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Science Can Now Grow Leather In Lab, Save Animals

Isn’t science great? Smallpox isn’t the global killer that it was thanks to vaccinations. Women no longer ingest arsenic to  improve their complexion, opting for a trip to Boots instead. And now science has made another leap for good.

Labs are starting to grow real leather; meaning handbags made from animal hide just got a little bit more socially acceptable. The Cut reported on the breakthrough this week, citing Sophie Hackford of WIRED Consulting as she spoke at Condé Nast’s Luxury Conference about how technology is impacting the fashion industry.

Sustainable fabrics are the latest buzz topic in fashion – we were only talking about bamboo socks last week – and Hackford revealed that lab-grown leather is a recent reality. Modern Meadow is a Brooklyn-based laboratory startup that takes a biopsy from a living cow, which remains alive, and replicates the cells taken. Engineers can manipulate the leather to make it easier for manufacturers. Hackford explained the benefits of these breakthroughs:

“…there’s a point where you can actually super-engineer these materials to give them tunable properties … And of course when you’re tuning these materials yourself, there’s no hair to remove, there are no scars, no insect bites, no waste, because clearly you’re just growing what you need … You can also dial up or dial down, as I said, the softness, the breathability, the durability of the leather — you can even weave electronics through the piece.”

Holy Moly, eh?

However, the real woah moment in Hackford’s presentation came when she married the growing of real leather with a sort of biological 3D printing. Turns out that engineers can go beyond manipulating the texture of leather, but they can grow this skin around a shape. She explained how seams and sewing could become a thing of the past, “you can grow a handbag without any seams. You can grow a car seat without any seams. You can grow a glove without any seams.”

While this is some serious Battlestar Galactica stuff, it’s also really cool. ‘Ethical’ brands might start to work with leather and designers who find production costs prohibitive may be able to find a way to tap into a global market the Wall Street Journal estimate may reach €91.2 billion in 2018.

What do you think? Would you buy a lab grown handbag? Do you think brands like Mulberry and Hermès will try out this brave new world?

The Cut

 

Follow Jeanne Sutton on Twitter @jeannedesutun

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