a leading role in fashion collections and the home as top labels and brands set their lines into production mode.

Environmentally friendly leather alternatives, such as leather made from mushrooms, have already been explored. Now, a New York-based firm is dishing out leather alternatives within a laboratory—without the need for animals to be slaughtered or the use of common tanneries.

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Based in Brooklyn, Modern Meadow is making lab-grown leather, using recent advances in cell engineering technologies. Taking the opportunity to explain the meat-less process at a recent TEDTalk, Andras Forgacs from Modern Meadow, discussed biofabricating genuine leather.

The first step involves scraping skin cells from the animal—be it cow, lamb or goat—just as in a regular human biopsy. These cells are then extracted, without harming the animal, before isolating the cells and multiplying them in a cell culture medium. From the millions of cells, each one is encouraged to naturally produce collagen, a connective tissue between cells.

Both, the cells and collagen are then spread out to form sheets. Then, sheets are layered to form thicker sheets and left to mature. The multilayered skin is put through a short, chemically reduced tanning process. And then the leather is created, as a result.

Because it uses animal cells at the source, the lab-leather has the same characteristics as genuine leather, without the waste and killing the animal.

As it stands, the company grows 6 sq. cm. pieces of leather only, but plans to launch a limited collection later this year, with large production scheduled in five years time. No pricing indicators have been released.

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Aside from the bio-benefits, lab grown leather hopes to improve upon the material properties of leather, through testing and trials. This includes engineering the material to be more lightweight and durable, as well as breath better and insulate more efficiently.

And different patterns in the leather could emerge, without sacrificing the natural graininess we’ve come to love and find in genuine animal hide.


By Benjamin Fitzgerald

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Le Souk connects the world’s finest mills & tanneries directly to the design industry’s leading creatives. We bring together a trusted supplier network, the latest technologies and a community of designers and makers to make global sourcing possible – any time and anywhere.

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