Lab-Grown Leather Might Squick You Out, But Here’s Why It Shouldn’t

Photo: Courtesy of Stella McCartney.
We can credit Stella McCartney for helping to pioneer the vegan leather movement in high fashion. But, now that both luxury designers and brands like Zara have since joined in, faux leather isn't just eco-friendly —it's also considered cool. From jackets to handbags, this new wave of sustainable pieces proves that we don't have to sacrifice softness, quality, or style in order to be PETA-approved. In fact, some of the offerings are so  good, they even rival the real thing. 
Taking a different tack, the sustainability startup Modern Meadow has just created a new way to wear real leather that doesn't entail killing any animals in the process: The secret lies in growing leather in a lab. Over the past several years, the Brooklyn-based company has quietly developed a technique called "biofabrication," which uses a biopsy from a single cow in order to replicate the skin. Not only is the process completely harmless to the animal, but the best part is, these skin cells can be replicated again and again — meaning, you can produce as much or as little as you need. The end result feels and looks like real leather, because it's the same material. The only difference is the complex process from which it's created.

Modern Meadow's CEO Andras Forgacs
explained to Fast Company that designers can also manipulate the leather to better suit their needs: thicker, thinner, stronger, or even without seams. "Our goal is not perfect biomimicry. We’re not looking to create the, 'I can’t believe this is not slaughtered leather, or I can’t believe this is not a slaughtered hamburger,'" he said. "It’s to create products that if you were to design from the ground up, you could actually imbue with better properties in truly desirable ways."

Creating real leather products doesn't only raise concerns about animals and farming practices — much of the material is often scrapped in the process. Modern Meadow's technique eliminates the need for leather tanneries (which are often filled with harmful chemicals) as well as this leather waste. WSJ  reported that the business obtained $10 million in funding in 2014, and according to The Cut, it's already in talks with fashion designers to provide leather for upcoming collections. As the company says on its website, "We’re working hard to provide solutions to some very big global problems, which takes time. We look forward to engaging with you as we build a future of sustainable, eco-friendly and cruelty-free animal products." Stay tuned to see (and wear) the next exciting development in sustainable fashion's future. 

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