If vegan leather is to genuine leather what tofu is to meat, we’d have to invent a way weirder analogy to describe lab-grown leather! We’ll go with this — it’s like if scientists grew raw beef in a lab without ever creating or harming a living thing. Sounds strange, but it’s real! Lab-grown leather is being developed by a startup called Modern Meadow, and they’ve just taken a big step toward mass producing their wonder material by partnering up with Evonik, a European company specializing in a key part of Modern Meadow’s production process.
Modern Meadow calls their wonder material Zoa, and its main purpose is to be the best of both worlds. Cruelty-free vegan leather has been around for a while, but it’s synthetic and not as breathable — it’s not as good, and it’s rarely good enough for luxury brands to touch. But, genuine leather still relies on the deaths of cows for their skin, a prospect that many of us are finding increasingly unacceptable. Zoa is made from biological processes in a lab and has the properties of genuine leather, but doesn’t require the harming of any cows. Everybody wins!
So, how is this possible? Well, the people behind Modern Meadow aren’t your usual plucky startup entrepreneurs. Before Modern Meadow, co-founder Andras Forgacs was involved in biotech company that grew human skin from cells in a lab. Even then, Forgacs had an eye on animal cruelty — that company, Organovo, worked with cosmetics companies to provide synthetic skin for testing instead of them having to use animals.
With Modern Meadow, Forgacs and company are trying to work the same bio-magic for leather. Their process involves growing the collagen that leather is mostly made up of. They do that by using a fermentation process with a specific kind of yeast they developed. Pretty cool, but pretty expensive — something that might be changing! Modern Meadow’s recently announced partnership with Evonik will substantially increase the amount of lab-grown leather they can produce at one time while leading to future improvements to the yeast they use.
At least at the outset, Modern Meadow’s lab-grown leather might still be too expensive for all but the top luxury brands. But, there’s good reason they might be interested — not only is their lab-grown leather just like the real thing and free from animal cruelty, the quality and shape will be of uniform quality, unlike the variation those companies see with leather sourced from animals. But, as Modern Meadow improves their technology and makes production cheaper, lab-grown leather is something we could see sweep the fashion world in the next few years.