Cruelty Free – The New Leather

Making leather is about to go biotechnical as genetic engineering is changing the way we create leather without killing animals.

For thousands of years, humans have used animals to create leather. According to the Economist, “The oldest leather artefact found so far is a 5,500-year-old shoe from a cave in Armenia, but paintings in Egyptian tombs show that, 7,000 years ago, leather was being turned into all manner of things, from sandals to buckets to military equipment.”

To create leather is a pretty gruesome and disgusting process. Back in the 18th century, people would kill and skin the animal and then use urine, lime and dog feces to ensure the skins were soft and able to be preserved.

Although this may not be the case in modern production, there is a sensitivity revolving leather making and the relationship it has with animals.

This industry is worth $100 billion a year. Because of the high volume of animal cruelty activities, people are trying to find ways to save the animals using biotechnology while maintaining the multibillion industry.

As of right now, Modern Meadow is the leading, most advanced firm, to create and develop new genetically engineered leather material. The company has raised $50 million and is working with firms in the clothing, shoe, furniture and automotive industries in hopes to convert them to these new materials within two years.

What are the advantages of creating factory grown leather?

First off, manufacturers can create symmetrical sheets rather than asymmetrical ones. This makes it easier to work with for companies in the clothing, furniture and automotive industries.

It is also void of imperfections such as marks and scars that would be normally associated with traditional leather making.

And of course, we would not have to rely on killing animals for materialistic things.

What process does Modern Meadow undertake to manufacture their material?

To put it simply, they first use a genetically engineered strain of yeast that creates a protein which is identical to bovine collagen. This collagen has amino acids that are eventually made into chains of fibres that Modern Meadow bioengineers assemble without the use the process of ‘fibro blasting’.

Dave Williamson, chief technology officer of Modern Meadow’s, says this process, “can be done in existing industrial plants.” And that the new material produced will be “competitive with natural leather.”

The advantage of using bioengineered leather is that the feel and look of the product can be controlled and custom built depending on each customer.

Their objective is not to disrupt the current leather making industry, but rather introduce a competitor that creates a new material in its own brand name.

The name, as well as the first garment made of this new material, will be revealed at a fashion show on October 1st in the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City. The future of fashion technology grows increasingly each year and Modern Meadow’s experimentation of genetically engineered leather seems to be right on track.


Article and resources via The Economist
Images via NorthernWoodlands, Modern Meadows, JF Baker