Alternative to leather: Kering invests in lab-based leather production startup

After the (countless) plant-based alternatives to leather, it seems to be laboratory cultivation that seems to interest fashion brands and luxury players. US start-up VitroLabs Inc., a specialist in this field, has just raised $46 million to build and develop the world’s first trial production of cell-grown leather. The Kering group is one of the investors and partners in this innovative solution.

Pineapple, mushroom, apple, grape, cactus, banana, kombucha… There are countless fruits, vegetables and plants that today have become essential for making handbags and shoes that are more respectful of the planet and animal welfare. These “vegetable leathers”, as some call them – although the term has not been adapted to these materials that are not (genuine) vegetable leather, today could be replaced by a new material whose appearance and technical characteristics are as close as possible to that of the original – and traditional – material: leather grown in the laboratory from the culture of cells of animal origin.

Animal cells as a starting point

California biotech start-up VitroLabs Inc. recently raised about $46 million to build and expand a pilot production unit. In other words, after years of theory, the US company would move on to practice; which would produce the first animal leather through cell culture. An important step, if not essential, because it would allow to develop the first creations designed with this innovative material. The target? Limit the impact on the environment and improve animal welfare.

“We have seen an explosion in the number of companies developing alternative materials to leather. However, VitroLabs’ cultured leather retains the organic characteristics of leather that manufacturers, artisans and consumers know and appreciate, while eliminating the most damaging environmental and ethical aspects of the manufacturing process.underlines Ingvar Helgason, CEO and co-founder of the start-up.

It’s not the first time lableer has been mentioned, Modern Meadow has been working on the topic for years, but VitroLabs would be the first start-up to start producing it on a larger scale. Not surprising to learn that well-known names like Leonardo DiCaprio, or Kering, the parent company of Gucci, Saint Laurent or Balenciaga, are among the investors and partners. The luxury group is delighted with this new opportunity that makes it possible to draw the contours of a more sustainable future.

Biotechnology at the service of fashion

It is not the first time that the luxury group has shown interest in alternatives to materials that are considered harmful to the environment and animal welfare. Already in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, the company Bolt Threads announced the formation of a consortium around its favorite mushroom-based material, Mylo, made more specifically from mycelium, the vegetative part of the mushroom. Adidas, Lululemon, Stella McCartney and… Kering were among the players to take advantage of this new material exclusively.

It remains to be seen whether lab leather, hailed by specialists as the closest material to genuine leather, can now overshadow it.

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