No animals were harmed in the writing of this article.
That may not come as much of a surprise, but what might is that no animals will be harmed in the making of your next leather jacket, if you source it from Modern Meadow. The startup, which raised $40 million in its latest round of funding, grows leather in a lab using a biofabrication process that does not involve the slaughtering of animals at any stage.
If you’re vegan or a proponent of the cruelty-free fashion movement, your clothing choices were so far limited by industry practices that involved animal slaughter. “Vegan leather” is an option, but it turns out such synthetic alternatives may have detrimental environmental effects. Modern Meadow’s product is fundamentally different from synthetic leather in that the fabricated leather is biologically almost identical to the kind that’s obtained by tanning animal skins and hides.
The way they achieve this is by starting with a culture containing living cells, which is used to grow collagen. Collagen is the basic protein component that’s present in animal skin. The collagen is assembled into sheets – essentially to mimic actual skin – and sent for tanning. At the end of that process, you get a lab-made sheet of leather that even an expert would be hard-pressed to tell apart from one made using conventional processes.
The benefits to Modern Meadow’s leather manufacturing process are manifold.
The most obvious one is that the process is animal-friendly. It’s also more environmentally friendly. Synthetic leathers tend to use polymers such as polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which have been found to produce noxious gases when burnt. By using proteins – the very building blocks of life – to recreate the characteristics of synthetic polymers, Modern Meadow manages to combine the best features of both materials. The startup claims that biofabricated leather is 80 percent less wasteful compared to traditional kinds.
Another benefit that Modern Meadow’s faux-but-not-faux leather offers is that its material properties can be tweaked to fit specifications. As a result, the startup’s manufacturing process can yield leather that’s stronger, thinner, more elastic, or even translucent. These bespoke characteristics are a lot harder to imbue into regular leather.
Modern Meadow’s $40 million funding round brings its total capital raised to $53.5 million over five rounds. The latest investment round was led by Iconiq Capital and Horizons Ventures. ARTIS Ventures, Collaborative Fund, Breakout Ventures, Tony Fadell, and Red Swan Ventures also participated in the Series B round. The added capital will be used to move from the R&D stage to manufacturing, and the commercialization of this novel form of leather.
Prateek Jose is a writer and engineering undergrad from India with an unhealthy obsession for obscure historical trivia. Conversations about absurdist fiction and the technological singularity make his day. He’s already uploading parts of his brain to servers by writing for websites such as this one.