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Your next leather bag could be grown in a lab thanks to startup Modern Meadow

We’ve seen the headlines touting lab-grown beef patties that’s able to ooze blood, fish fillets cultured in a brewery-like environment and cow’s milk produced by genetically engineered yeast. Now, here’s the next thing that can (surprise surprise) gratify both animal advocates and fashion folk: lab-grown leather.

US-based startup Modern Meadow has been developing technology where cells can be cultivated into leather that’s identical to the real deal.

“We’re able to make fully biological, real leather without killing animals or harming the environment,” says Andras Forgacs, Modern Meadow’s CEO.

Far from being a shifty startup, the US firm has secured the funding of Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-Shing and our very own Temasek Holdings. Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund has been actively investing in fashion brands from luxury Italian skiwear Moncler to sportswear retailer Stone Island.

Modern Meadow
Tannery in Japan

“We couldn’t be happier to have Temasek as a partner since they are one of the most sophisticated global investors with particular depth in life sciences, manufacturing, and consumer retail sectors,” explains Forgacs, in an interview with AgFunderNews.

All this means that the American firm has been able to go beyond research and development and in fact, moved into the production stage — potentially turning the leathergoods industry on its head.

After all, worldwide demand for leather goods ranging from fashion accessories to plush car seats rings up USD100 billion in cash tills for a single year. The entire supply chain from farmers to tanneries, factories to the many craftsmen employed in luxury European ateliers could be impacted in some way – even as Forgacs says that’s not his firm’s aim.

Fashion site The Business of Fashion meanwhile hailed the breakthrough as fashion’s fourth Industrial revolution along with 3D printing. The former three was said to have occurred at the advent of mass clothing manufacturing through steam, then electricity and the 20th century digital age.

Modern Meadow
Stock of leather

So how does it work? In short, DNA is first engineered to contain the desired specifications in type and quality before being embedded into a cell. This cell then multiplies and begins to produce collagen which eventually binds together to form fibres that make up the raw material. The last step is the tanning and finishing which the firm touts as an “efficient and ecologically mindful process.”

Naturally, this means that Modern Meadow is able to engineer leather that has none of the features of livestock that results in wastage. The product sports no hair, fat nor blemished skins that stems from the animals’ day to day lives. The firm can also engineer leather right up to the designer’s preferred size, feel and aesthetics.

“Picture the strength of kangaroo leather but with the delicacy of snake… or the aesthetic of crocodile but the suppleness of lamb,” reads Modern Meadow’s website.

The premise is indeed exciting, and one can’t help but wonder how it might impact the prices for leather goods in future. But for now, the firm is looking to engineer just enough leather for designers to prototype before scaling up and eventually hitting the commercial market. Stay tuned.

Azimin Saini

Azimin Saini is a contributor to Lifestyle Asia. He has spent a decade in journalism, writing for The Peak, Style:Men and the Michelin Guide.


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